Book review: The Intangibles of Leadership

The Intangibles of Leadership: The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance

By Richard Davis



So I’m thinking the Pan Am Games are already the best thing that’s ever happened to Hamilton.

The Great Stadium Debate has served up a real-time and real-world test of leadership and integrity, vision and values.

It's a test that some of our political, business and community leaders have aced. Others have earned a passing grade. A few folks have flunked and should, to borrow my all-time favourite HR turn of phrase, be encouraged to pursue other opportunities. Of course, we'll be sure to them all the best in their future endeavours.

Thanks to the Great Stadium Debate, we can see how Hamilton’s leaders measure up or fall short against the traits that define and distinguish superior leadership. Richard Davis, an industrial / organizational psychologist and partner at the Toronto office of RHR International, earns a living assessing top candidates for senior executive positions. Over time, he’s noticed a recurring set of traits common in exceptional leaders.

“Extraordinary leaders possess certain interstitial characteristics – traits that fall between the lines of existing leadership models,” says Davis. “Adjust your lens finely enough, and you will see, at the upper end of the leadership spectrum, certain subtle characteristics that emerge as fundamental to executive success.”

According to Davis, here are the 10 defining characteristics that make for extraordinary leaders.

1. Wisdom based on experience, reflection and perspective. You’re advice-worthy. You exercise good judgment. You think independently and don’t speak in banalities.

2. The will to stand firm. You never give up and you make your own luck. “Successful leaders I’ve encountered over the years enable things to happen, rather than wait for them to happen,” says Davis.

3. Executive maturity to not only read and understand how others are feeling but to control your own emotions.  You stay cool under pressure and know how to navigate your way through a crisis.

4. Integrity built on trust, consistency and a moral compass. You don’t lie. Don’t cheat. And you always keep your promises.

5. Social judgment, or the ability to analyze people and situations and then make smart decisions. “The best leaders have an indefinable ability to connect with people.”

6. A presidential presence, drawing on reputation, identity, charisma and superior communication skills.

7. Self-insight, a key trait that often decides whether Davis recommends a candidate for the executive suite. It’s about knowing your strengths and weaknesses, understanding your hot buttons and blind spots and recognizing your impact on others. “Figure out what makes you tick. It’s the only way you’ll get better at what you do.”

8. Self-efficacy, with a deep faith and fundamental belief in your ability to get a specific job done. Not only do you want the ball. You know you’re going to run it into the end zone.  

9. Fortitude, courage and resilience. “People with fortitude have rhino skin; they’ll say they just let things bounce off them as they forge indomitably ahead. They’re tough nuts, tough cookies, tough customers.”

10. Fallibility, with a willingness to show rather than hide your flaws. Acknowledge and embrace your imperfections. Fess up that you don’t have all the answers. “Our most extraordinary leaders became successful because they were fallible, not in spite of it.”

Like the Great Stadium Debate, there’s seemingly no end to leadership books. The Intangibles of Leadership is a stand out and worth a careful read.  Davis takes each of the 10 traits and tells you what it is, how to know it when you see it and how to get it for yourself.

So along with investing in a stadium and high performance sport, let’s spend some Future Fund money on a high performance leadership academy and bring Davis in as head coach. Hamilton’s due for a championship season.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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