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You won’t get far in leadership without these attributes


A recent Harvard Business Review article by Dr. Sunnie Giles – “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around World” – has created considerable buzz in leadership circles. In it, Dr. Giles, a leadership development consultant and organisational scientist, discussed some of the results and conclusions from the first part of her study of 195 global leaders from 15 countries and 30 organisations.


Global leaders


The study asked respondents to look at 74 leadership qualities and choose the 15 they believed are the most important from amongst the list. Those that were highly-ranked were then grouped into five themes – “Strong ethics & safety”, “Self-organising”, “Efficient learning”, “Nurtures growth”, and “Connection & belonging”.


At the very top of the list, chosen by 67 per cent of all respondents, was the statement “has high ethical and moral standards”, under the theme of “Strong ethics & safety”. Under the same theme, third place was occupied by “clearly communicates expectations”, selected by 56 per cent of leaders. As Giles notes, clearly the survey suggests that, for leaders, the need to create a safe, trusting environment is very high on the agenda. Most leaders would, no doubt, agree that this is amongst their chief aims in their organisation: trust is crucial if employees are to work at their best, and this springs from leadership that is consistent and ethically-driven.


Empowered Employees


Making up the top three, was “provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines/direction”, chosen by 59 per cent of respondents. This comes in under Giles’ theme of “self-organising”, which appeared only once in the top ten. Giles connects this competence with the requirement as a leader to provide direction while empowering reports to get on with tasks at hand. Many leaders strive for this kind of empowerment, while also struggling with the inevitable sense of losing control that comes with delegation. The payoff, however, generally makes it worthwhile.


The “Efficient learning” theme appears three times in the top-rated competencies, the most of all five. This pulls in the idea of “flexibility to change opinions” (selected by 52 per cent of respondents), as well as “open[ness] to new ideas and approaches” (39 per cent) and “provides safety for trial and error” (37 per cent). A culture of learning at any organisation is crucial for encouraging employees towards developing their skills, as well as allowing the space for innovation and fresh ideas.


All things considered, some of the results of Giles’ study might not surprise leaders, but it certainly provides a focus for how they consider their own leadership and – crucially – where they can identify areas that they still need to develop.  


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