The increasing importance of leadership across business organizations was highlighted in an April 2004 survey, "AMA 2004 Importance of Leadership Survey" by the American Management Association, which found that by a margin of nearly four to one, employees have increased the time spent on leadership functions.
The reasons for the increase focused on competitiveness, decentralized decision-making, value and generational differences, the complexity of organizations and globalization.
Yet determining the key leadership traits on which training should focus has not been easy. Here is some insight into this issue to assist executive and corporate educators and trainers in establishing a strong leadership training program.
What do employees look for in a leader?
Not financial acumen. Not vision. Not creativity. What employees want most from their leaders are basic principles in practice such as honesty, integrity, ethics and caring, according to the results of a survey conducted by Right Management Consultants, the world's largest career transition and organizational consulting firm. Right asked 570 full-time, white-collar employees in the United States, "What is the most important trait or attribute that the leader of your company should possess?"
"Employees today are looking for strength of character in their leaders," said Chris Pierce-Cooke, worldwide director of Right's Organizational Consulting practice. "They want to shake off the hangover of the last several years' corporate scandals and financial sleight of hand and be reassured that their leaders are honest, ethical and caring individuals."
Pierce-Cooke notes an irony in the results of the study.
"Employees are confronted with continued layoffs, a spotty recovery and three years of stock market declines. But they are not looking for leaders with a magic wand or a quick fix.
"Instead, they seem to be yearning for fundamental leadership principles, lessons on honesty and goodness that they were more likely to have learned in elementary school than in business or law school."
Survey respondents cited 28 attributes they felt were most important for their leaders to possess. The top five are below, with the percentage of respondents who mentioned them as the first or second most important characteristic.
1. Honesty (24 percent)
2. Integrity/morals/ethics (16 percent)
3. Caring/compassion (7 percent)
4. Fairness (6.5 percent)
5. Good relationships with employees, including approachability and listening skills (6 percent)
These traits were generally consistent between male and female, as well as white and black respondents. One significant difference was seen between two age groups. Honesty was mentioned as the top trait by 38 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds versus 16 percent of the 18- to 34-year-old group.
The bottom five attributes, including some traditionally associated with strong and well-respected leaders, were:
24. Creativity (1.2 percent)
25. Decisiveness (0.8 percent)
26. Flexibility (0.6 percent)
27. Good personality/sense of humor (0.5 percent)
28. Attention to detail (0.4 percent)
"I don't believe that employees are disregarding the need for such things as creativity and decisiveness," said Pierce-Cooke. "But they are saying that CEO character is critical, as is the ethical tone he or she sets for the organization. This study has important implications for companies when it comes to both hiring and developing leaders.
"The ideal leader will already have an internal moral compass that is guided by ethics and caring. Companies need to select those individuals carefully, and then ensure their internal culture is one that nurtures and rewards that type of leadership."
Chuck Rumford is director of corporate programs for West Chester University's College of Business and Public Affairs. West Chester University serves the educational and training needs of students and corporate clients from its off-campus, state-of-the-art Graduate Business Center. For more information on Corporate Programs, visit training.btcwcu.org or call (610) 425-2695. Anne Dunn is vice president, client services consulting for Right Management Consultants (www.right.com) and a member of the advisory board member for West Chester University's College of Business and Public Affairs. Reach her at (610) 251-9250.