Attributes of a Leader

“Wisdom is the capacity to think through the consequences of decisions; reflection causes the activity of thought to occur” (Ackoff as cited in Castelli, 2016, p. 220).

Reflection is becoming more and more common in today’s society, as it allows individuals to consider events, lessons learned, and how the experience will affect future actions.  While reflection is particularly useful for students, we can all apply it as part of our day-to-day lives as lessons occur long after we leave formal educational settings.  I have found that leaders appreciate personnel who can apply a reflective practice, but what I have not seen as much are leaders who lead by example and implement reflection as part of their role.  As a team member, I appreciate it when a leader can look back on an event and consider what went well and what needs improvement.  Castelli (2016) defines reflective leadership as “the consistent practice of reflection, which involves conscious awareness of behaviours, situations and consequences with the goal of improving organizational performance” (p. 217); therefore, reflective leadership does not only affect the leader as a person, but it also has an impact on the organization.  After reading the assigned articles this week, I find that I can connect with the reflective leadership theory both as a non-leader (currently) and as a potential leader (future), in synchronous and asynchronous environments.  As changes are commonplace within digital environments, adopting a reflective practice can only help leaders to navigate the changes with those on the team.

Digital environments require strong leaders, though it seems that the assumption in society is that digital environments can make do with any strength of leader.  Leaders in digital environments have a much larger space in which to lead their teams and those spaces are continually changing (Sheninger, 2014, para. 6).  As these changes come, leaders must be able to manage those changes while still creating a positive environment for the learners or team members.  Fortunately, there are theories that can help.

The leaders I have admired the most are those who can take situations and find the best solution in the moment, while involving the team as much as possible.  I know that accomplishing that is not always feasible, but as a member of the team I feel valued when the leader takes the time to find out if I have any ideas.  In my experience, the only leaders who are able to take that step are those who are comfortable in their role and have a good relationship with the team.  These attributes are components of reflective leadership.

A recent activity asked me to rate attributes of leaders; here are the top five attributes I think a leader should have: competent, caring, honest, dependable, and fair minded.  As I read the articles, I realized that many leadership types can have these attributes which tells me that leadership theories and styles can blend depending on the leader and what he or she feels is important.  As I further consider the above listed attributes, I realize that most professionals have them.  That idea makes be wonder why everyone cannot make a good leader.  If one has the attributes of a strong leader, would that not automatically make them a strong leader?  Sadly, in my experience, the answer is no.

In order for leaders and followers to have the required relationship to make an organization run (either business or education), they need to have a shared goal.  Khan (2017) introduces the idea of transactional and adaptive leadership theories (p. 178).  I think that in a digital learning environment, it is best to follow the adaptive theory.  So much of online work relies on relationships and adaptive leadership allows leaders to utilize those on the team to keep the processes that are working and adopt changes for those that are not.  Khan states “[no] leadership theory can address all required actions in contemporary education institutions, but that adaptive leadership is flexible, takes into account current complexities, and is highly motivating for followers” (Khan, 2017, p. 182).  There is no all-powerful way to be a good leader.  Leadership is a work in process and the style or theory adopted by the individual can change depending on the team members or the set tasks.


Castelli, P. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development35(2), 217-236.

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or Transactional Leadership in Current Higher Education: A Brief Comparison. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning18(3).

Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of digital leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education. Retrieved from

6 thoughts on “Attributes of a Leader

  1. Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Reflective leadership. I agree that there is no “all-powerful way to be a good leader” and believe that learning is a never-ending iterative process, especially for people in leadership positions. This need is amplified by the changes that digital innovations are having on traditional educational environments, and as metacognitive practices are better facilitated through these innovations; reflective leadership theory will become increasingly more important to institutions.


    1. After writing this post I realized that a reflective practice does not only have to be a solitary event. This thought occurred to me when my boss and I had a conversation about a discussion that occurred in a meeting at work. As our conversation started, I did not realize that she was unsure of how the meeting went. I volunteered some feedback and that lead to a really strong reflective conversation for both of us. Granted, this did not take place in a digital environment, but it showed me that leaders also need to have someone with whom to discuss events and that someone can be on the team. The same need exists in a digital environment. Sadly, it would be less likely to happen by chance the way this conversation did.

  2. Hi Kathy,
    “Leadership is a work in process ” – this really stood out for me, as I agree that good leaders are always reflecting on both their successes and failures. You ask earlier in your post why even though many professionals have the following attributes: competent, caring, honest, dependable, and fair minded, they don’t necessarily make good leaders (or perhaps choose not to be in leadership roles?. I wonder if one reason could be a lack of reflection? It definitely has me thinking. Thanks!

    1. I like your point Michelle. It had not occurred to me that reflective practice could be an attribute of a successful leader. Now that I took the time to consider it, the best leaders that I have worked with took the time to reflect on events as they happen and learn for future events. Now I am working where this attribute would land in the ranking of top 20 (or now 21) attributes.


  3. Hi Kathy,
    I really enjoyed your post and I agree with what you are saying regarding not seeing leaders actually lead by example or self reflect. It can make working in a team with this individual very difficult and frustrating. Very interesting that you chose the five attributes you did, did you come to your top five list from experience or are they attributes you put forward personally? My top five were: Dependable, Fair Minded, Supportive, Competent and Co-operative (so not too far off at all).
    I appreciate what you are saying regarding online learning being better suited to adaptive learning theory as it makes sense with the continual evolution of technology. I agree with what you are saying in regards to your final sentance as it can really be sibjective based on person, team and task.
    Great post Kathy.
    – Kerry

    1. Thank you for your comments Kerry. I agree that our top five attributes are very close and were we do differ in terms the ideas are still similar. My top attributes came both from experience in working with a good leader and what I try to portray as a team member.
      In my experience the teams who have the most success are those who are not a group of individuals but a members of one force working on the same goal. Adaptive learning can encourage that practice by encourages teams to look at the situation and generate a plan.


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