[August 23, 2016] Looking back on the many many leaders I served under for the past 40-plus years, the ones I admired most were the ones that showed perpetual selflessness in carrying out their duties. Studies on important traits of leadership consistently conclude that selflessness is a leader trait people like the most.
A number of historical studies conducted in the United States have looked at various occupations that people think highly of in all circumstances. What they determined was that selflessness was it! Truthfulness and honesty were also rated highly and studies suggest a close link between all three of these traits. One study even noted that it was not possible to separate selflessness from truthfulness and honesty. Clearly there is a linkage.
It should come as no surprise that occupations where truth and honesty are perceived to be lacking are the same ones that people least admire. For example, public opinion polls show low levels of trust and confidence in politicians, journalists, lawyers, and advertising executives. Conversely, most trusted are nurses, military officers, engineers, medical doctors, and clergy.
Looking at the current race for U.S. president, we see two candidates that are both disliked for very different reasons but each has in common something that we can see as deficient in the leader trait of selflessness. Hillary Clinton is seen as a liar, elitist, and cares only about the power she can achieve and will do anything to achieve it. Donald Trump is seen as an uncaring businessman who will make a buck on anything without concern for what happens to his employees.
It should be no surprise that selflessness is one of the traits that both Clinton and Trump are working hard to convince others they possess. It is difficult however for leaders to be selfless in their actions because it runs counter to their advancement into the higher echelons of leadership; like the U.S. Presidency. But with the right experiences, training, mentorship, and character it can be done.
Great leaders are able to navigate the turbulent waters of selflessness, career advancement, cultures of zero tolerance, and obstacles common to any good leader. Next time you see a senior leader, ask yourself if what you see reflects a trait of selflessness. Odds are, it will.
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