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Leadership Attributes.
By Kevin Dwyer
Saturday, 1st February 2014

As a leader, you need to be able to manage your people effectively. To find out what motivates individuals and provide them with the support and energy they need to execute their roles to the best of their ability. Next time you are thinking about your people, and their ability to develop into leaders themselves, think about the following attributes and consider how you might best approach them.

Coaching elements

There are few things more frustrating for a leader than having people in positions of power - and with the capability to exercise that power - not doing so. Leaders have to be able to adjust their reactions and display different aspects of their coaching range to get the best out of people who are at opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to their ability and the degree of accountability they take.

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Accountable and able
These are the people we feel blessed to have. They are able to do their role, they feel accountable for their role and just get on with it once we tell them the outcome we are attempting to achieve.

Accountable but not able
Many of our people are like this and we need to spend time coaching or training them to do what we want. They take to the training with gusto as they know they need to learn the skills and knowledge to get the job that they are responsible for done, to a level of quality they can be proud of. We need to be supportive and encouraging of questions and empower them to take action.

Not accountable but able

These are the most difficult people to deal with. They do not need to be shown what to do, but to be shown how to behave. They need to be shown, then a follow up is required to ensure they do what they have been shown.

Not accountable and unable
These are the easiest group to deal with. Move them to another role or, in many cases, let them explore which role they can match their particular capability and desire to own, in other organisations.

The art of communication

Verbal communication is about listening, asking questions and talking. Unfortunately, it is an infrequent occurrence for us to meet an individual who is good at all three and can vary at will the ratio required of all three, to effectively communicate in different emotional environments. We are more likely to get three of the four variations of the propensity to talk and the propensity to listen and ask questions.

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Propensity to talk high; propensity to listen and ask questions high
Leaders whose ability to talk clearly is matched by their ability to listen and ask questions are seen as good, caring communicators.

Propensity to talk high; propensity to listen and ask questions low
Those with a high propensity to talk and a low propensity to listen and ask questions are perhaps the most problematic of communicators. Even though they think they are communicating well, the people they communicate with are highly likely to:

  • Switch off;
  • Feel undervalued;
  • Not understand the complete message being conveyed, and;
  • Feel frustrated.
People with this trait are usually easily identifiable. Their speech is peppered with the word ďIĒ, they talk over the top of others, complete others' sentences and may use phrases such as, "Do you get me?" frequently in an insincere attempt to ensure people understand what they are thinking.

Leaders who communicate in this way are more likely to be seen as haranguing, rather than communicating.

Propensity to talk low; propensity to listen and ask questions high
Passive communicators who only seem to be interested in others' views make it difficult for the listener to know what is really on their mind, and relies on the listener's questioning skills.

The listener may well be frustrated by their inability to get clarity from the communicator about what they want, where the boundaries are and what level of authority they have to act.

Leaders who communicate in this way often think they are communicating well because of their questioning, clarifying style. But if they do not share what is directly in their mind in an assertive but non-threatening way, then people do not know how to react to what they have heard. They do not even know whether what they have heard is the full story.

People who communicate in such a way may be good at counselling others, but need to be clearer about their needs in order to be an effective communicator.

Propensity to talk low; propensity to listen and ask questions low
Leaders who exhibit these characteristics undoubtedly got to their role through default. They tend to keep to themselves, rarely talking about what they feel or think, occasionally discussing what they have done. When they listen, they hear, but do not really listen. They internalise what they hear, do not clarify nor ask questions to understand context or emotion. They formalise responses in their head, but infrequently communicate them.

They are seen as moody and taciturn and therefore difficult to get along with, even if they are perfectly nice, introverted people.

Leadership attributes and the impact on poorly performing teams

Poorly performing teams are most at risk from leadersí attributes and behaviours. Two of the attributes which significantly impact upon poorly performing teams are a leadersí drive and a leaders' degree of unconscious incompetence, that is, the degree to which they "donít know what they donít know", to quote a former US Secretary of State.

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High drive, low unconscious incompetence
Leaders who have a self-effacing approach to their own ignorance and put faith in subordinates with higher levels of skills and knowledge than their own but still drive the organisation, individuals and themselves to achieve agreed milestones, usually get rapid improvement in the performance of their team.

High drive, high unconscious incompetence
Conversely, those leaders with a low level of self-awareness of their lack of skill or poor behaviour and strong drive, tend to experience further rapid decline in performance. They may enjoy an initial improvement as the drive they offer aligns people to a set of actions. However, the false dawn is replaced by confusion as the inability to listen to others' ideas and the championing of methods without the skill to execute them create inconsistent approaches to addressing problems, with little support from the team.

Low drive, low unconscious incompetence
Leaders with a low drive but a high self-awareness of their shortcomings usually succeed in improving the performance of teams. However, progress is slow unless they are aware of their drive short comings and delegate responsibility and authority to act in tandem to more capable team members.

Low drive, high unconscious incompetence

Leaders who do not know what they donít know and have little drive will be overrun by others with drive. In situations like this, there tends to be high inertia to change as individual leaders with high drive compete for the high ground, often in opposition to each other and with no one able to harness their drive for the good of the team.

Leaders strongly influence the performance of their teams, whether intentionally or not. Coaching, communication and drive are three elements of a leadersí attributes that contribute to that influence.

†We welcome your comments.
†Contact Kevin by email at or via phone on +61 (0)408 508 490

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