Behavioral Science

5 Overrated Qualities We Expect In Leaders

by . September 5th, 2015

We often misunderstand what leadership is about; dooming us to a seemingly never-ending cycle of mediocrity.

It’s universally acknowledged that no one is perfect. But weirdly enough, we demand our leaders to be just that, even if they are all human after all.

Not to say that we shouldn’t have standards for leaders and ourselves. We should, and they should be way up there. But let’s examine what qualities we commonly look for in leaders. A lot of the time, what we expect and what is actually required in reality are far different from each other.

5.) Intelligence

Intelligence comes in many forms, and being smart doesn’t necessarily mean one has integrity, or the emotional aptitude to make the correct decisions. Specific kinds of intelligence will always find a place in the right enterprises, yet go wasted in others.

Intelligence is important, but is mostly moot or even dangerous when not tempered with empathy. The world is full of smart people in leadership positions who lack the discernment, heart, or morals necessary to make positive changes.

What to look for instead:


4.) Maturity

First off, few people can agree what this actually means. Second, maturity highly dependent on culture and not all environments demand it. The consensus of “Acting your age” is drastically different today than it was a generation ago.

“Maturity”, as a lot of people see it, is a quality that keeps you inside the box, and coloring inside the lines. Maturity is far more suited for “followers” than leaders. Maturity usually isn’t what true leadership comes down to when it is tested. Leadership often demands the rules be bent and the norms ignored.

What to look for instead:


3.) Charisma

Some of the worst leaders in history were also some of the most popular ones. Who’d have thunk it?

In Good to Great, Jim Collins’ highly quoted and studied book on leadership, he writes this about charisma:

“…those of you with a strong, charismatic personality, it is worthwhile to consider the idea that charisma can be as much a liability as an asset. Your strength of personality can sow the seeds of problems, when people filter the brutal facts from you. You can overcome the liabilities of having charisma, but it does require conscious attention.”

A white paper titled “Why Good Leaders Don’t Need Charisma”concludes:

“We found that leaders of the higher-performing companies were often not charismatic — and were, in fact, less likely to be charismatic than the leaders of the lower-performing companies. The problem with charismatic leaders is that exceptional powers of persuasion make it easy for them to overcome resistance and opposition to their chosen course of action.”

Zenger Folkman’s Extraordinary Leader identifies 16 areas that separate the best from the worst leaders using metrics such as engagement, productivity, customer service, quality, safety, turnover, and profitability, among others. Charisma didn’t even make the list.

What to look for instead:


2.) Loyalty

The idea of “loyalty” carries with it a dangerous premise: it has to be unconditional. This often implies that it is more valued than competence, merit, and ideas on right and wrong.

Misplaced loyalty is what causes leaders to surround themselves with yes-men, and prevents true transparency from happening in an organization. It’s the root cause of factionalism and corruption and almost invariably causes confusion between an organization’s stated goals and what it actually does.

What to look for instead:

Fidelity to the bigger picture

1.) Creativity

There’s a bit of irony here, since we’re a site that’s all about creativity, but when it comes to leading people, creativity won’t just cut it. Just because someone is creative, doesn’t necessarily mean their ideas are suited for the situation at hand.

Creativity is not much more than a tool, or an ingredient if you want to use another metaphor. Without drive or introspection, creativity is worthless. You have an idea. Great, who cares? Did anything come out of it?

An appreciation for creativity is far more important for leadership than actual creativity itself. Leaders can tap into people who are creative, and even if they can’t, it’s not the end of the world. Just look around you. Plenty of second-rate ideas make it big time because someone spent the effort to make it happen.

Remember: a great team can make a mediocre idea work. The reverse isn’t and will never be as true.

What to look for instead:

An understanding of creativity and how to recognize it in others.



What other leadership qualities do you find overrated? Tell us in the comments below!


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.