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Seven characteristics of effective leadership


In the first part of a new educational series, Mike Cameron discusses the qualities and traits of “Emerging Leaders” in organisations and what makes them qualified to not only manage other people but have complete confidence and assurance in themselves.

Gareth R Jones, in his pivotal book Organizational Theory, Design and Change1, stated that organisations are:

  • Efficient when they manage resources to maximise their utility in the process of producing goods or services.
  • Effective when they achieve qualitative goals and targets that are customer-centric, such as satisfaction.

Peter Drucker succinctly summed it up as efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right thing2. 

In other words, it is not a question of how much but rather how well the organisation achieves its goals through the employment and support of competent managers and/or effective leaders.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success. Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen R Covey 3

When facilitating leadership development programs several years ago, one of the open questions for discussion was: “Are leaders made or born?” The resounding response was that the skillset and key competencies associated with effective leadership can be learnt. However, as Paul J Meyer stated: “Before you can understand, motivate and lead others, you must first understand, motivate and lead yourself.” 4

How many friends, colleagues, supervisors, managers and/or former bosses have you known – possibly admired for their technical expertise and practical experience – who did not appear to have the appropriate leadership skills to survive and flourish themselves, to inspire and motivate their people, to encourage mutual trust or create an innovative and empowering workplace? 

How many of those people were promoted, or aspired to be promoted, without any real understanding or experience of how to lead themselves, let alone having received any training in what are now commonly referred to as the soft skills? Soft skills involve interpersonal qualities (ie effective communication and management intelligence) and intrapersonal qualities (ie emotional intelligence/resilience/agility and the ability to truly “know yourself”).

Key components of Management Intelligence include:

  • Disciplining your thoughts and actions.
  • Being trustworthy and humble.
  • Communicating vision and purpose.
  • Applying personal time management competency.
  • Demonstrating the value of coaching and facilitated learning.
  • Being accountable for the efficient delivery of your own and your team’s agreed deliverables.

It is generally accepted that the following five key elements, identified in 1995, by the American psychologist Daniel Goleman5, define emotional intelligence (EI).

Key components of Emotional Intelligence are:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-regulation.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social skills.
A leader that stays in control and calmly assesses a stressful situation is more likely to succeed.

EI is the capacity to be aware of, to control and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Simply put, people with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they are feeling, what their emotions mean and how these emotions can affect other people.

Emotional Intelligence (including the subsets Emotional Resilience and Emotional Agility) is the key to both personal and professional success. 

After all, who is more likely to succeed – a leader who shouts at their team when under stress or a leader who stays in control and calmly assesses the situation?

When people have been promoted, moved into a new or challenging role or joined a new company, it is frequently necessary to revisit their skillset and overall competencies.

I am sure that we all have an example of a totally competent and respected person who, having been promoted, without appropriate support and/or mentoring, succumbed to the pressures of the new role or their lack of competencies to successfully carry out their new duties. The main reason being, they had a need to grow into the role in order to emerge with the success anticipated at the time of their appointment.

Organisations require predictable results and performance.

Workplace engagement is achieved through:

  • Trust
  • Purpose
  • Alignment
  • Conversations

Together with a couple of professional colleagues and with the above points in mind, a new leadership development model was created: 

The Emerging Leader (see Figure 1) is based on seven core characteristics of effective leadership:

1. Know yourself.
Confident leaders apply their strengths judiciously and work on their personal growth and development. They appreciate the value of life-long learning and self-discovery.

2. Emotional resilience.

Resilient leaders are aware and in control, of their emotions and have the ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. They overcome adversity without lasting issues.

3. Empathetic relationships

Empathetic leaders have the ability to recognise, understand and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. They acknowledge the story without judgement.

4. Vision and values.

Visionary leaders appreciate that, while values make a contribution, vision is future-focused and about developing clarity and purpose around their goals.

5. Effective communication.

Effective leaders understand the power of words and their ability to inspire, support, reassure and direct their people. They communicate with clarity of purpose.

6. Motivation and teamwork.
Motivational leaders create a working environment where empowerment and active encouragement build teamwork. They show trust and courage while walking the talk.

7. Trust in your leadership.
Appreciate yourself, exhibit your values, walk your talk and trust in your worth.

Figure 1. The Emerging Leader coaching model.

Trustworthy leaders work with their people to establish believability, dependability and reliability through open and transparent behaviour that lacks self-interest.

Over the next couple of issues, I will review one of these seven core characteristics each month, through storytelling, with a simple yet practical message designed to resonate with leaders regardless of rank – from team leaders through to supervisors, frontline, operational, general managers, business leaders and c-suite executives.

I have chosen to invite a number of people from a diverse demographic, and a number of industries, which I hope you will find enlightening as well as of real interest for you personally, regardless of your current role and future career aspirations.

The first example is from Emma Turner (see boxout). The core characteristic of effective leadership that resonates most from her story is “motivation and teamwork”, closely followed by “effective communication”. Emma’s story demonstrates both of these characteristics and ties in with my own brief explanation for motivation and teamwork – ie motivational leaders create a working environment where empowerment and active encouragement build teamwork. They show trust and courage while walking the talk.6 

The message beginning from this month is to grab a coffee, read Emma’s story, check if it relates to your experience(s) and finally to then consider whether the strategies and actions taken within that particular scenario would be a suitable option for you.

