More than 30 years ago, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, made an eye-opening investigation on this hypothetical question: What do people look for and want from their leaders?
The quest for answers stems from their idea “leadership is a relationship.” They want to cement the link and make concrete proof. The research for Kouzes and Posner began when the two surveyed thousands of business and government executives. Since the open-ended question elicits different responses, hundreds of different values, traits, and characteristics were gathered.
The aid from several independent judges was required for content analysis. After that, further empirical analyses narrowed down the list into twenty characteristics. With a refined list complete, Kouzes and Posner have developed the Characteristics of Admired Leaders checklist.
Over one hundred thousand people around the world took part in this test. Incredibly, Kouzes and Posner still update the results. In this one-page survey, respondents are asked to select seven qualities they “most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction they would willingly follow.”
Remember the key word here is willingly.
In the book the Kouzes and Posner describe, “What do they expect from a leader they would follow, not because they have to, but because they want to?”
The results have been striking because of its regularity. The authors saw four characteristics:
Throughout 1987 to 2012, these attributes remain consistent. These didn’t just pop out from the authors’ minds. These four qualities are from respondents encompassing the six continents: Africa, North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia.
How are these results connected to the Five Practices of Leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Enable Others to Act, Challenge the Process, Encourage the Heart?
Only an honest leader can Model the Way and being forward-looking means one can Inspire a Shared Vision. When a leader enables others to act, that means they know what walking the talk and they are trustworthy. And finally, someone who’s inspiring knows how to Encourage the Heart.