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Integrity and Fairness Matter Most in a Leader

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Employees and executives think integrity and fairness are the most important qualities corporate leaders should possess.

  • Leadership qualities are viewed differently by different generations.
  • Leadership qualities change depending on the circumstances.
  • Millennials have dissimilar views of what leaders should do. 

Ask a roomful of people what the top qualities of leadership are and prepare yourself for a variety of answers. Leaders sometimes are expected to be all things to all people.

A 2016 study by Robert Half Management Resources found that employees and executives agreed that integrity and fairness are the most important qualities in a corporate leader

"Leaders who act with integrity and treat people well help maximize the contributions of their employees and build goodwill for their organization," said Tim Hird, executive vice president of Robert Half Management Resources, in a statement. "As important as these attributes are for managing a team, they also drive business by attracting investors, customers and potential staff members."

While employees and executives agreed on the two most important qualities, they differed a bit on the other attributes they thought were most critical. Employees said they want to work for corporate leaders who are decisive and have a strategic mindset, while the executives surveyed said being collaborative, transparent and accessible were other important traits of a leader.

Employees said competitiveness was the quality they valued least, with executives saying decisiveness was the trait they placed the least amount of emphasis on.

The study revealed that age plays a role in what attributes employees and executives deem most important. The research found that 72% of workers over the age of 55 ranked fairness as a top three attribute for corporate leaders, compared to just 44% of those between the ages of 18 and 34.

Additionally, more than twice as many younger workers and executives felt that having a strategic mindset was important, compared to their older counterparts.

Based on the study's results, Robert Half Management Resources said there are three takeaways managers can act on immediately to improve their leadership abilities:

  1. Set a good example. It is important to set the right example not only with your behavior, but also with your actions. You want to take care of any performance issues quickly in order to show that you don't let problems fester.

  2. Be honest. Don't let rumors spread through your office. When things in the company are happening, you want to tell employees as much as you can about these events. It's OK not to have all the answers. When you don't, just be honest and tell employees as much as you can, and let them know you will try find out more as quickly as possible.

  3. Support your employees. You need to be an advocate for your team members and stand up for them during difficult times. In addition, it's important to support their career growth by highlighting their accomplishments to everyone in the company.

The study was based on surveys of more than 1,000 U.S. professionals age 18 and over and employed in office environments, as well as more than 2,200 chief financial officers from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman launched the concept of emotional intelligence as a leadership attribute nearly 25 years ago, but most experts still maintain it has standing today. Goleman's research with over 200 corporations found that without emotional intelligence – defined as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills – it is impossible to be a great leader.

Other research has found that leadership requires a multitude of skills and depends on the kind of role and organization. Here are some of the more frequently cited:

  1. Strong communication
  2. Good listening skills
  3. Passion and commitment
  4. Positivity
  5. Innovation
  6. Collaboration
  7. Honesty
  8. Diplomacy
  9. Empathy
  10. Humility

But on other lists, you will see a sense of humor, intuition, dedication or confidence. Perhaps the leadership qualities needed depend on the organization or the people being led. Certainly, as the generations change, the qualities a leader needs change as well.

With 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day, it is millennials' turn to lead. They already represent over half the workforce and become a larger part of management every day. Like so much else, they plan to change how management works. More than one-third of millennials surveyed believed that within 10 years, "the CEO role will no longer be relevant in its current format."

Here are the four core characteristics of the millennial leader:

  1. The CEO is fallible and always learning. Younger leaders are open to input and relentless in their pursuit of improvement. They are not satisfied with themselves or anything else as it exists today.

  2. They emphasize collaboration and adaptability rather than structure and chain of command. That emotional intelligence that Goleman identified 25 years ago is a key value in the newer generation of leaders. They prefer a flat organizational structure to allow maximum interconnected collaboration and germination of ideas.

  3. Leadership is the empowerment of others. Millennials do not pursue CEO roles for the establishment of a legacy or for financial advantage. Many seek the position with the goal of helping support others in reaching their potential.

  4. Alignment of work and life values. Millennials are not satisfied to leave their personal beliefs at the office door. According to an American Express survey, 81% of American millennials say that "a successful business will have a genuine purpose that resonates with people." In fact, research has found that millennials are the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s.

As organizations evolve and workers demand different conditions and environments, the characteristics of successful leadership will continue to develop as well. Some attributes are timeless, just as many are intangible. Some people are natural leaders, and others learn the skills they need. As John Quincy Adams wrote, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
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