7 Traits of Great Leaders: Part I

by David Olson

Leadership is a complicated subject. Everyone admires good leadership, and most everyone wants to become a good leader, but what really makes up a great business leader? Let us begin by thinking about the two ingredients that create leadership; learned and DNA. There are different schools of thought on how much leadership is learned vs. your God-given personality. I happen to fall into the camp that says most good leaders begin with a specific set of DNA and a cultural upbringing that makes up the largest ingredient. I certainly believe that behavior can be learned, especially leadership, but without an established set of personality traits, even great training can have little impact on creating a great leader. To unpack the seven personality traits that make great leaders, I first need to start with a little background.

It was in 1998 while working with my former consulting firm on a client engagement in NYC where I first intersected with an amazing personality tool I adopted into my consulting practice called Caliper. As a Caliper Strategic Partner, I have implemented the Caliper assessment with hundreds of executives for purposes of recruiting and coaching. The Caliper Profile is a robust assessment, measuring 30 different personality characteristics that make people successful leaders. Compare those 30 to DISC (4 personality profiles) and Myers-Briggs (16 personality profiles), and you will understand my preference to use this powerful assessment tool.

After 50 years in business, working with over 28,000 companies, and assessing over 2 million professionals, the Caliper Corporation determined that there is 7 stand out personality traits that are most crucial for making great leaders. This two-part article will unveil those seven traits and unpack key characteristics of each one. Here are the first three of the seven traits that make great leaders:

  1. Assertiveness
  2. Ego Drive
  3. Ego Strength


Caliper defines Assertiveness as “the ability to express one’s thoughts forcefully and consistently, without having to rely on anger.” Leaders lacking assertiveness “are less comfortable expressing themselves forcefully and may back down or be reactive in certain situations.”

Assertiveness can often be mistaken for being aggressive, but that is not the case. When a leader is assertive, they can focus their team through direct and clear communication. They have the ability to read their audience, clarify the focus and purpose of objectives, and align the team towards successful implementation. Clarity is key, as reinforced by General Colin Powell, “great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”

Ego Drive

Caliper defines Ego Drive as “the inner need to persuade others as a means of gaining personal gratification.”

Mike Myatt, a top advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs, says “you cannot be an effective leader without influence. Let me make this as simple as I can – if you are a leader, influence needs to be a competency.”

Ego gets a bad name because we often discuss it within the spectrum of an individual’s selfish motives. However, ego within a leader who has “Level 5 Leadership” motivations (putting others before self), will be able to wield it for good. That leader will be able to guide and direct people to achieve something that is greater than themselves.

Because Ego Drive can be misread, misunderstood, or misinterpreted by team members, it is imperative that a leader builds his or her credibility so that their Ego Drive is received properly. Credibility happens by earning trust, caring about relationships, being knowledgeable, and obtaining experience. These attributes build a leader’s credibility.

Ego Strength [Resilience]

Caliper defines Ego Strength as “the ability to handle rejection and accept criticism in a manner which is positive and growth oriented.” Leaders lacking Ego Strength “do not have this basic acceptance of themselves and have a poor or negative self-picture, and a preoccupation with their conflict or feeling of inferiority may sap their energy, so that their personality dynamics are weakened or blocked, thus reducing their effectiveness.”

This trait is so important because great leaders are always out front leading the way, driving, sharing, communicating, engaging, energizing, and encouraging those around them.  Their egos must be resilient because the very nature of being a leader is to face opposition and criticism both internally and externally. Ego Strength allows leaders not to lose focus, be hindered, slowed down, or thwarted. They will have a strong resolve to press on with unbridled optimism that fuels the team.

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