Traits of Leadership

Research regarding traits related to leadership effectiveness has found about half a dozen (Yukl, 2010):

  • High energy level and stress tolerance
  • Self-confidence
  • Internal locus of control
  • Emotional stability and maturity
  • Personal integrity
  • Socialized power motivation
  • Moderately high achievement orientation
  • Low need for affiliation

Goleman (2004) maintained that “emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader” (p. 82). He proposed that emotional intelligence is made up of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. While emotional intelligence has a genetic component, it can also be learned and increases with age.

In order to improve emotional intelligence, organizations need to help leaders break old behavioral habits and start new ones. This requires an individualized approach and takes time.

“It’s important to emphasize that building one’s emotional intelligence cannot—will not—happen without sincere desire and concerted effort. A brief seminar won’t help; nor can one buy a how-to manual. It is much harder to learn to empathize—to internalize empathy as a natural response to people—than it is to become adept at regression analysis. But it can be done” (Goleman, 2004, p. 87).

I believe that Apple, Inc.’s CEO Steve Jobs has many of the traits related to leadership effectiveness as outlined by Yukl (2010) and Goleman (2004). Whatever you call it – passion, determination, motivation, zeal – he never lost it and was able to capitalize on his vision to propel him back to the top, running Apple Computers today.

There’s a great story in the Harvard Business Review (Sonnenfeld & Ward, 2007) about what happened after Jobs lost his job and how he recouped and climbed back atop the leadership mountaintop.

One week after he was fired from Apple (a company he co-founded), Jobs flew to Europe, bought a bicycle and a sleeping bag and camped out under the stars in the Tuscan hills of northern Italy, planning what he would do next.

After returning to California, with a renewed passion and ambition, he went on to found another computer company, NeXT, which Apple purchased in 1996. With the acquisition of NeXT by Apple, Jobs returned to Apple as its leader and simultaneously became the energy behind Pixar, the computer-graphics studio famous for producing Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Monster, Inc., and recently Up.

“It is the single-minded, passionate pursuit of a heroic mission that sets leaders like Steve Jobs…apart from the general population, and it is what attracts and motivates followers to join [him]” (Sonnenfeld & Ward, 2007, p.84).

References

Goleman, D. (2004). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 82-91.

Sonnenfeld, J.A. & Ward, A.J. (2007). Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), p76-84.

Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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