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Differences in Leadership Characteristicd


The purpose of this report is to reflect on, and dive into what makes a great leader. To accomplish this, two leaders, one male and one female will be interviewed. These interviews will be an hour long in length with a pre-determined question list. Both leaders will be asked the same questions.

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In preparation for the interviews, significant thought and effort has been put into identifying the characteristics that great leaders exhibit. These characteristics will be defined, analyzed, and ranked in the order of perceived importance. The primary objective of the report is to observe the differences between the team’s assumptions of essential leadership characteristics, and those of the interviewed leaders.

The report will discuss the process followed in creating the list of characteristics, defining the characteristics as well as ranking them in order of importance. From there, the ranked list will be illustrated and followed by a summary of the discussion/analysis it resulted from. An in-depth rationale for each characteristic will be included followed by the rationale for the prioritization of the characteristics. An appendix with the suggested interview questions will be accompany the report.


To begin the process of selecting characteristics of effective leadership, the team started with information gathering. Listing as many unique characteristics as it could which resulted in a list of twenty-four traits. In the process, ideas were drawn from personal experiences in what team members thought were vital to effective leadership. Examples include leaders in their personal lives, such as parents and employers. They also considered public figures that were seen as leaders in both a positive and negative light. A few examples of those include Barack and Michelle Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, and Adolf Hitler. Fictional leaders such as Captain America were also evaluated.

Once an exhaustive list of twenty-four characteristics were identified that the team felt strongly about, the list was then narrowed by combining similar terms, such as inspirational with motivational. This was done through team discussion while referencing definitions. The list was then further condensed through debate and discussion. Consensus was finally reached with eleven characteristics remaining. At this point each team member was assigned one or two characteristics to expand upon. The goal was to elaborate on the potential reasons why each characteristic was valuable in an effective leader. The team then shared the reasonings with one another.

This group working session happened to take place during the team’s first coaching session. To expedite the procedure of ranking the characteristics, the team coach suggested to use a modified voting process. This process involved each team member having five points to allocate to any characteristic. Multiple points could be placed on one characteristic the team member felt strongly about. For example, if one person felt strongly about “inspirational” as their number one characteristic, they could allocate all of their five points to that one characteristic. Once all the thirty-five points allocated, we then there was a brief discussion to see if there was agreement on the rankings. Upon examining the data, four characteristics clearly stood out and fell in place in order of importance. Consensus was reached, then the process was repeated for the remaining 8 characteristics. At the end of the second round, the team was able to finalize the rankings. A characteristic was also eliminated through the process as there appeared to be a redundancy in loyalty and trust.

Ranked List of Leadership Characteristics

Characteristics Rank
Trustworthy (loyal) 1
Effective Communicator 2
Inspirational 3
Optimistic 4
Competent 5
Self-Aware 6
Forward-Thinking 7
Empathetic 8
Ethical 9
Creative Thinking 10
Ability to Delegate 11

Summary of Discussion following list Creation

The discussion following the list creation was centered around how specific traits made individuals feels and why they felt those traits were required in leaders. There was a clear theme of what traits were required in leaders. These traits could be broken down into two categories, ones that were critical in enabling performance and ones that made people feel good. The team was unanimous in concluding that leaders had to be possess both raw business skills as well as emotional skills.

Rational for the Prioritization of the Characteristics

Rank was achieved by group voting resulting in consensus. This was done with relative ease, especially in determining the top three. These top three foundational characteristics were found to be essential in enabling the other characteristics. Trustworthiness for example; without trust, effective communication would not be believed by one’s followers. However, with trust in place, leaders can use their communication skills to deliver messages and calls to action to their followers.  As one moves down the list, the logic continues to flow in the same direction. One could not be perceived as inspirational if they were not able to properly communicate their passion. Looking at the remaining list of characteristics with the three core items removed, a cluster of equally important characteristics were identified. From there it was a shared belief that all remaining characteristics were equally essential in effective leadership therefore the specific ranking was viewed as less important.

Rationale of Leadership Characteristics

1 – Trustworthy

Without followers there are no leaders. With that being said, trust is critical in building and maintaining a follower base, a desired state that relies on honesty and dependability. One can also argue that trust can lead to credibility and respect, which enhances the leader’s effectiveness. Once trust has been established in a relationship, a sense of obedience can easily be detected from a follower. This is particularly important in the event of a crisis and where a leader promptly requires the cooperation of their followers. There are times when leaders will have to put their followers in a position where they do not have all the relevant information but ask them to follow them regardless. In such a situation, the followers will only execute the request if a leader has been successful in establishing a strong feeling of allegiance, support and therefore trust.

