What qualities make a great leader? How do people respond when asked this question? Do answers vary between people from different countries or regions?
In April 2015, the Coaching Research Institute (CRI) conducted a survey called the "Survey of Global Values and Perspectives on Leadership and Organizations" with 1,500 workers from 15 countries and regions (100 workers representing from each country or region). The survey consisted of leadership and other categories.
We hypothesized that the concept of what 'characteristics constitute a great leader' would differ from country to country. This is because the standard for a 'great leader' is determined by a number of complex interacting factors, including history, culture, politics, economics and company environment.
Over the past years, the CRI has conducted various types of research about leadership in 26 countries worldwide. This research has included using methods such as assessments, surveys and evaluations. Based on the results and feedback from these surveys, we have compiled a list of 18 different leadership qualities which great leaders are considered to have.
Survey respondents answered the question, "What are the most important qualities a great leader should have in an organization?" Respondents selected the 6 qualities they thought to be the most important. For the purposes of the analysis below, the leadership qualities chosen and ranked by the survey respondents here are subsequently referred to as "ideal leadership qualities".
First, let us look at Figure 1, which shows qualities ranked by top number of responses for each different region.
Figure 1: Leadership Qualities Ranked by Respondents ("Ideal Leadership Qualities")
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Leadership qualities ranked by respondents from each country/region.
Global refers to total responses from 15 countries/regions.
(Coaching Research Institute, 2015)
Looking at the 15 different countries and regions, the top three leadership qualities overall were 'accountability', 'motivates others', and 'good listener' (first column of Figure 1, 'Global Top 3'). These results seem to make sense, but given our hypothesis it was unexpected how similar the choices were in so many of the countries and regions. While Australia, France and the USA shared the same top three (although ordered differently), the remaining 12 countries each had at least 2 of the 'Ideal Global Top 3' in their own top 3s.
Next, participants were asked to evaluate leader(s) in their own companies based on the 18 same qualities (Question: "How do you view the leaders (i.e. supervisors, managers, etc.) in your company?") and were furthermore asked to give overall evaluations of these leaders. Analyzing these data using multiple regression, we looked at how much the 18 qualities impacted the overall evaluations of leaders. Items which had a large degree of impact were interpreted as being 'qualities which great leaders actually have'. Figure 2 shows these qualities ranked by strength of impact for different countries.
Figure 2: Leaders Evaluated by Respondents ("Actual Leadership Qualities")
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Respondents from each country/region evaluated their company's leaders.
Global refers to total evaluation from 15 countries/regions.
Leadership qualities were ranked based on how strong the impact was from each leadership qualities to the overall evaluation.
(Coaching Research Institute, 2015)
The top three leadership qualities identified here were 'delegates authority', 'accountability', and 'values diversity' (Actual Global Top 3). 'Accountability' was the only quality which was also one of the top three ideal leadership qualities (from Figure 1). In contrast, 'delegates authority' and 'values diversity' ranked much lower in the ideal rankings. Furthermore, no countries had the Actual Global Top 3 as their top three qualities. Four countries had two of these qualities; eight countries had only one, while France, Japan and Thailand had none. What does this tell us?
Two things can be taken away from this result. Firstly, the qualities that come to mind when people are asked 'what qualities make a great leader' differ from the qualities which actual great leaders may have. People may not say that delegating authority or valuing diversity are important qualities that great leaders have, but they may unconsciously look at whether their leaders are demonstrating them.
Secondly, the leadership qualities which determine a great leader are not necessarily universal. Although the same leadership qualities ranked highly in the ideal leadership quality rankings, there were few consistencies in rankings of actual qualities. While some countries may consider delegating authority or valuing diversity important, in Japan for example, qualities such as having humility or being a strategic thinker are considered to be more important.
What is considered to be effective leadership in each country may differ because of differences in the character and values of each country, as well as the specific economic and company environments of the times.
Survey of Global Values and Perspectives on Leadership and Organizations (2015)
Survey participants: Non-managerial staff between the ages of 25-39
Survey method: Online survey