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Leadership Traits

In a survey sponsored by the American Management Association, 1,500 managers nationwide were asked what values, traits, or characteristics they looked for in their superiors. Integrity, competence, and the ability to inspire and provide direction were among the most common responses. A follow-up survey involving 2,600 senior-level managers revealed the following most-sought characteristics: honesty (83 percent), competence (67 percent), progressiveness (62 percent), and the ability to inspire (58 percent).

All are subjective characteristics but they fairly easy to measure.

Honesty--Revealed through behavior, honesty, or lack of it, is quickly spotted by superiors and subordinates alike. Much can be said about integrity, but unless it's demonstrated through consistent behavior, it means little. Behavior will reveal the difference between word and deed and establish the sense of trust between leader and follower. Although deception, cover-ups, and unfulfilled promises are among the more blatant examples of dishonesty, lacking confidence in one's own words is equally damaging. If the leader doesn't believe what he says, how does he expect others to? Consistency in what is both said and done is essential in establishing the sense of trust necessary between leader and follower.

Competence--Honesty has little value without competence. Competence embraces both ability and perception. This means having more than just the technical abilities, it means instilling the expectation that a leader can get the job done. The leader's track record influences the expectation; if the track record is mixed, future expectation will be shaky.

Progressiveness--The ability to lead with an eye to the future, progressiveness is also sought in management because a progressive leader anticipates changes and problems, and plans for solutions. The progressive manager is no head-in-the-clouds visionary, but a strategic goal-setter with realistic expectations. He or she sees the need for change, and then confronts the task of bringing it about. Whether the change involves a new marketing system, personnel policy or product line, the leader will need followers to implement it.

Inspiration--In a sense, inspiration means infusing others with enthusiasm and energy while communicating a vision or concept. It's the ability to describe and recruit simultaneously. And though it may sound difficult, it's not. If the idea is logical and a potential need exists, presenting it with enthusiasm and a sincere belief in its success will merge concept with expectation in the mind of the listener.

Taken together, honesty, competence, and the ability to inspire and lead progressively comprise what is termed credibility. Providing a credible model that followers can look to, emulate, and admire -- that's the essence of leadership. You create credibility by challenging a procedure or process, outlining alternatives, providing an attractive vision of the future, and soliciting and encouraging involvement from followers.

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