Definition

leadership traits

Contributor(s): Jason Sparapani

Leadership traits are the personal qualities that shape effective leaders.

Many leadership traits are transferrable across industries. Emotional intelligence, resourcefulness and flexibility, for example, enable people in positions of authority to help employees complete initiatives and meet business goals, whether in business, government or education. Leaders in information technology (IT) must deal with an exceptional rate of industry change and a variety of complexities including integration of modern and legacy systems and applications, cybersecurity threats and compliance issues.

The most effective chief information officers (CIOs) need traditional leadership qualities plus a unique set of attributes, according to industry observer James Moffat Spitze and Judith J. Lee, authors of the "The Renaissance CIO Project: The Invisible Factors of Extraordinary Success." The 2012 study examined the characteristics of 14 high-achieving CIOs. All 14 men and women had a dedication to life-long learning -- a must in a fast-evolving industry in which both technical and business skills are critical; an ability to tap the "collective intelligence" of an organization and build cross-functional teams; and the vision to implement projects that have an enduring effect on their employers' customers. The authors traced these attributes to, among other things, personality traits such as being hardworking, practical and bold enough to take risks.

Other leadership traits like empathy, willingness to collaborate and the ability to listen are especially valuable to CIOs and other IT leaders, allowing them to reach out to people outside their circles and understand their perspectives. According to the Society for Information Management's "SIM 2015 IT Trends Study," aligning IT with the business side of the organization is the No. 1 concern for IT leaders. The same study found that 45% of a CIO's time is spent interacting with other IT people, while 46% is spent interacting with the business.

Defining leadership traits has become something of a cottage industry, with publishers pushing everything from second-century Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" to "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," by Stephen R. Covey.

This was last updated in September 2015

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