Five Traits of the Most Admired Leaders

Posted 04.21.2010

Shadows Among the many things I like about our group coaching program, Next Level Leadership™,  one of my favorites is when the high potential leader participants share with each other what they learned in their senior executive shadow days. Here’s how the shadow day works. To broaden their perspective on the organizational presence aspect of leadership, the participants spend the day shadowing a senior leader in their business. The agenda is simple – be the senior executive’s shadow for the day. Attend her staff meetings, go to her briefings, sit in on meetings she has with the C suite or board members, meet with the customers. The high potential leader is there to observe and learn from whatever the senior exec is doing that day. If the senior executive is responsible for a different part of the organization than the high potential leader comes from, so much the better. It helps broaden the perspective of the high potential that much more.

It’s almost always an eye opening experience for the high potential leaders in the program. The fun part for me is listening to everyone come back together and tell their stories about what they did and saw on their shadow day. We had one of those sessions yesterday in a Next Level Leadership™ program. As we’ve been having these shadow day debriefing sessions in different companies over the past few years, I’ve been keeping some notes about the traits of the senior executives that the group coaching participants admire the most. Here are five traits of the most admired leaders that show up on the list again and again:

1.    They listen. One highly admired executive told his shadow day participant that, “My job is to get them to tell me everything.”  His point is he wants to know and shape what’s going on in his very large, complex organization.  He does that by showing up as a listener which makes people comfortable telling him what’s going on.

2.    They’re present. The most admired senior leaders give their full presence and attention in the meetings they’re in. They focus intently on the conversation and who’s participating. They don’t show any signs of being distracted by electronic devices or the other ten things on their calendar that day.  When they’re meeting with you, they’re meeting with you.

3.    They prepare. The most admired leaders get more done in a day because they are well prepared for each meeting they attend.  They read the briefings ahead of time. They publish their agendas in advance.  They set the expectation that everyone else in the meeting will be prepared as well.

4.    They’re open. The executives that the high potentials admire the most view themselves as people who uncover potential problems and help others get them resolved. They understand that to do that they have to be open to any and all information that’s presented.  That’s the way that problems get surfaced.

5.    They challenge. The most admired executives challenge without being challenging.  They don’t get in people’s grills and intimidate them.  They challenge conventional thinking and help people see alternatives by asking good, open ended questions.  Often, they’ll ask those questions more than once.  They challenge their teams to challenge their own thinking.

That’s not an exhaustive list. What would you add? What are the traits of the senior leaders you most admire? Leave a comment and add to the list.