Leadership Characteristics: 10 Core? Or More?

What a pleasure! The 2014 Ag-Urban Initiative began with such great energy over February 13-14, 2014. In just two days’ time, we saw bonds developing and a network forming among class members that willBe the Change_Quote only strengthen as we move through this year together.

It’s a proven idea: bring folks with agriculture and urban connections together – recognizing Iowa will thrive as we band together as “professional Iowans producing solutions.” Even more, affirming that we have much in common as well as much to learn from one another.

The focus on leaders and leader development is primary with the Ag-Urban Initiative. But it’s no “Rah Rah” approach, as one class member said. We believe leadership begins with knowing and claiming yourself – understanding what is authentic in you, and bringing that Self to bear on the leadership challenges and opportunities you face.

Further, we believe that Effective, Authentic, Transformational Leadership, coming from a values-driven, servant leader perspective, can change the world.

Robert Greenleaf’s notions of Servant Leadership – especially the “test” he framed for servant leaders – are foundational:
“The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons?
Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

Larry Spears took the definition of Servant Leadership to another level, by naming his ten characteristics of a servant leader. It’s a good list for starting the conversation about the traits and attributes of good leaders. Spears listed:
1. Listening
2. Empathy
3. Healing
4. Awareness
5. Persuasion
6. Conceptualization
7. Foresight
8. Stewardship
9. Commitment to the growth of people
10. Building community

Now here’s a question. Think about your own leader-heroes and leader-heroines. Do they exhibit these ten characteristics?

Ag-Urban 2014 class members said yes and no.
Yes – they saw good reason for each of the ten to be on the list.
But No – not all the leaders they’ve known and respected necessarily showed all ten.

Perhaps an influential leader for one person is not so good at empathy or building community, but has excellent abilities to persuade, conceptualize, and have foresight about steps and strategies ahead. To that person, the characteristics the leader does have may take precedence over those that aren’t there – at least for the working relationship the two of them have.

So are some leadership characteristics more important than others? Or perhaps more important in certain settings or situations than in others?

Ag-Urban class discussions seemed to point to listening as being particularly core to good leadership. A leader who can’t or doesn’t listen carefully and thoughtfully to his or her team members or stakeholders won’t be so good at helping them to achieve great things. But listening alone does not make a leader.

As Paul Kirpes from TPG Companies shared with the Ag-Urban class, there may be other abilities and habits that help a leader be effective. For instance, it’s been researched and noted that solitude – the ability to be alone with your thoughts and reflect – is beneficial to many great leaders. And vision is often mentioned as being fundamental to strong leadership.

It’s your turn now. What do you think of the 10 servant-leader characteristics cited by Spears? Do they hold up for you? What other characteristics do you think help a leader be Effective, Authentic and/or Transformational?

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About Paul Kirpes, TPG Companies

For over 35 years, Paul J. Kirpes, Founder and President of TPG Companies, has transformed businesses, corporations, communities, and ventures in the private and public sectors throughout the U.S. as well as internationally. Paul empowers companies, their owners, and leaders to Transform, Perform and Grow!
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