Leadership characteristics

The 5 practices of excellent leadership

Leadership characteristics have been extensively researched by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner and their work is now featured here.

Their groundbreaking studies, commenced in 1983 with the driver that they wanted to find out what people did when they were at their "personal best" in leading others - i.e. to identify the characteristics of good leadership.

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They devised a leadership characteristics survey consisting of thirty-eight open-ended questions designed to capture "Personal Best" stories of peak leadership experience.

The research was conducted over 15 years with 75,000 people, on a worldwide basis and included middle and senior level managers in private and public sector organisations, community leaders, student leaders, church leaders, government leaders, and hundreds of others in non-managerial positions.

The last study was conducted in 2002 and the prioritised list of leadership characteristics is as follows

  1. Honest 88%
  2. Forward-Looking 71%
  3. Competent 65%
  4. Inspiring 66%
  5. Intelligent 35%
  6. Fair-minded 47%
  7. Broad-minded 40%
  8. Supportive 42%
  9. Straightforward 34%
  10. Dependable 33%
  11. Co-operative 24%
  12. Determined 20%
  13. Imaginative 23%
  14. Ambitious 17%
  15. Courageous 28%
  16. Caring 21%
  17. Mature 20%
  18. Loyalty 14%
  19. Self-Controlled 8%
  20. Independent 6%

It is interesting to note that these figures have remained largely consistent over the full 15 years of research.

The results of this research and subsequent analysis of leadership characteristics has led them to defining what they call: "The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership".

In summary they found that despite differences in the circumstances and details of people's individual stories, their "personal-best" leadership experiences revealed recurring and similar patterns of behaviour in their descriptions of the characteristics of good leadership.

(1) Showing the Way

Leaders define and establish principles about the way people should be treated and the way goals should be pursued.

Leaders set the benchmark by creating standards of excellence and then demonstrate these standards in their own behaviour and thus estabishing an example for others to follow.

They recognise that people can become overwhelmed by largescale, complex and/or long-term goals, and so they set interim objectives that encourage easier "early wins".

Leaders also untangle unnecessary bureaucracy and give their people clear unambiguous pointers to successfully achieving goals.

They create the environment in which people can succeed.

(2) Creating a Shared Vision

Leaders passionately have a clear and passsionately held vision of what the changed organisation can become.

They have the skills and energy to enthuse and inspire people to share that vision, and also to see and get excited about the future possibilities.

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(3) Challenging the Way Things Are

Leaders are challenging and seek out opportunities to challenge and change the status quo.

They seek innovation and improvement in the organisation, and are prepared to experiment, to take risks and to accept the inevitable failures as part of the the learning experience.

(4) Empowering and Encouraging People to Act

Leaders are enablers and empower people by involving them and believing in them.

They engender mutual respect and trust and in so doing motivate their people to extraordinary effort and achievement.

(5) Addressing the Emotional Dimension

Leaders know that extraordinary achievement in an organization is very hard work. They also know that emotional dimension is extremely important.

So they regularly acknowledge their people's achievements and celebrate team and individual accomplishments, and is so doing they make their people feel good about themselves.


For full details on this research into the characteristics of good leadership and supporting leadership development training resources, please see their website: Leadership Challenge

Further resources

Transformational leadership - Successfully inspiring and leading people through change

Leadership quotes

Return from Leadership characteristics to "Leadership versus management

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practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management

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