Many books and research papers have been written about what makes a successful leader and the traits that great leaders demonstrate. But are some traits more important than others? Is it more important to be able to provide a clear and compelling vision for others to follow, than it is to be inspirational and charismatic, for example?

As with many aspects of life, the Pareto Rule also applies to leadership, in other words a few leadership traits will be more important than others, but which one or ones are they?

Probably the most important trait that a leader can demonstrate is to have set out high standards and expectations for themselves and their organisation. The standards will be in terms of integrity, capability, behaviour and performance.

Standard setting is the most important leadership trait because it underpins all aspects of a leader’s behaviour which in consequence influences the behaviour of other people. For example, what does it say about:

  • a works manager who regularly walks round their factory but fails to take action over the poor housekeeping of the plant?
  • A teacher who allows their pupils to ‘coast’ through their studies and fails to take action over those who don’t complete their coursework?
  • A government minister who persuaded his wife to admit to a traffic offence that he was guilty of.

All of the above provide a subluminal message to other people and that message is that they don’t really care and if they don’t care, why should anyone else?

That’s why having high standards is so important, it demonstrates to other people that as a leader you care and  you are prepared to hold yourself to account for very high levels of integrity, performance and behaviour.