The Marks of An Effective Leader: 15 Core Characteristics

By |2024-05-29T21:26:11+00:00May 29th, 2024|1 Comment

Effective human performance skills are essential for crisis leaders. A national research project gathered insights on leadership during times of disaster.  This survey suggests that there are at least 15 core characteristics that leaders should possess to to manage unpredictable and rapidly evolving crises.

Identifying key characteristics of effective disaster, crisis, and emergency management, or disaster recovery team leaders is essential for successful outcomes and a much-needed consideration in the process of selecting, evaluating, and training individuals for these critical roles.

Effective leadership is crucial for several key reasons. The starting assumption is that technical expertise and situational awareness are always important factors for leaders. However, it is often less clear if or what types of personal “soft skills” are associated with effectiveness. These factors would presumably be an important but sometimes overlooked consideration.

First, during a crisis, people look for direction and guidance, and a strong leader can provide them with a sense of stability and reassurance.

Second, effective leaders possess the ability to make quick and critical decisions under pressure, which is vital when managing unpredictable and rapidly evolving situations. Additionally, leaders who effectively communicate and maintain transparency can foster trust and cooperation amongst team members, enabling a coordinated response.

Finally, effective leadership requires maintaining a calm and composed demeanor, inspiring confidence in others, and mitigating panic. These qualities are essential for navigating through turbulent times and minimizing the impact of a crisis. However, little prior research has been conducted to ask experts in the field which characteristics are highly important for leadership effectiveness.

Research Survey

In a national survey of crisis and disaster managers from various public and private sectors (including law enforcement, facilities, security, corporate aviation, and government agencies), industry professionals participated by providing input and exploring the attributes of successful crisis leadership. The respondents possessed extensive crisis management experience, making their insights valuable for understanding the qualities that define excellent crisis or contingency team leaders. This report is based on that field research survey project, and the findings reported here rest largely on perceptual data gathered from subject matter experts who chose to participate in the survey.

Core Marks of A Leader

The emergent results of this survey provide a useful baseline sketch of the key characteristics or “marks” of an effective crisis/disaster leader and suggest that there are at least 15 core characteristics that leaders should possess to be effective. In addition, these results suggest that a more effective leader in a crisis would possess and utilize more of these 15 characteristics, tendencies, traits, and operational skills.

1. Coordinated

Effective leaders were reported to possess the skills essential to create team cohesion, promote coordination, and facilitate integration. They understand the importance of collaborative efforts in managing crises and work towards creating a united and focused team.

2. Decisive

Timely and appropriate decision-making was regarded as a crucial trait of successful leadership. Decisive leaders can analyze situations swiftly, assess available information, and make sound decisions that contribute to resolving contingencies effectively.

3. Experienced

Field experience was regarded as an asset for leaders. Drawing upon their wealth of experience, they can apply practical knowledge, skills, and lessons learned from previous crises to guide their decision-making and problem-solving.

4. Goal-Oriented

Skillful leaders who possess the ability to set both short- and long-term goals for their teams were regarded as more effective. Respondents reported that they excel in assigning tasks, defining objectives, and establishing strategies to achieve desired outcomes even in the face of challenging circumstances.

5. Effective Communicator

Effective communication was regarded as a critical positive characteristic of leaders. They excel in engaging in two-way communication, ensuring the smooth flow of key information among team members and stakeholders. Respondents reported that they understand the importance of both providing and soliciting information to maintain a shared understanding of the evolving crisis.

6. Facilitator

Leaders who excel in encouraging input from team members, fostering teamwork, and facilitating collaborative decision-making are regarded as more effective. Respondents reported that they create an environment where diverse perspectives are valued, enabling the team to leverage collective intelligence in making critical decisions.

7. Able to Handle Stress

Maintaining emotional and mental stability during chaotic periods is essential for crisis leaders. Respondents reported that they exhibit resilience, manage their stress effectively, and stay focused on the task at hand, providing stability and reassurance to their teams.

8. Active Listener

Active listening is an essential skill possessed by effective leaders. Respondents reported that they attentively listen to others, process information, and evaluate input from team members and subject matter experts. By demonstrating active listening, they foster an environment of respect and open dialogue.

9. Open-Minded

Leaders demonstrate openness to differing viewpoints and approaches to contingency situations. Respondents reported that they recognize the value of diverse perspectives and are willing to consider alternative strategies that might lead to more effective problem-solving and crisis resolution.

10. Responsible

Taking ownership of resolving contingencies is a key aspect of leadership. These leaders support team ownership and shield the team from external interference, enabling the team to focus on executing the necessary actions to mitigate the crisis.

