Six specific character traits can indicate to HR which employees should be developed into leaders, a global leadership expert says.

Executive coach and author John Mattone told delegates at the World Business Forum in Sydney that when he asks senior business executives what keeps them up at night, most say it is that they don’t know who will take up leadership positions when the inevitable “mass exodus of incredible talent” occurs.

While more than 500,000 books on leadership currently exist, organisations continue to struggle with the concept, he says.

Employers “have done a very good job” of identifying and selecting leaders based on their intelligence, which of course is important, but “most organisations have not done a great job creating and sustaining a culture of leadership”.

To identify emerging leaders, employers should consider three factors, Mattone says, noting the first thing to look for is critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking “is a predictor of success”, he says. “A critical thinker is somebody who’s really good at recognising assumptions and arguments… They’re really good at evaluating options and they’re really good at drawing… conclusions.

“If you’re going to be successful in this disruptive world that we live in… you’ve got to get unbelievable critical thinkers. Those are your future leaders.”

Next, employers must determine whether potential future leaders are agile in terms of change and learning, Mattone says, noting when senior executives derail, it is often due to a lack of agility.

“Leaders need to look at change like this: ‘bring it on’,” he says.

An employee’s character – their thinking patterns or emotional make-up – is the third element an employer should look at to determine if the person will be a successful leader.

Diligence, gratitude, honesty, modesty and loyalty are five character traits employers should seek in their leaders, Mattone says, adding that courage is the sixth and probably most important trait, as it indicates whether a person will be agile.

Employers that fail to encourage employees to have the courage to learn, to be passionate and to be persistent, “will not have an agile workforce” and won’t succeed, he says.

“If you live those six elements of character [you’d] actually accomplish a lot of what it means to be a leader.”

To be a successful leader, a person should have a healthy, balanced and “vibrant” view of themselves, Mattone says, noting that an inflated or “out of control” ego is another major reason executives derail.

Further, executives who are uncomfortable analysing and developing elements of their own, and others’, character are the ones who aren’t interested in “moving the needle” when it comes to leadership, he says.

Those who are already in leadership positions can identify if they are truly leaders by asking themselves “bigger and better questions”, such as:

  • Am I a role model?
  • Are people drawn to me?
  • Do I inspire people?
  • What’s my legacy?


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