Role models and leadership characteristics

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Leadership, like much in life, is about relationships — and the people you lead need to know you and what you value in order to know why they should follow you.

It is personal. Recently, I had the pleasure to hear James Kouzes, co-author of “The Leadership Challenge and A Leader’s Legacy,” speak to two groups of Colorado Springs leaders.

One was a group of 200, 18- to 25-five year-olds; the other was a group of established community and business leaders who attended the 30th Anniversary Celebration for Leadership Pikes Peak.

As a parent, I might have thought these two groups would have different thoughts and opinions about their role models and the characteristics that are important to effective leaders. Interestingly, their views were quite similar.

When asked to identify a category that represented a role model, both groups identified the same top four: community leaders, teacher or coach, business leader and family member. See below how we compare with the national statistics.

Role Models

  Youth Established National
Family Member 18% 11% 40%
Teacher or Coach 26% 16% 26%
Community Leader 26% 45% 11%
Business Leader 11% 17% 7%
Political Leader 4% 3% 4%
Professional Athlete 2% 1% 3%
Entertainer 1% 1% 2%
None/Other/Not Sure 6% 7% 7%

As someone involved in the community, as an employer and as a parent, the information gave me reason to evaluate my own actions through the “role model” lens.

What do you look for in leaders you admire? What characteristics are important if you are to follow someone’s lead?

Again, our young and established leaders had similar opinions.

Seventy-four percent of the youth and 88 percent of the established leaders said a leader they admire must be honest. Fifty-one percent of the youth and 64 percent of the adults said a leader must be inspiring.

Also selected as a necessary trait was forward thinking (68 percent by the young leaders and 67 percent by the community leader group).

See how we compare to the national data below.

Admired Leaders

  Youth Established National
Ambitious 40% 20% 21%
Broad-Minded 31% 51% 40%
Caring 29% 36% 20%
Competent 40% 58% 66%
Cooperative 30% 24% 28%
Courageous 30% 39% 20%
Dependable 50% 26% 33%
Determined 38% 14% 24%
Fair-minded 27% 33% 42%
Forward-looking 47% 67% 71%
Honest 75% 88% 88%
Imaginative 25% 32% 23%
Independent 10% 7% 6%
Inspiring 52% 64% 65%
Intelligent 42% 49% 47%
Loyal 30% 20% 14%
Mature 23% 11% 17%
Self-controlled 15% 12% 8%
Straightforward 18% 32% 34%
Supportive 38% 24% 35%

Seeing how we view leadership characteristics, particularly during the recent campaign commercial bombardment, was particularly striking. It speaks to a dichotomy between our values and actions.

In this community we have the opportunity to work to build trust and credibility in our workplaces, with our nonprofit organizations and in the public sector. This will take continual work from each of us, because as leaders and role models, if we want to be followed, we must attend to how we are treating those around us.

Which brings us back to — leadership is about relationship building.

Susan Saksa is the executive director of Leadership Pikes Peak.