The 5 Fundamental Character Traits of Leadership


The 5 Fundamental Character Traits of Leadership

What are the fundamental cognitive capacities and character traits that a person absolutely must have to fulfill a leadership role when lives and fortunes are at stake?


Leadership has a fundamental role to play here. Only when a culture feels ‘safe’ will people dare to open up more. Only when people can make mistakes without fear of punishment will they take more risks. Trust is the antidote to fear. It is the role of the leaders to create this trust and then of every individual to protect it.

An excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” comes to mind.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…

This ability is more crucial than ever today. Leaders, in particular, need to cultivate this type of presence.


A good leader should practice self-control by closely observing how they react to unexpected challenges that come along the way, both big and small. Watch yourself as a leader as challenges arise and ask:

What throws me off balance?
What creates negative reactions in me?
When do I lose my patience?
When do I lose my presence?
What topics of conversation set me off?
Who are the people that set me off?
Where am I (in what location) most often when my triggers are set off?
Who are the people I tend to avoid?

Critical Thinking /Judgment

What does a good leader do when faced with a difficult situation? They slow down. They pause. They observe. They suspend judgment by pausing and taking a deep breath, steading their minds and try to source their inner stability. Leaders who approach situations in this way are preparing for the appropriate next move. They work on staying in control of themselves and the situation. The goal is to be effective, not reactive.


Self-awareness in leadership is the most important building block for any personal growth and the only way to achieve self-awareness is through self-reflection. This means having the willingness to step back and take a good look at ourselves, which can be scary. It’s much easier to blame the rest of the world for our pain rather than take personal responsibility for it.

Leading is not about taking control of others or pushing with our egos. It’s not about dumping emotions or subtly punishing others. It’s about positively asserting our needs and speaking our truth firmly, in a self-referential way and with respect for others.


Empathy, the heart of all collaboration and civility. This is the key to solving conflict whether in the boardroom, in the family or in society at large. It is the best peace pill we have. It has been proven that empathy is positively related to job performance and that managers who show more empathy towards direct reports are also viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses. Many of the empowerment skills required of managers, such as coaching, mentoring, giving and receiving feedback, delegating and career planning require a well-developed sense of empathy. It is becoming the foundation of successful leadership in the twentieth century

Years of experience working with many different types of organizations across multiple sectors has taught me that what most eludes us in our workplaces today is empathy. We are living in a hyper-individualist age driven by personal branding and virtual social media communication where our egos are being constantly fed and relationships are valued by the number of followers or ‘likes’ we are able to amass. This is having an effect on the ‘we’ factor of our collaboration.

We need to bring back the caring factor into our lives, and especially into our organizations. We’re moving so fast that we no longer ‘see’ one another. Without more authentic connection we seriously risk impoverishing the quality of all our relationships.

Empathy is a challenge for us. It means putting aside our own egos and giving the limelight to others. This is a complicated act for most human beings, especially living in a VUCA world where time is pushing, stress is increasing, and individualism is evermore king.

Our mission with The 5 Chairs is to activate these positive character traits in as many leaders as possible one chair at a time.

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