The Problem with Leadership Quality Lists

What is Career Coaching? What is Leadership Coaching? What is Business Coaching?

No list of leadership traits is complete.


A well-known management and leadership author has posted one of the familiar list of top leadership traits. The theme essay suggests that if you want to be a leader, you will be persistent, collaborative, a great communicator, and a visionary. Add to that a list of five other qualities.

I get passionate about leaders – but they are not all the same. Any list of conditions doesn’t tell the story – how do we create leaders? Here is what I know – it is not about teaching persistence and teamwork.

There is no perfect list of leadership qualities.  There are too many challenging leadership situations. Leaders often arise when others don’t suspect that the “man” has the right stuff – just like Winston Churchill was discounted in British government before Hitler started conquering Europe. It took an exceptional circumstance – an enemy on the march, the likelihood of war – for a discredited politician to make a comeback and become the moral and political leader of his people.

No list of qualities will anticipate the situation. There are too many factors in life. The right leader has been prepared by earlier life to step up to the challenge. Just studying persistence, collaboration and communication won’t be enough to make a sturdy leader.

The qualities of leadership are real; they come from life’s challenging experiences. As leaders move into conditions of pressure and turbulence, the leader learns to work with both intuition and deliberation. The development of a leader often happens at an extreme cost to personal comfort. Nervous systems become seared by the challenge of real life. A leader prepares to step into unforgiving moments of destiny by having survived earlier moments of crisis.

Build all the lists of leadership talent you might choose. The real development of leadership is much more than a well-designed curriculum. Leaders have been burned before by critical life events. They are ready to move forward when duty taps them on the shoulder. The real work of leaders is founded in a sense of remarkable service.

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