Traits are based on individual differences between people. Considerable research exists related to leadership traits. This blog post will focus on traits that correlate to successful authentic leadership in the areas of emotional intelligence (EI), creativity, and confidence.

In a study of executive leaders of major organizational change initiatives, Petran (2008) discovered that emotional intelligence was among the most common traits. Bass (2008) identifies the work of several researchers who agree that “self-awareness, handling one’s own feelings and impulses, the motivation of others, showing empathy, and remaining connected with others through optimism, enthusiasm, and energy” (p. 124) are essential to emotional intelligence and may be important leadership traits.

Tom Peters, a top management consultant and author of the seminal In Search of Excellence, first published in the early 80’s, is adamant about current trends demanding creative leadership traits. In a more recent book, Peters (2003) writes that the successful leader must “fearlessly allow themselves to screw up, think weird, and throw out the old business playbooks.” This sounds curiously like the creative process of an artist who must constantly let go of perfectionism to allow the flow of new ideas to keep the productive channel open. Even Bass (2008) concedes that creativity, imagination, and intuition are important, stating, “The only trait that correlates higher than originality in leaders is popularity” (p. 86) and, “

[c]reative intelligence (ability to engage with abstract or unusual ideas) is predictive of success at high levels of management” (p. 112).

Imagination and vision are essential traits of leaders who bring sustainable change as well. Imaginative ability was more highly valued than mere intelligence by both Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, citing the ability to predict future events (Bass, 2008, p. 115). A related and equally important factor is intuition. Clemens and Mayer (1987) found that intuition may be the critical factor that separates the successful from the unsuccessful leader (as quoted by Bass, 2008, p. 115).

Though leaders are human and must deal with existential issues such as self-worth, the ability to transcend excessive shame issues is correlative to authentic leadership success. A degree of “healthy grandiosity” appears to be necessary. In a moment of humor, Bass (2008) writes, “the findings here suggest that leaders are not handicapped by excessive modesty” (p. 90).

An example of a leader that models emotional intelligence, creativity, and confidence is Walter Stewart, a friend, mentor, artist, and workshop leader. Walter left his corporate executive position in the 80’s to pursue an artist and healer’s life. As a workshop leader he models access to emotion by periodically identifying an inner feeling state which gives permission to staff and participants to do the same. Walter finds ways to make personal and spiritual (not religious) references that allow similar exploration in followers. This choice tends to elevate the entire process to a higher level of growth. As an artist, he knows the value of creativity and takes creative risks constantly, giving others permission to others to move beyond intellectual and emotional blocks to creative expression. This writer has been a grateful recipient of this phenomenon many times. Also, Walter openly processes occasional lapses in confidence, and is equally willing to proclaim and enact a sense of self-love – again engendering the same in his followers. In general, Walter has consistently modeled the Tom Peters (2003) directive to “re-imagine” as a leader and to forget about “getting outside the box – because there is no box.”

The “soft skills” and creative traits of authentic leadership are increasingly being seen as essential in our rapidly accelerating culture. Continued scholarly contributions and subsequent development of effective opportunities for leadership development in these areas seem important to this writer.


Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Petran, M.. An exploratory study of executive transformational leadership, wisdom, and emotional intelligence in management process turnaround situations. Ed.D. dissertation, Pepperdine University, United States — California.

Salovey, P., & Pizarro, D. A. (2003). The value of emotional intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg, J. Lautrey & T. I. Lubart (Eds.), Models of intelligence: International perspective (pp. 263-278). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Peters, T. (2003). Re-imagine! Business excellence in a disruptive age. London: Dorling Kindersley.