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The 5 Main Qualities of a Leader – Part 1: Honesty and Integrity
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Written by Joanne Delaurentis   
Saturday, 11 June 2011 18:47

Some people argue about whether leaders are made or born. But a true leader should ignore such arguments and instead concentrates on developing the leadership qualities that they lack in order to achieve the success they desire. This is the first article in a series on 5 main leadership traits or qualities (that come from Kouzes and Posner’s research into leadership that was done for the book The Leadership Challenge) that people look for in a leader.

It is my belief that if you are able to increase your skill in displaying these five quality characteristics, you will make it easier for people to want to follow you. The less time you have to spend on getting others to follow you, the more time you have to spend refining exactly where you want to go and how to get there.

The five leadership traits/leadership qualities are:

1. Honesty & Integrity
2. Forward-Looking
3. Competent
4. Inspiring
5. Intelligent

Your skill at exhibiting these five leadership qualities is strongly correlated with people’s desire to follow your lead. Exhibiting these traits will inspire confidence in your leadership. On the other hand, not exhibiting these traits, or exhibiting the opposite of these traits, will decrease your leadership influence with those around you.

Honesty and Integrity as a Leadership Quality

Honesty might not sound like the hot new leadership tip, but in today’s world of constant change and lack of integrity it is one of the main things people look for in a leader. People want to follow an honest leader. Years ago, many employees started out by assuming that their leadership was honest simply because they held a position of authority. But this is no longer the case. Corporate governance scandals, fraud and corruption have revealed that this is no longer true. In fact, today many people are suspicious about the honesty and integrity of leaders. People will not assume you are honest simply because you have never been caught lying.

Honesty and Integrity are traits that you can be aware of but are not leadership traits that you can easily fake. Either you are an honest person, or you are not. Honesty and integrity are where your real self and your leadership position meet and you can’t ‘fake it till you make it’ but it is something that needs to be in you for you to be able to exhibit it in your leadership of others.

In the same way, people get upset when a company does not live up to its values of honesty and integrity in business. But how can an organisation conduct itself honourably and with integrity if the very individuals that lead it are not this way in their own lives?

Many companies have honesty and integrity as one of their organisations values, but at the same time incentivise dishonesty. This was the case at many of the large investment banks involved in the cause of the 2008/2009 global economic crisis. The banks claimed to be acting with integrity while at the same time paying huge bonuses to their staff members who were clearly not abiding by the full spirit of the law in their actions and business dealings. These double standards make it difficult for staff to follow leaders, even when they are saying all the right things.

One of the most important opportunities to show true honesty and integrity, and yet where leaders often miss it, is in handling mistakes. Much of a leader’s job is to try new things and refine the ideas that don’t work. However, many leaders want to avoid failure to the extent that they don’t want to admit when something did not work. As a leader, showing people that you are honest, even when it means admitting to a mistake, displays a key trait that people are looking for in their leaders. By demonstrating honesty with yourself, with your organisation and your staff you will increase your leadership influence. People will trust someone who actively displays honesty and will choose to follow them ahead of leaders who don’t.

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