Which Leadership Traits Matter Most Based on Research?

When it comes to leadership traits in your C-Suite, industry knowledge, intuition, and boldness only get leaders so far. The emotional connection a leader builds with others proves to be of higher value, according to research. Connectedness to self and others moves businesses forward faster.

Research reveals these three must-have leadership traits are what set great leaders apart from their peers.

Leadership Traits #1: They Possess Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

HR leaders agree that above all else, leaders with high EQ are more likely to get promoted and succeed throughout their career. EQ has been trending in the past years – but what makes it so vital to leadership success?

Let’s start with defining EQ. Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer coined the phrase in 1990. Their theory asserts that, “just as people have a wide range of intellectual abilities, they also have a wide range of measurable emotional skills that profoundly affect their thinking and action.” EQ is a person’s ability to perceive, understand, and regulate those emotions. Experts believe that employees with high EQ perform at the top of their peers, manage stress well, and excel at interpersonal functioning.

Proving it’s growing importance in the business world, 71% of employers reported that they valued EQ over IQ, according to a CareerBuilder Survey. This same survey indicated 59% of employers would not hire someone who has a high IQ but low EQ.

A recent IMPACT Group study confirmed that EQ outranks five other important leadership strengths, including verbal and written communication, analytical skills, and innovative thinking. In fact, 60% of those surveyed reported that not having a high level of EQ is the biggest issue that keeps a leader from being promoted to CEO. You can see a breakdown of these leadership traits in our infographic. Or view the full report.

Leadership Traits #2: They Cascade Leadership by Developing Others

In a study conducted by Robert Anderson and William Adams, one million leaders across the globe were asked to identify common threads in leadership effectiveness. A leadership ratio was created to measure the return on the leaders’ time and energy, helping to break leaders down into two buckets: creative vs reactive. Those considered creative achieved a higher return on their efforts. Those deemed reactive achieved a negative return.

Leadership traits like drive and passion, results oriented, technical/domain knowledge, intelligence, and innovation scored similarly among the two groups. What differentiated the groups was how people experienced the leaders. Robert Anderson shares, “Reactive leaders may make a significant contribution to their organization in terms of their intellectual, creative, technical, and strategic capability. But these strengths—while essential—do not differentiate between the most effective and the least effective leaders.” So what does? Their ability to develop the capabilities of others.

Creative leaders excel at building or developing others, which cascades strengths and energy across an organization. These leaders don’t solely lean on their own talent and abilities to achieve success. They are less self-centric. And they actively engage in opportunities to create high-performing teams, mentor colleagues, and empower others. (Note: it takes high EQ to do this well.)

When it comes to leadership traits within your top ranks, you don’t need a doer – you need a builder. That brings us to our next trait.

Leadership Traits #3: They Build Connections

Building into the talent within your ranks isn’t where great leaders stop. They also excel at building strong relationships outside your walls. They know how to tap into talent and resources by establishing social connections and rapport.

Harvard Business Review shares that this type of leader is a bridger. A bridger must, “systematically gain access to talent and tools that cannot be found with the walls of a single department, division, or company.” This level of connection can’t be achieved without mutual trust, influence, and commitment.

What other traits are game changers?

This infographic explores 6 traits HR leaders rank as necessary for leaders to exceed, based on our research. See what tops the list here.