It’s logical to think that competitiveness is one of the most valued leadership traits in the corporate world. But according to research by our company, it’s not — by a long shot. Seventy-five percent of workers and almost half (46 percent) of CFOs in recent Robert Half Management Resources surveys cited integrity as the most important attribute for business leaders to possess.
Competitiveness was actually the lowest-ranked trait in the surveys overall. Only 10 percent of workers said they view a competitive nature as a top leadership quality. CFOs appear to value a hard-driving business edge more, however, with about one-third (30 percent) identifying competitiveness as a key attribute for corporate leaders.
Why does integrity rise to the top of the list of leadership attributes? Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, offers this perspective: “Leaders who act with integrity and treat people well help maximize the contributions of their employees and build goodwill for their organization. As important as these attributes are for managing a team, they also drive business by attracting investors, customers and potential staff members.”
Perceptions about leadership traits vary by age group
Fairness ranked second as a top leadership attribute in our surveys; it was cited by 58 percent of workers and 45 percent of CFOs. A closer look at the results according to age group shows that professionals who are 55 and older place more emphasis on this leadership trait than workers in the 18-to-34-year-old category — and by a wide margin: 72 percent compared to 44 percent, respectively.
Professionals between the ages of 18 and 34 are also more likely to look for a strategic mindset as a top attribute in a corporate leader. Another notable finding from our research: Respondents in the 35-to-54 age group value a collaborative mindset in corporate leaders significantly more than the other age groups represented in the surveys — essentially, twice as much.
There were significant differences in responses based on company size, as well. For example, CFOs at small companies (20 to 49 employees) were more likely than their counterparts at the largest firms (1,000 or more employees) to prioritize a strategic mindset and competitiveness. And at almost every size company, less than one-quarter of CFOs cited decisiveness as a defining quality for a corporate leader. The one exception? CFOs at firms with 500 - 999 employees. Nearly half of finance executives in this group view decisiveness as a top leadership trait.
Ways to exemplify top leadership attributes
Many qualities define leaders, but clearly, for most of the workers and finance leaders who took part in our surveys, these three stand above all others: integrity, fairness and decisiveness. Armed with this insight, managers who want to make their mark as leaders should take care to:
Set the right example. Make sure that you meet — or, even better, exceed — the standards of performance and conduct that you expect from your team members. Also, move quickly to address employees’ performance issues. This will demonstrate that you are an engaged leader who will not allow problems to fester.
Be prompt and direct when communicating information. Whenever there is important news or a major change in your organization, share specifics with your staff as soon as possible. Otherwise, rumors can spread. And if you aren’t able to answer your employees’ questions, tell them you’ll work to find the details they seek (and then, be sure to follow through).
Be your team’s biggest champion. When they face difficult situations, be quick to stand by (and up) for them. And when they achieve success, offer timely praise and thanks and make sure the rest of the organization is aware of their accomplishments.
In addition, help your staff members to understand their impact on the company’s bottom line, and look for opportunities to assist them in advancing in their careers. These actions can have a positive impact on retention. And, of course, the ability to retain valued employees is also a mark of an effective business leader.