52 Leadership Strengths You Need to Know

Every time I start coaching someone, I interview 8-12 of their colleagues to gain good perspective on their real-world strengths and development areas. Over the last 10 years, I've collected thousands, and recently analyzed them to look for common themes. Here's what you need to know:

They fell into four themes


52 of them appeared over and over, in one form or another

Think of it as kind of a tried-and-tested "menu" -- behaviors and skills you should consider working on and developing, to learn, work, and lead others in better and stronger ways. Here they are in detail:

Theme 1: Execute and Deliver

  • Choose--Pick and communicate a handful of things needed to achieve results, and actively manage out distractions. Apply 80/20 rule

  • Structure--Build and evolve the organization, its structures, systems, administrative, and other frameworks for agility and leanness
  • Deploy--Recruit, assign, and retain capable people who care deeply
  • Empower--Delegate excellently, offering full context and giving the leeway/authority for the "how"
  • Ask/listen--Manage transmit/receive ratio. Seek out and listen to people at all levels, fostering candor needed for speed of execution and delivery. Learn all areas to right level of detail
  • Assess--Analyze, think critically, use data, on-the-ground truth, opinions, intuition, experience, technical and functional knowledge to understand the situation fully and clearly
  • Fix--Ongoing change without delay consistently low-performing and off-track strategies, tactics, plans, work streams, people, organizations, customers, suppliers, etc.
  • Be time-smart--Use time wisely - takes things at the right pace for the right reasons. Use yet do not overuse urgency
  • Decide--Make and communicate decisions without delay
  • Protect--Manage risk in balance with innovation
  • Respond--(rather than react) to the unexpected/what's upsetting
  • Distribute solving--Guide all to solve problems on their own
  • Involve--"Manage in the middle:" Get involved in the right details at the right levels for the right reasons. Be consistent about this
  • Deliver on the promise--Consistently does what says. Is reliable, delivers results on-time, on-budget, as promised. Is results-oriented.
  • Drive--Works hard, work ethic, high self-motivation without serious imbalance (for self, or caused to others)
  • Capable--Applies ones' talent, smarts, knowledge and experience (and common sense) well. Knows own limits and adjusts accordingly
  • Operate prudently--Track and spend resources wisely, neither to excess nor with over-reluctance. Balance earning with spending wisely
  • Theme 2: Lead and Engage

    • Spread the individual ownership mindset--Model and guide all to think and act as owners 24/7. Frame: "What would I/you do if I/you owned the place?"

  • Map vision--Choose, evolve, and communicate a simple and inspiring vision, strategy and roadmap
  • Inspire--Engage people by sharing the personal "why" behind your vision. Avoid doing things that disengage/demotivate others
  • Follow through--Keep commitments consistently
  • Challenge--Be sharp-edged or tough when needed, in the right forum, sparingly, without delay. Don't avoid critical conversations
  • Foster accountability--Preview and apply consequences fairly, both positive and otherwise, without undue delay. Recognize wins
  • Be true--Act with integrity, ethics, and courageous authenticity. Know and work in sync with values, core purpose
  • Disrupt--Be a change agent when/as needed / challenge the process or status quo. Balance when to ask for permission versus seek forgiveness after taking a risk. Be bold
  • Evolve--Seek & respond to feedback on self, people, and org. Self-observe, try new ways, learn. Grow fulfillment and balance. Develop / broaden capabilities as a leader and executive
  • Build capabilities--Invest in, be candid with, coach, sponsor, mentor, and develop team, teamwork, and hire/identify successor(s)
  • Play--Create a place for fun, humor, work-as-constructive-play
  • Impact--Care for own, org's impact on lives, society and the planet
  • Balance--Find and mind a healthy balance between work and life outside of work, and model/support that among for others
  • Theme 3: Connect with others

    • Emphasize relationships--Make knowing the people on ones' team, colleagues, customers, competitors, future talent/candidates, and community a priority on par with delivering results

  • Relate--Assess and build interpersonal EQ. Seek and know others' goals, hopes, and challenges, and share same with them. Show care, concern, and empathy for others
  • Trust and build trust--Be honest and straightforward with others. Develop and grant trust and respect. Fix trust issues timely - "make it right."
  • Own--Avoid blaming others. Take responsibility (fosters trust)
  • Resolve--Fix / resolve conflicts with colleagues, and among them, proactively and promptly, and/or find then maintain a level of appropriately productive tension
  • Network--Identify, invest in, and evolve networks with others both internally and externally
  • Receive--Ask and listen versus direct or tell
  • Collaborate--Work effectively with others toward own (and shared) goals. Make reasonable offers to and requests from others. Request and offer help in balance. Seek consensus where appropriate. Show others reciprocity
  • Communicate--Speak and write well. Be kind, candid, reachable and responsive in timely ways. Match well audience with communication method and message. Know when to stay silent
  • Be at ease--Be approachable, comfortable to talk to, and mindful of your impact on others. Attract, rather than repel, ideas. Avoid angry outbursts, loss of composure
  • Fit in or change culture--Operate within org norms, or influence to change them
    • Build a brand and narrative--Develop a known "brand" / signature that's distinctive and authentic

    Theme 4: Influence

    • Read the room--Assess unspoken and obvious needs of others in real time, and tailor communication accordingly

  • Be confident--Be calm and inspire calm in others. Know ones' value is 100% no matter who else is in the room. Avoid self-doubt or self-criticism. Avoid scripting / over-reliance on visual aids
  • Show savvy--Know when to inquire, assert, and stay silent. Keep track of ones' impact on others, adjust accordingly
  • Be bold--Show one can participate in big picture(s) outside of immediate wheel house with compelling ideas and insights
  • Be polished--Have a polished presence: Dress a level up, within org norms. Grooming and appearance consistent with culture
  • Develop gravitas--Be a strong voice that's right-sized in terms of ego (dash of swagger) and NOT arrogant. Welcome opportunities to discuss opinions / ideas. Listen to others
  • Simplify--Be a clarifying/simplifying force among others
  • WIIFY--Find "what's in it for you" avoid "I win / You lose"
  • Count the chips--Manage the give and take of influence
  • Champion--Make the case compellingly at the right time to the right audience