Want to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness? Here Are Nine Things You Can Work On.

While we’re pondering the big issues of the day, i.e., What’s up with Egypt? Wisconsin? Joan Rivers?, etc., many of us are also grappling with a more proximate question: Different from what they accomplish (outcomes), what do leaders really do?

Perhaps you’re thinking about your own development or ways to help an entire management team get to the next level of performance. In either case, you know you’ve got to ultimately boil it down to characteristics and behaviors because anything less is just too squishy.

Among the myriad of leadership theories and models that have been documented over the years, many tend to be, in my humble opinion, too abstract and difficult, if not impossible, to teach and/or assess. Is it any wonder people are confused and don’t know where to start? (By the way, as of today, Google returns 28,900,000 “results” to a search for “Leadership Characteristics.”) Upon closer examination, many of these models appear to be nothing more than creatively illustrated exhortations and re-tooled clichés. Seriously, has anyone’s leadership performance ever been improved by spending some quality time with a picture of an eagle soaring over a scenic mountain vista?

Whenever I am asked which leadership model I personally favor or recommend, I offer up the “Nine Universal Leadership Characteristics” model without hesitation. Despite my continuous (but far from exhaustive) review and assessment of emerging leadership development practices, my answer has remained the same for many years. These nine characteristics are meaningful—and they make a difference.

Let’s take a quick look at the nine characteristics of leaders and their descriptions:  



Charisma: Makes others proud to be associated with them. Instills faith, respect and trust in them. Makes everyone around them enthusiastic about assignments. Has a gift for seeing what is really important for others to consider. Transmits a sense of mission.


Individual Consideration: Coaches, advises and teaches others who need it. Treats each person individually. Expresses appreciation for a job well done. Uses delegation to provide learning opportunities. Lets each person know how he or she is doing. Actively listens and gives indications of listening.


Intellectual Stimulation: Gets others to use reasoning and evidence rather than unsupported opinion. Enables others to think about old problems in new ways. Communicates ideas in ways that force people to rethink their own ideas in ways they had never questioned before.


Courage: Willing to persist and stand up for their ideas even if they are unpopular. Does not give in to group pressures or other’s opinions to avoid confrontation. Able and willing to give negative feedback to others. Has confidence in their capability and wants to act independently. Will do what is right for the organization and others even if it causes personal hardship or sacrifice.


Dependability: Follows through and keeps commitments. Meets deadlines and completes tasks and assignments on time. Takes responsibility for actions and accepts responsibility for mistakes. Works effectively with little contact with boss. Keeps boss informed on how things are going. Is not afraid to take bad news to boss.


Flexibility: Maintains effectiveness and provides stability while things are changing. Remains calm and objective when confronted with many and different situations or responsibilities at the same time. When a lot of issues hit at once, handles more than one problem at a time, and still focuses on the critical things he must be concerned about. “Changes course” when the situation dictates or warrants it.


Integrity: Adheres firmly to a code of ethics and moral values. Does what is morally and ethically right. Behaves in a manner consistent with the organization and professional responsibility. Does not abuse privileges. Is a consistent role model demonstrating and supporting organizational policies and procedures, professional ethics and culture.


Judgment: Reaches sound and objective evaluations of alternative courses of action through logic and comparison. Puts facts together in a rational and realistic manner. Bases assumptions on logic, factual information and consideration of human factors. Knows their limit of authority and is careful not to exceed it. Makes use of past experiences and information to bring perspective to present decisions. 


Respect for Others: Honors and does not belittle the opinions or work of other people regardless of their status or position in the organization. Demonstrates a belief in the value of each individual regardless of their background, etc.


From this quick review, you’ve probably figured out that you’re already demonstrating many of these characteristics to varying degrees. Splendid! I hope you’re reaping the rewards and mentoring others.

If, on the other hand, you spotted some potential “gaps” in your performance, the good news is most challenges can be overcome with a little study, active practice and constructive feedback. 

Over the weeks to come we’ll take a deeper dive into each individual characteristic, including identifying what each characteristic looks like in a variety of situations and day-to-day application.

Want to do more than just read this series? Click HERE and take a minute to rank order the characteristics in terms of their importance to YOU, and then tell me what you’d like to know more about. I’ll share your input and anonymous feedback in our next installment.

Now … go get some work done!

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