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  • Simon Canning

Leadership traits are context specific

Leadership traits are context specific. By that I mean the characteristics that a successful leader needs in a competitive for profit business, are different from those required in say, an organization less focused on the profit motive.

I also argue that authenticity trumps those traits that may be a function of personality and those that can be learned and developed over time with experience.

For example, I have worked with leaders in competitive businesses (such as, vehicle leasing, travel, insurance, telco) and a key trait / characteristic is the ability to think and act like a winner. The most successful people here recognize that they are in a competitive environment and will inspire their team accordingly. They will have high energy, a very tight focus on customer needs and the ability to sell their solution, sometimes even for an ‘unrecognized need’. They lead by example. Other leaders in less competitive organizations (think government agencies, not for profits) still need leadership traits, just not the same ones. These organizations need leaders to inspire the team, but the traits they use, the way to motivate, will be different. Often these leaders will call upon the mission and vision of the organization and ask the team to deliver against those lofty notions. They communicate a higher purpose that meets a societal need and are inspired by the value and excellence they bring to their work.

I always check to see if the leader is comfortable in his/her own skin.

It’s about authenticity. Is the leader of the funeral home in the right job? Does the leader of the sales team at a telecommunications company have the right attitude? Each can learn the requisite skills such as delegation, individual and team building, meeting management, goal setting etc.

But it won’t matter if there is not genuine authenticity around performance.


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