“Regardless of WHAT we achieve in our lives, our WHY – our driving purpose, cause or belief – must always be based on the principles of ethics, trust and integrity.”  


Mike Cameron is an IQA member and the principal of Strategically Yours. Visit

Mike will be running 4 x 90-minute online Key Account Management modules for the IQA between June and September 2021. For more information and to register, visit the IQA website.



1  Jones GR. Organisational theory, design and change (7th edition). Pearson, 2012. ISBN: 0132729946. 

2. Drucker P. The effective executive: The definitive guide to getting the right things done. Harper Business (Revised edition), 2006. ISBN 0060833459.

3. Covey SR. The seven habits of highly effective people. Free Press, 2004. ISBN: 0743269519.

4. National leader of the month: Paul J Meyer.

5. Goleman D. Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ (10th edition). Random House, USA, 2005. ISBN: 9780553383713.

6. Cameron M. The Emerging Leader: 7 core characteristics of effective leadership. Strategically Yours, 2020. ISBN: 978-1-716-39670-0.



Emma Turner, a HRT director at Deloitte, Melbourne discusses motivation and teamwork from an earlier stage in her career and development as an effective leader.

As the manager of a small team of professionals, all of whom I had hired, I was able to build an empowered and highly motivated team, without much thought. Together we set the tone and structure from the outset.  As this team was running extremely well, following an acquisition, my manager asked me to take on the additional management of a team of 35 payroll processers in an outsourced environment.

Following a short handover with the previous manager, it quickly became apparent that she was not a leader and the team was suffering as a result. When team members came to her with questions or problems, she fixed the problem for them. They were working on strict rosters – 8.30am to 5.00pm or 9.00am to 5.30pm – and would leave on the dot, regardless of what needed to be done. There were signs everywhere telling them what they could and could not do, eg rosters for kitchen duty.

After assessing all of this and watching them for a few weeks, I brought them together for a team meeting. I made it clear that it did not matter about the hours worked so long as they got the job done, effectively and on time. We discussed the flexibility this would give each of them, with an opportunity to leave early some days and work late others, based on work requirements rather than a roster. 

I asked for their input on what they felt would work better to ensure work was done and each team had coverage from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Each team agreed to ensure they had at least one person start at 8.30am and at least one stay until 5.30am and they, as a team, would be responsible for this.

Over the next few months, I noticed an increase in employees being a lot more flexible with their hours, staying late when needed and leaving early when not.

All the signs and the kitchen roster were removed, with all team members being advised that I trusted they would all do the right things to ensure the kitchen remained clean. It took a while but the kitchen became cleaner than it had ever been.  

For the first month or so, people would still check with me if they could leave early, start late or take a long lunch break for an appointment, etc.  My response was always the same: ‘You don’t need to ask me, it is your decision based on your commitments and responsibilities.  If you believe your work is under control and this will not impact deliverables, then you decide.”  

It was essential that each team felt empowered to make the decision and take responsibility for their actions.

Each team had a team leader but most of them were still processing payrolls and therefore had little or no time for a leadership focus.  It took a while to reallocate the team leader’s payrolls, so they had time, but the next step was to turn them into leaders. Weekly management meetings were implemented so that the team leaders could contribute to things like resourcing allocations.  As each team leader engaged in the decision-making, they became accountable for that decision.  When there were employee or client issues, it ensured that we worked through them together, so I never made a decision that impacted their team without their knowledge, and tacit agreement. Through this process, they were able to learn from me and their own experiences.

As mentioned above, the previous manager would fix any problem an employee raised with her. Therefore, if there was an issue or problem, the employee was not owning it. This was also how the team leaders were behaving, ie taking the problem from the employee and just fixing it themselves. This had to be turned around so that the employees appreciated that I trusted them to fix it themselves.

Therefore, when they came to me with a problem, I would ask questions to guide them to the solution. I would always encourage them to try and work it out and come to me or their team leader if they got stuck.  I rarely took the work from the employee since, with direction and support, they nearly always worked it out themselves. This created a sense of pride and ownership.

We had regular and constant communication within the team. Each team had a Monday morning huddle and went through what needed to be done for the week and who needed to help who.  We put up white boards for each team that outlined the key deliveries each week so, if someone in the team had some capacity, they would know what others were doing and offer to help rather than having to be asked.  Everyone was empowered to work as a team with my support of each team leader, for the first week or two, as they learnt how to run their huddles.  We also had a weekly meeting when all the teams came together, and I was able to give updates on everything from business strategy and direction, through to birthdays with everyone being encouraged to contribute while also sharing their “wins and successes” from the week.

I managed this team for 18 months and throughout this time we experienced reduced staff turnover, increased client satisfaction and the creation of a strong and motivated team.  The evidence of this was how they performed over the next three months after I left.  It took the business three months to find my replacement and in this time that team continued to run smoothly.  The Team Leaders and employees felt empowered and responsible for their work and therefore continued on as they had been. Interestingly, when they did hire a new manager, he had a more micro-managing style and the performance of the team and their satisfaction went down, which was very disappointing. •


More reading

Chapter 2: Know Yourself: James Rowe – Self-development and personal growth challenges

Chapter 3: Emotional Resilience: Riding bumps, dispelling doubts

Chapter 4: Chasing the bagel: Defining your vision and values

Chapter 5: Understanding and conveying the power of words

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