What people most look for and admire in their leaders

What would people expect from an individual they would willingly follow, not because they have to but because they want to? What does it take to be the kind of leader that others want to follow, doing so enthusiastically and voluntarily?

Based on a research done by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner for over three decades, there are only four qualities that have always received more than 60% of votes, and they rank consistently at the top across different countries.

For the majority of people to follow someone willingly, they want a leader who they believe is:


First and foremost, people want a leader who is honest. They want to be sure that the individual is worthy of their trust. They want to know that the person is truthful, ethical and principled. They often use “integrity” and “authentic” as synonyms for honesty. It is strongly tied to values and ethics. People simply don’t trust leaders who can’t and won’t disclosure or live by their set of values, ethics and standards. Honesty is the quality that can most enhance or most damage personal reputation. When people follow someone they believe to be dishonest, sooner or later they realize that they have compromised their own integrity as well. And over time they not only lose respect for the leader, but they lose respect for themselves too.


People want their leaders to be competent to guide them along the path to the future. Leader isn’t expected to be an expert in everything, rather a leader is expected to have a competent understanding of the market, business, organisation and their people. They must understand the business impact of various fields of their company, be able to connect the dots and ask instructive and insightful questions. They also cannot be expected to be most technically competent in any operational speciality. Organisations are too complex and multifunctional for that ever to be the case. Senior leaders tend to have broader exposure to more functions, markets, countries and cultures.


People expect their leaders to be excited, energetic, and positive about the future. People are most likely believe what you are saying because they sense that you truly believe it. It is not enough for a leader to have a dream. A leader must be able to communicate that vision in ways that encourage others to sign up for it. Enthusiasm and excitement are essential, they signal the leader’s personal commitment to pursuing a dream. If a leader displays no passion for a cause, why should anyone else? Although the enthusiasm, energy and positive attitude of a leader may not change the content of work, but can certainly make the context more fulfilling. This is especially important in times of uncertainty. To make extraordinary things happen in extraordinary times, leaders must fuel the effort with positive emotions.


People expect their leaders to have a sense of direction and a concern for the future of the organisation. Leaders must know where they are going if they expect others willingly follow them on the journey. They have to have a point of view about the future envisioned for their organisations, and they need to be able to connect that point of view to the hopes and dreams of their people. Nearly 95% selected forward-looking as a requisite leadership quality. As people move up to the organisational hierarchy, their perspective on the future needs to expand. I work a lot with leaders on how to expand their capacity in this field, which can be quite challenging for them. Their people expect them to describe the future in rich details, however, due to VUCA world in many cases they have a blurred painting in front of them with lot of questions and unknown details.

According to the research these four have stood the test of time and geography, even though there have been modest changes in emphasis. At the same time, we should appreciate that context matters and the external environment may influence what people look for and admire in a leader any given moment or in any specific organization or location.

And finally these four characteristics are the ones that forms the basis of leadership credibility.

  • What makes you trustworthy in the eyes of your key stakeholders?
  • How can you broaden your competence as a leader?
  • Where is your passion in your leadership?
  • How can you expand your perspective to become more forward-looking?

Source: The leadership challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

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