Furthermore, trust and honesty are essential characteristics to successfully develop and mentor subordinates through performance feedback. Employees will be more willing to share information and have confidence that their leader is acting in their best interest. This will result in subordinates valuing their leader’s opinions and advice, resulting in positive action.

2 – Effective Communication

Effective communication is a complex skill and it transcends one’s ability to receive and send information. It has proven to be a critical tool for successful leaders from different eras and different cultures. Sir Winston Churchill is a good example of a leader who effectively leveraged the power of words to share his vision and eventually set the path to victory during World War II (1).

Communication is crucial to the success of a leader and can be a differentiator between a leader and a manager. One can even argue that communication is the heart of any leadership, and Churchill once said that “the difference between mere management and leadership is communication (2)”. However, communication is a complicated skill and for a leader to effectively harness the power of communication, one must fully master all elements of communications; oral and written, non-verbal as well as active listening.

Since leadership can be defined as “the art of motivating and inspiring a group or community toward the achievement of a perceived common goal, including creating the environment and providing the necessary resource (3)”, an effective communication characteristic can serve as the medium through which leadership goals can be achieved.

3 – Inspirational

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” – Sheryl Sandberg. On very rare occasions, leaders may come into your life and leave a long-lasting impression by demonstrating deep passion about their vision and inspire you through deep connections. Under transformational leadership, one of the key traits that drives individual performance to exceed beyond expectations is inspirational motivation. This is supported under the characteristics of an admired leader – survey results in 2007 that present “inspiring” as one of the top characteristics of a leader.

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While the environment of work develops increasingly, inspiration can make the difference within teams that exceed beyond expectations and those that lag. Inspirational leaders and their systems build inspiration work because they encourage realness, complexity of human connection, and create a common podium for every individual and team to make unique contributions (4).

To further add, inspiring leaders have a unique combination of strengths and supported with their charisma from their long-term vision to motivate individuals and team to take on bold assignments – while holding them accountable for results, by unlocking higher performance through empowerment, not order and control (5).

4 – Optimistic

Optimism is an essential trait for a leader to possess. To stay positive, especially when the situation is unfavorable, is beneficial to both the leader and to those that follow. If a leader is optimistic, then set-backs are much more palatable, as the leader will not likely brood over failure or negatives. The leader is more likely to move forward with the situation, and evaluate future actions, and see the big picture (6). This can have a positive inspirational effect on followers (7). Optimism as a leader also brings out higher performance, creativity, and innovation in the environment. If a follower knows that their failures will not be constantly be dwelled upon, they are more likely to take risks, and think outside the box, and try harder (6). Although risk taking can be argued in both a beneficial and detrimental sense depending on context, the overall benefit of leader optimism on followers is clear. Optimistic leaders are more likely to outperform pessimistic leaders due to superior coping skills in confronting and managing problems (8).

5 – Competence

Competence is defined as “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.” (9).  Competence contributes directly to the leader’s perceived confidence and credibility. Without competence, the best a leader can hope to achieve is being a loveable fool. Competence is essential for an individual to be a transformational leader, it enables the leader the ability and time to develop crucial skills and draw on past experiences to maximize the efficiency and operation of the team. Very few people are willing to be led by an individual that does not appear credible.

As per the Leadership session 2 slides, competence is consistently one of the top five characteristics from both managers and MBA students in an admired leader (10). Both competence and ability to learn are essential to a transformational leader and directly impact one’s credibility with their followers. Without credibility it is difficult to build trust and therefore be an effective leader.

6 – Self-AwarenessSelf-awareness is one’s natural ability to know their strengths, values, as well as their limitations. Therefore, it is particularly important for leaders, to have solid self-awareness to know who they are, and have a better sense as to where they are going in life. As the former United Nation’s Secretary General, Kofi Annan once put it, “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there (11)”.

In today’s ever-changing business environment, this characteristic is vital to a leader’s success. Self-awareness serves as the foundation upon which leaders can build self-acceptance, which in turn helps develop self-confidence into self-esteem (12).

Often, leaders with solid self-awareness tend to also have strong emotional intelligence, which is crucial in managing a team or an organization. In his best-selling book, titled “The True North”, Bill George, former Medtronic chairman and CEO and current professor at Harvard Business School, argued that self-awareness is the starting point of leadership (13). This really emphasizes the importance of this core leadership characteristic.

