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The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

As consultants, we are constantly asked about our opinion on many topics. Ranging from the best way to measure ROI, to how to motivate employees, to what is the best question to ask in an interview. One question that often comes up is, “what is the most important leadership characteristic needed to be an effective leader?” It’s difficult to narrow it down to one thing, so we often “cheat” and offer a list of 3 to 5 characteristics. Recently, we were put on the spot again with this question, so we asked ourselves, “is there really ONE KEY characteristic of leadership?”

Thinking back on our collective experiences with business leaders, all the books we have read on the topic, and all of our coaching sessions over the years, we agreed that one thing does emerge and it is….FLEXIBILITY. And we don’t mean flexibility from a strong yoga practice. Instead, we look at flexibility as the capacity for a leader to flex and adapt to: different people’s work styles, different communication approaches, and strategic twists and turns; all based on the needs of the environment. It is about looking beyond the surface and adapting to others’ unique differences, and also to the different needs of the environment and situation.

It is absolutely critical for effective leaders to be able to flex their approach when it comes to just about anything. The complexity, pace of work, and rate of change in today’s corporate world is unprecedented. Leaders must be tuned in at all times and be open and willing to change their approaches and strategies on a dime. The changes they make must be seamless and effective.

For example, leaders who manage all of their employees using the same style are missing out on a great opportunity to get the best out of each employee. One of the leaders we coached, always boasted about his “empowering” style of leadership. On the surface that sounds like a great approach to leadership, but we quickly figured out that while it was a great fit for team members with extensive experience, it didn’t really work for other members who were new to the team, and even new to the corporate world. These individuals needed more guidance and support instead of pure empowerment. Some would have been much more successful in that role if they had a leader who recognized that they needed something different from their manager. In fact, just about every member of a team needs something slightly different from their leader in order to reach their potential. In short, leaders must be able to flex and adapt in order to maximize their success.

What about you, what do you think is the number one characteristic necessary to be a great leader? Think about all of your experiences and identify the one thing that resonates most to you.

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