What Kind of Leader Do They Want? by Jim Johnson

leadership qualities

As you may know, I’m working on a certificate in Executive Leadership from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.  In a recent lecture, Dr. Mike Crant shared the findings of a survey conducted by Kouze & Posner (“The Leadership Challenge”).  The survey was seeking to discover what 20,000 people thought were the characteristics of leaders they admired. In other words, if they could create their own leader, what would they be like?  Here’s what the survey uncovered:


18,000 respondents said they wanted honesty in their leader.  It was really important to them that they could trust their leader and that he/she had integrity.  Crant says that this is good news for leaders.  Why?  A person can control this.  We can choose to be honesty and trustworthy.  “The extent to which you are viewed as an honest person who manages with ethics and integrity strongly influences how people perceive you.”


People want to follow leaders who have a vision for where they are leading the team/organization.  There is an agenda (and it is communicated!).  Forward-thinking leaders have initiative and ideas for improvement – they are out to make something greater.


People want their leaders to have passion and be positive.  It’s true!  Energy and enthusiasm are contagious.  You’ve heard the saying “speed of the leader, speed of the team”.  Followers will copy the attitude and actions of their leader (like it or not).  Leaders are role models.  Just be sure, leader, that you are positively modeling positive attitudes and actions.


Dr. Crant says that followers want to trust leaders’ judgment and technical skills to make good decisions.  A leader has to “know their stuff”.


49% of those surveyed stated that they wanted their leaders to be fair.  Fair treatment increases motivation.  On the flip side, Dr. Crant states that unfair treatment leads to people to do undesirable things.


People want their leaders to be focused on them.  Who wouldn’t want a leader who has the attitude of putting his/her followers in a position to succeed?  This type of leader worksto remove hurdles for his/her team.

Dr. Crant summarizes this lesson by stating that leaders will build credibility by keeping these desirable characteristics in mind.  But note this:  the survey used in this study did not measure the effectiveness of a leader.  It only focused on traits that were admired by followers.

So, how you do think you stand up to these characteristics?  More importantly, how would your team evaluate you in this?  


Does your team trust you? I’m not talking about the type of trust where if they don’t, lives will be lost (i.e. pathfinding over treacherous terrain). I’m asking do they trust you in the day-to-day decisions you make as a manager?

  • Exceptions they witness you make for a customer, but then see no exceptions for other customers
  • How you handle scheduling requests from the team
  • How you model your work ethic
  • How you represent your team among your colleagues and supervisors

Make no mistake here – your team is watching your actions and hearing your words.

Stephen M.R. Covey in his book, “The Speed of Trust”, explains how trust can improve or the lack of trust can destroy your effectiveness as a leader. Quite simply put, Covey says the following:

High Trust = Things get done Faster/Better + Costs Decrease

and the flip side says:

Low Trust = work slows down + costs rise

Which environment are you creating?

We’ve all seen the negative effects of a low-trust department or organization. In my own company, we had a high level executive promoted to a higher level. He was a proven sales leader. He got the numbers. But it was how he got the numbers that became the problem. He lied often. He tore people down rather than build them up. He led by fear and intimidation. No one trusted him. His teams were stressed out and looking to escape.

Fortunately, our top executives saw this happening. They took the courageous step to remove this person from our corporation. They placed values over results. Note: it’s been nearly 4 years since this executive was let go. We are putting up record growth numbers today. It took other courageous actions, but I’ll talk about that at a later time.

So how do you build high trust in your team (high trust of YOU)?

* Communicate – let your team know what is happening in your company and how they fit in to the vision/mission.

* Be Visible – spend significant time in your department. Get out of the corner or “upstairs” office and get among your team. Listen to them as they interact with your customers and other company team members. You’ll learn so much doing this!

* Ask for Input – seek your team’s ideas on how your department/company can improve. They have been thinking about it! And they can have great ideas! When you use one of their ideas, give them credit for it!

* Cheerlead – when you talk about your team, are you their cheerleader? Or do you find yourself complaining about them? If it’s the latter, who is to blame…really…? If you can’t praise your team to others, find out why and make the necessary changes. That is your job! It’s far more fun to be a cheerleader!

* Lead by Example – this works every time. If your team sees you as lazy, indifferent, uncaring, unproductive, playing favorites, etc., guess what they will become? Speed of the leader, speed of the team is true!

* Care – your team is full of people. People with dreams, fears, goals, families, hurts, needs, and feelings. Care about them. You do not have to become their best friend (don’t even try!). But don’t be afraid to get to know them and allow them to get to know you. On Friday this week, I will be traveling to another department to spend time with someone who is going through a rough life experience – something I’ve gone through. His supervisor asked me if I would take the time to talk with this great young man since she knew I had gone through something similar. How did she know about me? We had talked and I opened up. My time this Friday will not be about the company, but I’ll get a chance to encourage a fellow team member from another department. I get the chance to show him that someone cares what he is going through. I think that is an investment worth making.

There are other ways you can build trust with your team. The point is this: you set the tone for trust in your department. What kind of environment are you creating everyday? High trust? Low trust?

How to Get Your Boss’s Attention

As a manager, there are many times that you need to capture the attention of your boss:

  • You need some help with an issue.
  • You want to increase your staffing.
  • You want to purchase new equipment.
  • You want a raise

The list could go on…

Have you ever found yourself calling a colleague (or your spouse) to whine about how your boss doesn’t listen or pay attention or is never there when you want them to be?  Getting your boss’s attention starts far earlier than most of us realize.  Here are some pointers to help you get heard:

  1. Get Results. If you are not performing…if you are not meeting expectations…if you are missing your goals, then you have your boss’s attention for all of the wrong reasons.  If you want to be heard on what you believe are the truly important issues, then you had better be performing.
  2. Help Them.  Believe it or not, your boss faces his/her own challenges.  Become a trusted resource for them.  Offer to help them with a project.  Listen to them as they talk about what they have on their plate.  If you can take some of that work off of it, you become more valuable to your boss.
  3. Make Them Look Good.  This is closely related to #1.  When you exceed your numbers, your boss looks good.  When your team discovers an efficiency and communicates it out to the company resulting in operational cost cutting, your boss looks good.  When make a positive impact in your community, your boss looks good.
  4. Listen to Them.  Your boss maybe feeling the same way you are.  Be an active listener and help come up with solutions to issues that your boss is facing.  You’ll learn something in this process.

Your boss is human.  You can go far when you employ some or all of these pointers.

Caution:  if you approach your boss with insincerity or a manipulative spirit, it will be revealed.  Integrity says to be genuine in your interactions with your boss.  It will pay off.