James Kouzes and Barry Posner have been studying leaders for 25 years. Based on responses from 75,000 people worldwide these four traits consistently emerge. These are the four most common traits we look for in someone we will willingly follow.
Honest. Honesty is selected 90 percent of the time, emerging as the single most important factor. If people are going to willingly follow someone – whether into battle or into the boardroom – they first want to know that the person is worthy of their trust.
Forward-looking. About 70 percent of respondents select the ability to look ahead, having a sense of direction and a concern for the future. Whether we call that ability a vision, dream, calling, goal or agenda, leaders must know where they’re going if they expect others to willingly join them. They have to have a point-of-view about the envisioned future, and they need to connect that point of view to the hopes and dreams of constituents.
Inspiring. People expect their leaders to be enthusiastic, energetic, and positive about the future. Beyond having a dream, a leader must communicate the vision in ways that encourage people to sign on for the duration, excite them about the cause, and make the context meaningful. Whatever the circumstances, when leaders breathe life into our dreams and aspirations, we’re more willing to enlist in the movement.
Competent. To enlist in a cause, people must believe that the leader is competent to guide them. They must see the leader as having relevant experience and sound judgment. If people doubt the person’s abilities, they’re unlikely to join in the crusade. Leadership competence refers to the leader’s track record and ability to get things done. Such competence inspires confidence that the leader will guide the organization in the direction it needs to go.