11. Able to Prioritize

Leaders possess the ability to recognize task priorities amidst complex and rapidly evolving situations. Respondents reported that they maintain a clear sense of purpose and process, making informed decisions regarding resource allocation and task prioritization.

12. Critical Thinker

Effective leaders excel in analyzing the unique complexities of each crisis, envisioning practical solutions and their potential consequences, and visualizing the implementation outcomes. Their critical thinking abilities allow them to develop strategies that address the intricacies of the crisis at hand.

13. Adaptive

Leaders demonstrate adaptability by responding effectively to changing circumstances and the unique aspects of each crisis. Respondents reported that they remain flexible, adjusting their approaches and strategies as needed to address emerging challenges.

14. Trained and Prepared

Possessing thorough knowledge of leadership skills, contingency plans, emergency management procedures, and team dynamics is crucial for effective leaders. Respondents reported that such leaders continuously update their knowledge, undergo training, and stay prepared to face any crisis scenario.

15. Open to Improving

Effective leaders prioritize personal and professional growth and resilience. Respondents reported that such leaders are committed to continuous learning and actively seek opportunities to enhance their leadership skills, ensuring they remain adaptable and open to improvement.

These identified key characteristics can help us change the way that we look at effective leadership, and not overlook the human performance dimensions that are important to success. They also can provide a solid foundation for determining formal and procedural criteria for selecting and assessing the performance of leaders. These factors can also play a vital role in designing targeted training programs to nurture and develop more effective leaders.

Importantly, factors such as age, gender, academic degree, and/or professional credentials were not reported as significant factors for effective crisis leadership, highlighting the importance of focusing on the core human performance dynamic qualities that were identified in the survey.

Call to Action

This research project gathered insights that reinforce the importance of prioritizing leadership development training assessment and performance evaluation on at least these 15 marks of effective leaders.

First, the results identified the significance of effective human performance factors skills for leaders. Effective human performance factors skills are significant for crisis leaders as they help in maintaining team morale, fostering resilience, and promoting collaboration during high-pressure situations. These skills also fall into the realm of skills that can be learned and honed through coaching and training.

Second, the results emphasized the need for strong decision-making abilities. Leaders who possess the skills to make good decisions were found to be more successful in guiding their teams and achieving desired outcomes in crises. Good decision-making is of utmost importance for crisis leaders as it determines the course of action in various situations. Effective decision-making leads to better outcomes, inspires confidence, and drives crisis management success.

Furthermore, the study indicated the importance of adaptability and resilience in leaders. This seems to have to do with fostering an adaptable mindset and flexible approach rather than a rigid linear approach to leadership. Adaptability and resilience are crucial for crisis leaders as they face unprecedented challenges and constantly changing dynamics of crises. These mental and behavioral qualities enable leaders to adjust their strategies, embrace new opportunities, and navigate uncertainty more effectively.

Based on the characteristics identified in the survey, it is evident that leadership development training, assessment, and performance evaluation should focus on nurturing these skills to cultivate effective and impactful leaders in today’s dynamic and complex professional landscape.


Books by Dr. Robert Chandler

Chandler, R. C. (2010) Emergency Notification (Praeger Security International).  Praeger Publishers. ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0313365873    ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0313365874   AMAZON LINK

Chandler, R. C. (2014) Business and Corporate Integrity: Sustaining Organizational Compliance, Ethics, and Trust [2 volumes]. Praeger Publishers   AMAZON LINK

Chandler, R.C. (2009) Surviving the Pandemic. Outskirts Press Publishing. ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1432748939 ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1432748937  AMAZON LINK

Brewer, L. Chandler, R.C. and Ferrell, O.C. (2006). Managing Risks for Corporate Integrity: How to Survive An Ethical Misconduct Disaster  Cengage Learning Publishing. ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9780324203516 ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0324203516   AMAZON LINK 

Recommended1 recommendationsPublished in Human Concerns

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About the Author:

Dr. Bob Chandler is the founder and principal of Emperiria, which provides assessment, evaluation, and strategic performance development as well as training, coaching, consulting, and other organizational performance services to help improve manager and employee performance during both routine and crucial situations. Dr. Chandler provides leadership development training and is the author of the “CrisisMasters©” Leadership program which provides a ten-module curriculum designed to improve leadership performance. Contact Dr. Chandler to learn more or to schedule him as a speaker, coach, or trainer.

He may be reached via email at [email protected]

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One Comment

  1. June 7, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Dr. Chandler. All 15 characteristics are apropos to leading a crisis. #3 Experience is paramount.

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