Last week Team A, Lisa Gedak, Leigha Nevay, Sue Reid and I shared our hierarchical list of the 20 leadership attributes sourced from Carolin Rekar Munro’s worksheet, Characteristics of Admired Leaders. This exercise allowed each of us to contemplate individual leadership qualities and rank them from most important, #1, to least important, #20.

Once the four worksheets were compared we noticed that our top four attributes were all the same, competent, honest, Intelligent, and fair minded. It would seem our group was of like mind when it comes to what’s most important to leadership which, as it turned out, aligned with Kouzes and Posner’s findings In their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It.

In reading chapter 1 of the book I noted that the authors recognized that of the 20 different Attributes of Leaders identified, honesty and competency were the most frequently chosen as most significant(Kouzes & Posner, 2011). It was noted too that the trait identified as honest was key to developing follower’s perceptions of trustworthy, ethical, truthful and principled. Indicating that without honesty a potential leader would also be viewed as unsuitable based on shortcomings in these other traits.

Continuing with the importance of honesty as a leadership quality; in the paper Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organizational performance, the author notes that Reflective Leadership is most effective when leaders engage with followers with an honest and authentic dialogue. Further that this honesty is key to creating a safe trusting environment (Castelli, 2016). Indicating that a leader demonstrating both honesty and fair mindedness would gain the trust of the followers. Once again we see the trait of honestly as a key to successful execution of Reflective Leadership and that it enables another significant trait, Trust.

Personally, my experiences with leadership have been both as a follower and a leader. As a martial artist I’ve witnessed displays of trust and fair mindedness both literally and metaphorically within a leadership group. Distributed leadership is featured significantly within the dojo as different learning tasks are delegated among the senior students enabling the head instructor to ensure the group as a whole is moving the desired direction. This person will make small corrections and adjustments at the senior levels and watch these changes develop through the student group.

Leading from behind is how I’d often describe my chosen style of leadership, now I’d articulate it more accurately as a Servant Leader. I have always tried to recognize a desire for change in others and through encouragement and thoughtful questioning I’ve found that personal decisions and choices are often not made as a result of a reluctance to ask hard questions. I reasoned that if I ask of them these hard questions then the answer comes from the person that needs it the most, often resulting in making a choice or decision clear for them.

Robert Greenleaf describes a Servant Leader as one who leads by putting the needs of the followers first and takes actions to encourage movements towards the Follower’s goals (Greenleaf, 2008). Decisions of the Servant Leader are framed by asking; “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous?” (Greenleaf, 2008. p.15 para 4). Once viewed through this lens, leadership directions and decisions become clearer.

The Servant as Leader philosophy and the accompanying essay contains relevant concepts that transfer across many environments were leadership is a concern. Both serving as a guide to understanding concepts of leadership in general and how to lead with needs of the followers foremost in mind. For sure it is written in a style of an earlier era but the principals of Empathy, Trust, Listening to understand and Putting the needs of other’s first (for example) are still very valid in today’s society of growing awareness of others.

Lines like “Men [emphasis added] grow taller when those who lead them empathize and when they are accepted for what they are,” (Greenleaf, 2008. p. 22 para. 6) would be far more appropriate if written in a gender neutral way, but the sentiment of the statement rings true even today. In the same way Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, was written centuries ago, yet the information proved valuable to developing business strategy for the modern era.

In the end, through all of this it would seem that mom was right all along.

Honesty is the best policy, to which I would add, to build a strong leadership relationship with followers.



Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. The Journal of Management Development; Bradford, 35(2), 217–236.

Greenleaf, R. (2008). The Servant as Leader. The Greenleaf Center of Servant Leadership.

Huggins, K. S. (2017). Developing Leadership Capacity in Others: An Examination of High School Principals’ Personal Capacities for Fostering Leadership. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 12(1).

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2011). Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, 2nd Edition.$564:_ss_book:43184#summary/BOOKS/RW$564:_ss_book:43184