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One Trait All Leaders Should Have

Of all the traits of a good leader, judgment reigns supreme.

Key points

  • Recent research investigates 11 key characteristics of leadership, including accountability, courage, and humility.
  • All 11 traits were partially influential in effective leadership.
  • Judgment was found to be most central, followed by courage and drive.
Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash
Source: Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

A new research paper published in the journal PLOS-ONE suggests that out of eleven character traits associated with good leadership—accountability, collaboration, courage, drive, humanity, humility, integrity, judgment, justice, temperance, and transcendence—judgment may be the most important one.

“The dimension of judgment implies that individuals make sound decisions in a timely manner based on relevant information and critical analysis of facts, often in uncertain, complex, and ambiguous circumstances,” state the authors of the research, led by Lucas Monzani of Ivey Business School at Western University in Canada. “Our analysis revealed that judgment emerged as the most central dimension in the leader character network.”

This research builds on a 2016 study which, through a series of surveys on over 2,000 leaders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, identified 11 core character dimensions emblematic of good leadership. But it goes one step further, examining the interrelations between these character strengths and testing which traits might be more central to effective leadership than others.

To test their hypothesis, the authors recruited 66 office managers from a large Canadian organization. They asked each manager to fill out an assessment measuring the degree to which they possessed the 11 character strengths relevant to leadership. For instance, a sample item for the character dimension of courage is “Displays resolve and stays committed to see things through.” Scores ranged from 1 (extremely unlikely) to 5 (extremely likely).

The researchers then mapped the interrelations between the eleven character dimensions to understand which traits were most influential in defining the prototypical leader profile.

They found judgment to be the most central of the 11 character strengths. They also found courage and drive to be central components of leadership, but not as central as judgment.

Furthermore, they found transcendence, integrity, and temperance to be most peripheral to the prototypical leader’s character profile. But this isn’t to say these traits were unimportant; the authors note that all 11 character traits carried weight in their model.

“To use a metaphor, judgment is like an air traffic controller: we need leaders who are able to activate each of the 11 dimensions of character at the right time and in the right amount to guide their decision-making and call forth the right behaviors to be successful,” say the authors.

This research suggests that rather than focusing on only a few dimensions of character, organizations should take a more holistic view of character-based leadership.

The authors conclude, “This study serves as an important foundation in the quest to better understand leader character and connect it to many prominent areas of research.”


Monzani, L. What does it take to be a successful leader?, October 15, 2021.

Monzani, L., Seijts, G. H., & Crossan, M. M. (2021). Character matters: The network structure of leader character and its relation to follower positive outcomes. Plos one, 16(9), e0255940.