Lessons in Leadership: Top 12 Leadership Traits

This is the first in a series of guest posts featuring observations about and experiences with leadership from seasoned leaders and professionals who work with them. A leader himself who has worked with other leaders, Bud Locilento shares his thoughts on the behaviors and traits effective leaders consistently demonstrate.

I am gradually drifting toward full-time retirement after a long, full, thoroughly enjoyable and productive career. As this process unfolds, I think most often about the hundreds of talented leaders with whom I have had the honor and pleasure to work with.  Having been a human resource executive for some of the finest, respected companies in America, a retained executive search consultant with a top-tier firm, and a business owner, I have had more than ample opportunity throughout my career to observe behaviors and traits that drive  effective leaders and are consistently exhibited by those who are successful. These traits appear to emerge early in one’s professional life and persist at all levels of responsibility and through all phases of one’s career.

While there are hundreds of theories of leadership, I’ve always relied heavily on my own experiences and instincts when making judgments about people in the course of my work. That has worked well for me, and my observations might be of some value to you, as well. So I would like to share some of my “Lessons in Leadership” with you.

Here are 12 traits I’ve observed in effective leaders.

Leaders with whom I have been associated consistently demonstrate the ability to:

1. Always model the way by exhibiting a willingness to do anything they ask of others. They are clear about objectives, personally accessible, and adhere to the same standards of excellence and performance required of others.

2. Inspire a shared vision. At every level, employees need to know where they are going and how their individual work contributes to success. Leaders communicate often and well and leverage the strength and power of a strong and enduring culture to achieve business objectives.

3. Aggressively challenge the status quo. Doing the same thing will always yield the same results. Engaging in a process of continuous improvement and striving for excellence will ensure complacency and mediocrity are not accepted standards of performance. Being comfortable with change and managing it well are important attributes of successful leaders.

4. Enable others to act decisively and independently within the context of a clear strategy and operating plan, as well as measuring the achievement of objectives are key success factors. Maximizing the use of human capital, delegating responsibility, and motivating and developing others are all outcomes that encourage and reward others to step up and deliver results.

5. Personally connect with employees and encourage their hearts. The importance of relationships and emotional connections cannot be underestimated in successful enterprises. Leaders take this obligation very seriously. Motivating employees, especially when considering the generational issues that today’s employee bring to the workplace, is a must for success.

These leadership traits can be seen in the larger framework of running or managing part of a business.

There are also other important personal characteristics that deserve mentioning. They have to do with the individual, and they differ slightly in each of us.  In my experience, they are consistently linked to successful and effective leadership and are part of the leader’s DNA.

The leaders I have known possess these personal characteristics:

6. They are intellectually curious. They are well-read and informed about a wide range of subjects and interests and are always learning and teaching. They are able to assemble facts, distill them quickly, and see both the strategic and practical implications of their decisions.

7. They accept responsibility for their own development. Seeking out challenging assignments, looking for opportunity, and leveraging professional and personal relationships lead to solid skill development and a substantive career path.

8. They are hard working and display a sustained level of high energy and an obvious sense of urgency. However, they also find balance by pursuing outside interests and spending time with family and friends. Balance provides perspective and encourages better performance.

9. They possess a strong personal set of values and have a defined sense of right and wrong. Genuine concern for others and wanting to make a meaningful contribution are indicators of effective leadership.

10. They get sustained results, deliver on promises to internal and external constituents, inspire confidence, and are seen as highly capable and reliable.

11. They are prepared to make difficult decisions after seeking input from stakeholders and are not seen as capricious or arbitrary. The capacity to focus on many issues concurrently is a hallmark of leading effectively.

12. They make things happen even in the face of barriers or resistance or competing priorities. Influencing others is a prerequisite for effective decision-making and leadership.

There is nothing more important to a business’s success than getting the right people in the right jobs doing the right things. These guiding principles will help us achieve that objective.

I believe there are few reluctant leaders. Most clearly understand and embrace the obligations of leadership enthusiastically. Leaders are responsible, talented, genuine, ethical, and truly care about their employees – they are good people.

The loud negative rhetoric regarding business leaders heard during this past campaign season just doesn’t compute with my experience and does not do justice to the hundreds of great leaders with whom I have been associated with for the past many years. I share their pride in doing honorable and important work. And I wish them all continued success as I move on.

Bud Locilento is a human resources executive who has held senior positions at several Fortune 500 companies throughout his career. Among them are ARAMARK Corporation, Smith Barney, CIGNA, NovaCare, Inc., which is the nation’s leading provider of physical rehabilitation services, and Genesis Healthcare, the nation’s largest provider of long-term care and rehabilitation services. In addition, he was a managing director at Diversified Search Companies, a top-tier retained executive search firm. He also founded Human Capital Partners, a boutique retained executive search firm. He currently accepts select consulting assignments with early stage and emerging companies. You may contact him at alocilento@aol.com.

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