The Four Most Important Qualities People Look For in Leaders They Want To Follow

If I were to ask you, What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life" who would you name?  Does a person come to mind--perhaps someone from your workplace or church world or social group? Then, if I followed up by saying, Now, please list three words that best describe what this person contributes to your life, what would you list?

Interesting questions, aren't they.

As it turns out, the Gallup organization did a random sampling of 10,000 followers, asking them these very questions.  In essence, Gallup was trying to get at how followers define in their own words leaders who make a real, positive difference in their lives.

In studying all the responses, the researchers saw distinct patterns emerge.  The followers had very clear pictures of what they want and need from the most influential leaders in their lives.  And they didn't center around the traditional descriptions of good leadership, like purpose, wisdom, humor, humility, vision.

These were the four qualities most mentioned and valued:  trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  For leaders to be effective, they simply cannot ignore the culture around them.  Successful leaders always work at building environments centered on these four qualities.

1.  Trust

The people surveyed also cited honesty, integrity, and respect.  As it turns out, those words describe the outcomes of strong relationships built on trust.  Trust is elicited by living the qualities of honesty, integrity, and respect.

Leaders who worked with people on the basis of those three attributes built strong foundations of trust in all their relationships.

Can my word be counted on?  Do I follow through with what I say I'll do?  Do I treat people with respect and honor, valuing their contributions?  Do I apply policies and procedures fairly and competently, considering the people most affected?

I find that the people who have the most difficulty trusting others often are unable to trust themselves.  They don't trust themselves because they often are breaking trust with themselves--they don't follow through on their own commitments (even getting lazy about showing up on time when they've committed to being somewhere at a certain time, for example).  Trust begets trust.

2.  Compassion

Those surveyed also used the words caring, friendship, happiness, and love.

People commented that the leaders they most wanted to be loyal to were those who exhibited a definite caring about their lives, both professional and personal.

In fact, Gallup's workplace studies (10 million employees) have all revealed that when people agree with the statement, "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person":

  • they are significantly more likely to stay with their organization
  • they have much more engaged customers
  • they are substantially more productive
  • they produce more profitability for the organization

Turns out, compassion is a crucial quality in building a successful and productive culture, whether at work or anywhere else.

We all are hungering to be cared for in tangible and meaningful ways.  We work best in that kind of environment.  We engage more deeply in that context.  We give our loyalty to those who exhibit this quality toward us.

Leaders who have "a positive bias" are the most effective.  No one likes to be around a negative person much less follow them or give loyalty to them.

This means that we as leaders must put priority on our own self development.  We have to be willing to work on our own stuff--those things that are getting in the way of being able to show up with a spirit of compassion and caring concern.  Is our natural inclination to criticize or judge or put down rather than affirm or compliment or even give a constructive criticism sandwiched by praise?  Which means we must be able to give ourselves compassion and caring concern--we must be able to give unconditional love to ourselves.  Self care.

3.  Stability

The surveyees also cited the words security, strength, support, and peace.  In other words, people need to know that leaders' core values are stable, that those values can be counted on, that people can know what is expected at any given time.

I work with clients at times who describe their managers as being totally unpredictable--always changing their expectations of their employees.  And this kind of environment is driving them crazy with uncertainty, lack of trust, fear and insecurity that their manager will come down on them for one thing one time and another thing another time.  People simply can't operate effectively (at their best and with high self confidence) in this culture.

Stability generates confidence (even in the midst of change).

Being willing to be transparent with current challenges builds stability and confidence because people aren't suddenly taken by surprise.  So regular updates are important.  Being communicative about progress, wins, even losses can build confidence.  People are brought in to the process in a way that they feel like they're important collaborators whose input is valued.

In this day and age, creating a sense of stability in the midst of chaos is a huge need.

Do you project an honest bias that every employee, or every person in your orbit, has something valuable to contribute and is making a difference to the big picture?

4.  Hope

This includes words like direction, faith, and guidance.

The research shows that this may be the one area in which higher level leaders can have the most influence in their organizations.

Hope is the ability to help people "feel enthusiastic about the future."  Not a false hope.  But an enthusiasm built upon truth and belief in everyone's ability to navigate effectively toward the preferred future.

Hope gives people something to look forward to, to believe in, to contribute to.  It therefore helps people to see a way through all the change, difficulty, chaos, and uncertainty.

One author says that there are three ways to commit suicide:  take your own life, let yourself die, and live without hope.

We are built as human beings with the need for hope, to know that things can and will be better.  This is a powerful motivator.  And when it's absent, people lose confidence, disengage, and often feel helpless.

Are you a hopeful leader?  Do your presence and words project authentic confidence?  Or do you tend to react instead of initiate?

Research shows that initiators rather than reactors generate the most hope.  Initiators tend to identify opportunities for the future and this creates hope and optimism.

Summary:  The most effective leaders pay close attention to the culture where they lead.  They are relentless in shaping and in empowering others to shape environments of maximum trust, compassion, stability, and hope.

That's the kind of leader I choose to follow.  That's the kind of leader I want to be.  What about you?


Looking for a Speaker or Coach?

If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it.  And interested in strengths coaching?  Feel free to email me at or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.