3 Traits That Are Frequently Mistaken For Good Leadership Potential


At one point or another, we’ve all come across people in positions of influence, authority and power, who makes us stop and wonder how they got chosen for the job in the first place. The sheer incongruence between their leadership competence and their position itself might be a head-scratcher: surely there are others who are more suited for the job?


Yet in so many instances at work and in life, we repeatedly encounter such incompetent leaders. Needless to say, they have dire negative effects on employee engagement, job satisfaction and turnover rates. Bafflingly enough though, they seem to retain their position in the long-term: but why?

The fact of the matter is, even though we all know that leadership can make or break a team, when it comes to actually electing someone to the mantle of leadership, we tend to overestimate the importance of some traits over others in judging leadership potential. Here are three such traits that are frequently mistaken as good leadership potential.

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1. Type-A high-performers


So often, we equate elite performance with stand-out leadership potential. The logic goes that those who frequently outperform their peers at work have proven their mettle and identified themselves as the cream of the crop. Therefore, they’re often subsequently earmarked for leadership development.


The problem is, though, that being an overachieving, type-A-personality figure doesn’t necessarily map onto the kind of social and emotional intelligence skills that are necessary for good leadership. One can, for example, be particularly good at executing various tasks on one’s own, without being able to influence others positively as leaders should.

Indeed, among Google’s “Project Oxygen” findings on the 10 behaviours of the best managers, only two pertain to performance:

  • Productive and results-oriented
  • Has key technical skills to help advise the team


In contrast, the other 8 behaviours of good managers all relate to good people skills, which high performers may or may not have, for example:

  • being a good coach
  • excellent communication skills
  • collaborating effectively across the organisation



2. An entitlement mentality


“With great power comes great responsibility.” While it’s arguably one of the most famous pop-culture adages on power today, it’s a statement that holds a deeper truth too. Too often, those in power end up taking their authority over others for granted, even going so far as to abuse that authority.


In fact, many managers tend to act in accordance with an entitlement mentality. This, in turn, engenders resentment and a loss of trust and loyalty amongst employees. Studies have shown, for instance, that entitled leaders are far less likely to practice empathic leadership, which one of the most critical leadership competences.

Ultimately, no one likes being taken for granted or feeling under-appreciated and undervalued. The truth of the matter, after all, is that leadership is a privilege, not a right. The more entitled a leader feels towards his power, the less attuned to his people’s (and by extension, that of the organisation’s) needs and wants.



3. A magnetic charisma


How many times do leadership selection criteria seem to devolve into popularity contests and measures of likability above anything else? According to Columbia University organisational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, far too often.


In his book, “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?”, he highlights the fact that we tend to prefer electing charismatic leaders. A lot of the time, we confuse the charm and confidence charismatic personalities exude with actual competence. Of course, in reality, charisma has far less bearing on leadership potential than traits like integrity.


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