7 – Forward-Looking

Forward-looking leaders are inspirational because of the visionary lenses they view an organization and their ability to think and innovate for the future. These are highly admirable in outstanding entrepreneurial leaders. When thinking of forward-looking leaders, one cannot ignore Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, who started a corporation that only sold books, expanded on his vision to be “an everything store”, and became an e-commerce domination and employees are even more drawn to his vision (14).

Many of the forward-looking leaders have traits in common and can change the world because of their vision, where they are able to influence followers in organizations and are able to reach their end-goal even with all setbacks and challenges they stumble across.

Furthermore, forward-looking leaders have a combination of traits that led them to be result driven, which are stemmed from their courage to take risks, strategic planning in short/long term goals, execution-oriented by executed their strategies, and commitment to their goals even during rock-bottom while inspiring and motivating individuals and the team.

8 – Empathy

Empathy is succinctly defined as being able to understand and be sensitive to others’ feelings, thoughts, or experiences (15). If a leader can consider the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of others’ in his/her decision making, then that leader would be able to make more informed decisions. The leader would be able more sensitive in approaching situations that demand high emotional intelligence, and would be able to better relate with followers, clients, and others. As a leader, the benefits would include success in building and retaining talent, cross cultural sensitivities, and better service to clients and customers (16). An empathetic leader that shows care is also more likely to elicit a better culture where employees reciprocate that care to the leader and company through higher performance (17). An example would be an individual having a tough time starting a new job. The leader or employer recognizes that, and empathizes by always asking how they are doing, showing genuine care in their wellbeing. In this situation, the individual is more likely to work and try harder for this leader as opposed to a cold uncaring leader that makes no attempt to connect and relate. Empathy is essential especially when demonstrated effectively. At times, it is important to demonstrate “tough empathy” as an effective leader needs to give people not what they want, but what they need in order to achieve the best (16).

 9 – Ethical

In today’s highly media saturated society, it is imperative for businesses to worry about public perception, which requires them to uphold a high standard of ethics in order to project a positive image. The most effective way to achieve this state is for leaders to inspire ethical behavior in their employees is to lead by example from the top.

As demonstrated through various recent events, leaders can and will be held accountable for their actions and the way they choose to conduct business. More and more businesses choose to do things differently by following Warren Buffet’s advice arguing that, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it (18,19).”

Fostering an environment where ethical decision making is at the forefront also serves to give the perception of fairness within the organization since all decisions are upheld to a high standard of morality. Moreover, it takes a lot of courage to continuously lead by example and to consistently choose the right course of action; this also enables the leader to build respect and trust within his organization and from their followers (18,19).

10 – Creative Thinking

Creative thinking refers to the ability of a person to investigate a situation in a new perspective that helps in bringing out a better understanding, and thereby obtaining a long-lasting solution. Whenever managing a group of people one thing that should make the leader unique is his or her ability to view situations differently. This helps in guiding the team members when they’ve hit a road block, since they will be expecting their leader help provide solutions and think of alternatives. Creative thinking allows the leader to avoid instances of misjudgment and making of wrong decisions (20).

Creative thinking can also help in ensuring profitable operations. Having the ability to think outside the box allows leaders to come up with unique solutions that inspire their followers. They obtain respect from the rest of the team members as they acknowledge critical thinking importance in the success of the team.

11 – Ability to delegate

As a leader, it is important to be able to delegate duties to other team members. This is crucial as it enables growing the skills and competency levels of one’s followers. This also enables prudent succession planning in an organization. Delegation also improves the level of trust in the team, thereby strengthening a leader’s effectiveness. For the juniors, they feel more trusted and appreciated by their leader whenever he or she assigns them various tasks (21). Delegation, when combined with critical thinking, helps in promoting teamwork success in the group. This is attributed to the fact that the two characteristics promote reliability competence and loyalty among a group of people working together.


