This post was authored in collaboration with Jonathan Carpenter, Patrick Guichon, Mike MacKay, Cheryl Haley Nix, & Christopher Rowe
During our first group activity in LRNT 525, our team was presented with the task of organizing a list of twenty leadership attributes in order of most to least important. The goal of this activity was to come to a consensus on what we collectively thought of as prioritized qualities in a leader.
We first approached the task by each independently organizing the provided list of attributes based on our own experience and understanding of leadership. The results of our first attempt are represented in Figure 1. What we immediately found when coming together to discuss the results was that there was a lack of consistency in our interpretations of the context of a leader.
Figure 1Note: Jonathan – Considered leadership in a general context; Patrick & Christopher – Envisioned their ideal supervisor; Mike – Considered leadership in an online/remote environment; Cheryl – Considered leadership in the context of the dental/medical field
Not surprisingly, considering the varied interpretation of context, there was some variation in our responses. The largest deviation came from Cheryl’s prioritization of ambition as the most important attribute in a leader, while the rest of the group placed it near the bottom of the list. Upon discussion, it was determined that there were two possible explanations for the deviation, including gender and profession. As a contributor to ForbesWomen, Prossack (2018) noted that ambition is often interpreted by women as a negative quality, but that it should be something to be embraced and used for personal and communal gain. With that in mind, it was Cheryl’s opinion that there’s been a shift to prioritizing ambition as a means for professional advancement. Additionally, in a study that observed the attributes of medical students, Kiolbassa (2011) recognized that “‘Future perspective’ and ‘Personal ambition’ were rated as most important reasons for specialty choice by students” (p. 5). As a result, it stands to reason that ambition would be considered a valuable attribute in the medical field at large.
After further discussion and a dive into the literature, we came to the conclusion that we would have a better consensus if we all approached the task with the same context in mind. In addition, we included some attributes that we thought were omitted from the original list including credibility, communication, adaptability, and transparency. We chose to tackle the activity again, thinking about leadership in the context of an online environment. We surprised ourselves by how much our lists changed. The results of our second attempt are represented in Figure 2. After completing the task for a second time, honesty and qualities associated with communication moved to the top of our list. Castelli (2016) observed that a violation of trust in the leader/follower relationship results in the follower’s withdrawal. It was our opinion that all other attributes a leader possesses stem from a position of trust. When the bond of trust is broken, the effectiveness of the remaining attributes is diminished. Furthermore, Castelli went on to identify transparency and credible communication, amongst other attributes, as the qualities of effective reflective leadership.
In conclusion, we came to the consensus that a strong leader in an online environment is one who possesses the ability to build trust through open communication and transparency. An additional conclusion was that the priority of leadership qualities can shift depending on the people and the context involved. It would be a mistake to determine leadership qualities that are a top priority in all circumstances. Rather, one should consider the needs of the people in the relationship and the environment in which they find themselves before adopting a path towards effective leadership.
Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217–236. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112
Kiolbassa, K., Miksch, A., Hermann, K., Loh, A., Szecsenyi, J., Joos, S., & Goetz, K. (2011). Becoming a general practitioner – Which factors have most impact on career choice of medical students? BMC Family Practice, 12(25), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2296-12-25
Prossack, A. (2018). This one leadership trait will help both men and women get ahead. ForbesWomen. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2018/05/07/ambition-the-new-trend-driving-womens-leadership/?sh=1bbb04626718