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. Sixty-five per cent of Canadian workers and more than half (68 per cent) of Canadian 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 nine per cent 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 (28 per cent) identifying competitiveness as a key attribute for corporate leaders.

“As workers from the staff level to the executive level agree on the characteristics of a great leader, those at the top of their organizations must develop and exhibit their dedication to these shared values,” said David King, Canadian president of Robert Half Management Resources. “Establishing these principles at an executive level creates a culture of trust amongst teams, and promotes a more collaborative approach to reaching common goals.”

Perceptions about leadership traits vary by age group

Fairness ranked second as a top leadership attribute in our surveys; it was cited by 44 per cent of workers and 52 per cent 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 significant margin: 54 per cent compared to 42 per cent, respectively.

Another notable finding from our research: Respondents in the 18-to-34 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 fairness. 

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, rumours 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.

Learn from Robert Half’s expert recruiters so you can build a talented team of employees or advance your career. Operating in over 300 locations worldwide, including our Calgary recruitment office, Robert Half can provide you with assistance where and when you need it.