  1. Sir Winston Churchill: Masterful Communicator. (2019). Retrieved from https://prospectingprofessor.blogs.com/prospecting_professor/2005/05/sir_winston_chu.html
  2.  Miller, P. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.mcgill.ca/engage/files/engage/leadership_communication_miller_2015.pdf
  3. Dr. Bill Blake, “Introduction to Leadership” PowerPoint presentation, slide 15.
  4. Horwictch, M. (2016). How Leaders Inspire: Cracking the Code. Retrieved from https://www.bain.com/insights/how-leaders-inspire-cracking-the-code/
  5. Garton, E. (2017). How to Be an Inspiring Leader. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/04/how-to-be-an-inspiring-leader
  6. Gallo, C. (2012). 5 Reasons Why Optimists Make Better Leaders. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2012/08/08/5-reasons-why-optimists-make-better-leaders/#5cf3e40c4e07
  7. Leadership Warts and All
  8. Howatt, B. (2017). Why you need to be an optimistic, not pessimistic, leader. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/workplace-award/why-you-need-to-be-an-optimistic-not-pessimistic-leader/article32815605/
  9. competence – Google Search. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.google.com/search?q=competence&rlz=1C1CHBF_enCA811CA811&oq=competence&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.7196j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  10. Blake, W., Dr. (n.d.). MBUS 843: Leadership and Interpersonal Skills for Managers Transformational Leadership – Session 2. Lecture presented at Slide 49-50.
  11. ANNAN, K. (1997). Commencement Address. Retrieved from http://news.mit.edu/1997/annansp
  12. Dr. Bill Blake, “Personal Leadership Development” PowerPoint Presentation, slide 38
  13. Eurich, T. (2018). Self-Awareness Can Help Leaders More Than an MBA Can. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/01/self-awareness-can-help-leaders-more-than-an-mba-can
  14. http://fortune.com. (2014). Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2014/03/20/worlds-50-greatest-leaders/
  15. Definition of EMPATHY. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathyWhat Makes a Great Leader
  16. Chowdhury, S. (2017). The leadership principle my grandfather shared with me as a child is the same one I now teach Fortune 500 execs. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/why-empathy-is-key-to-effective-leadership-2017-4
  17. Goffee, R., & Jones, G. (2000). Why Should Anyone Be Led by You. Harvard Business Review, 1 – 12.
  18. Joe, D. (n.d.). Leadership Behaviours. Queens AMBA Slides – Leadership and Interpersonal Skills for Managers.
  19. Robertson, J. (2016). Coaching leadership: Building educational leadership capacity through partnership. New Zealand Council for Educational Research. PO Box 3237, Wellington 6140 New Zealand.
  20. Chen, M. W., & Rybak, C. (2017). Group leadership skills: Interpersonal process in group counseling and therapy. SAGE Publications.

Interview Questions

The section below contains all possible interview questions. The questions are broken down by category; general leadership, gender issues and ethics. It is important to note that during in person interviews the questions will not be asked in this order. Questions are further broken out by primary and secondary questions. The goal during the interview is to ask all primary questions. Should there be time remaining, secondary questions will then be asked.


Views on General Leadership Philosophy

Primary Questions

  1. What are the characteristics you possess that make you a great leader?
  2. Do you believe leadership can be taught or is it something someone must be born with and why?
  3. Have you always been a natural leader or was it something you had to work hard on?
  4. What does being an effective leader mean to you?
  5. Can you share an experience that you feel really tested your leadership ability and how you overcame it?
  6. Can you share an experience where you failed as a leader and what would you do today, knowing what you know now?
  7. Who do you admire as a leader and why?
  8. How would you describe your leadership style?
  9. What do you think has most attributed to your success?
  10. How do you motivate and inspire your team?

Secondary Questions

  1. What method or approach have you found most useful for coaching employees?
  2. Do you think virtual teams provide more benefits or challenges to organizations?
  3. How do you feel your organization’s mission, vision, and core values fit with your leadership style?
  4. How do you promote your organization’s core values in your personnel?
  5. How do you keep employees engaged when everyone has different motivations and goals?
  6. Do you take a different leadership approached based on the generation of worker?

Views on Gender Issues in Leadership

Primary Questions

  1. Do women and men lead in the same way?
  2. What differences have you experienced leading different genders?
  3. What differences have you experienced being led by different genders?
  4. What are your views on the gender gap in leadership?  In your opinion, why are there so few female leaders?

Secondary Questions

  1. Have you ever experienced or witnessed a gender bias? How did you address it?
  2. How do you manage/develop your workforce?  And do you find any differences between gender’s?

Views on Ethical Issues in Leadership

Primary Questions

  1. Tell us about a time when you faced a difficult decision that resulted in your personal values being tested?
  2. What ethical framework (process) do you think through when making difficult decisions?
  3. How do you make decisions when your personal ethics conflict with the organizations?
  4. How have you been impacted by poor leadership decisions in the past? And how did you overcome them?
  5. How important do you feel instinct is for ethical decision making?

Secondary Questions

  1. How do you align new hires to the organization’s culture?
  2. What are your thoughts on contemporary ethical violations in business (ENRON, VW)?
  3. How far ahead should you consider the ethical impacts of your decisions?
  4. How do you approach the balance of conducting business in other countries with different laws and norms?

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