War for talent, employee retention, increased shareholder value. Leadership is a core component to all of these present day discussions in the business world. Leadership has been studied over the last 100 years going back to the early 20th century. The trait approach was one of the first ways that scholars tried to study and quantify what makes a great leader (Northouse, 2013). Its’ popularity has ebbed and flowed through the decades but always considered in leadership research. In Leadership: Theory and Practice, Northouse boils down to what I will call “the timeless traits of leadership” that have persevered over the years:
- Self confidence
- Social ability
There are challenges with assessing leadership solely on traits, however. For example, traits do not take specific situations into consideration. The traits for a leader in a growing start-up company will differ greatly from those in a stable corporate organization. Furthermore, a company that is doing well financially has different needs than one that is failing and needs to be turned around.
So what does one do?
The trick is to begin by taking some sort of assessment where you can get a clearer picture of your own personality traits. Taking stock of who you are is an essential first step. There are several options on the market today. The Meyers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can be taken online through MBTI Complete. If this approach does not make sense, try Personalitystyle.com. They offer a free online DISC profile. Either one or both will provide you with insight into your personality traits.
Once you have results, take time to read through them. Keep in mind that traits are not easily changed (Northouse, 2013) so don’t go there immediately. Think through the results, share them with close friends and maybe even trusted coworkers to get their insight. Prepare one or two areas that you would like to focus your professional development efforts on. While it is not essential to be “off the charts” in all traits, “having a leader with a certain set of traits is crucial to having effective leadership” (Northouse, 2013).
January is almost over. Make it your goal to better understand your leadership traits and where you can build on them to be an even better leader. Remember the core: Intelligence, self confidence, determination, integrity, social ability. Whether they are the perfect set of traits or not, they are core areas that every leader should always be aware of and continuously developing in themselves.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.