Leadership Behaviours

Inspiring vs. Off-putting Leadership – Summary of Research Results

In 2008 Kate Lidbetter and a team from SKAI Associates (a leadership development consultancy) undertook some research into what makes a leader inspirational vs off-putting to their followers.  The results are summarised here.

Who Participated in the Survey?

74 people were interviewed in February 2008.  The average age of participants was 43.  55% were male and 45% female.  They came from 41 large organisations.  68% were from the private sector and 32% from the public sector.  The private sector respondees were mainly from professional services (13%), legal (11%), financial services (10%).  Other sectors included publishing, telecoms, utilities, and construction.

What Was Asked?

Participants were asked to profile the leader they found most inspirational to them in terms of the impact they had on the participant’s performance, and their commitment to the organisation.  They were then asked to profile the leader who had had the opposite effect i.e. one who dampened their performance levels and caused them to reduce their overall commitment to their employer.

What Were the Key Findings?

5 Categories

Over 1,000 pieces of data were collected and could be clearly categorised into 5 personal “qualities” that inspirational leaders demonstrated, and off-putting leaders showed a clear lack of.  The five categories were:

  • shows Faith in others
  • Engaging
  • Determined
  • Straight
  • Astute.

Order of Importance

For inspirational leaders, the order of importance was as detailed above (F E D S A).  The first two (showing Faith in others and being Engaging) were twice as important as the other three.

For off-putting leaders, the order of importance was slightly different – F E S A D, i.e.:

  • does not show Faith in others
  • is not Engaging
  • is not Straight
  • is not Astute
  • is not Determined

Lack of Determination was not particularly influential.  Not showing Faith in others was 3 times more important than the last 3 categories.  Not being Engaging was over twice as important.

Profile of Inspirational and Off-putting Leaders   

80% of the inspirational leaders were men and 20% were women.  69% of the off-putting leaders were men, and 31% were women.  The average age of the inspirational leaders and the off-putting ones was 45.  The average age of the respondees at the time of the example, was 34 in the case of the inspiring leader, and in the case of the off-putting one, 38.

Quality Definitions

8 pieces of data were provided on average for the inspirational examples.  6 pieces of data were provided on average for the off-putting ones.  Each quality had a number of different ways in which it could be effectively demonstrated, and conversely a number of different ways in which a lack of that quality could be evidenced.  Typically there were 6-8 different indicators for each quality, and lack of that quality.  All were effective, but some were more commonly experienced by participants than others.  The definitions are available as a separate document.


  • Demonstrating the qualities of showing Faith in others and being Engaging have particularly crucial effect on someone’s impact as a leader.  If someone does these well, it matters less how Straight, Determined and Astute they are.  Conversely, someone who does not demonstrate these qualities, is going to find it  hard to get the best from his/her followers no matter how Astute, Straight and Determined they are
  • Lack of being Determined is not very influential in a leader being experienced as off-putting.  Indeed many off-putting leaders WERE Determined, but that determination translated as aggressive, overly critical, bullying etc. meaning the leader was experienced as not showing Faith in others and not being Engaging
  • The larger the organisation and the more challenging the agenda, the more deliberate a leader has to be to ensure these qualities are actually experienced by their people.  Thus organised deployment of the qualities via regular targeted activities is important
  • There were a variety of ways in which a quality could be demonstrated, all of which were effective, although some were more common than others.  What seemed to work was where the leaders selected those that most suited his/her genuine, natural abilities – in other words, playing to their strengths
  • No one is perfect and it doesn’t matter.  The definitions of the qualities simply show how they are most commonly experienced – there will be others.  Any one or two of them will work, it’s not necessary to do them all, and what’s effective is a leader who focuses on those they find natural and easy
  • Being Determined is not enough on its own to influence other’s performance and commitment levels.  In fact it can easily be construed negatively if the other more important qualities are not demonstrated
  • A small age difference between the leader and the led implies a need for greater care and sensitivity on the part of the leader, i.e. it’s harder to win trust and respect from someone who is much younger.  However one should not be overly cynical or suspicious – there are still a very large number of people being inspired by leaders either the same age or younger than them
  • Women need to guard against being perceived as overly interfering or controlling

The analysis showed that the qualities are not hard wired.  Thus it’s easy to be perceived as Determined in one period and then not Determined later on.  There were two respondees who named the same person as both inspirational, and then off-putting later on.  A leader has further to fall if they are on a pedestal, and leaders must beware of resting on their laurels.


Off Putting

Shows faith in others

  • Gives stretch opportunities, trusting others so they can prove themselves, and coaching (rather than directing) throughout so they can find their own solutions (20%)
  • Using other’s strengths to build a strong team – prepared to defer to them, ask advice from others, open to doing things differently and treating people as equals in the endeavor (16%)
  • Champions other’s work, offering constant praise, encouragement and reward, noticing details and making sure the individual’s confidence is boosted (14%)
  • Interested and willing to develop others – identifying potential then looking out for career opportunities outside of immediate role, offering access to own networks (12%)
  • Providing the right level of support to ensure success – taking time to teach and advise if needed (12%)
  • Sets stretch parameters and monitors progress without being intrusive or interfering – gives autonomy and measures by outputs and results (10%)
  • Doesn’t flinch at mistakes, encourages effort and risk taking, and always stands by people (9%)
  • Ensures others know how much their input is valued and respected, and makes sure they are fully involved (7%)
Doesn’t show faith in others

  • Doesn’t support people, focused on self and saving face or looking good – passes the buck or takes credit for others work (18%)
  • Very, very critical – scapegoat searcher, undermines people in front of others (18%)
  • No freedom or creativity allowed on how things should be done – their way only, no opportunity to stretch skills, very hierarchical (17%)
  • Micromanages, control freak, doesn’t trust or respect people’s ability or experience (17%)
  • No effort to value or appreciate people fairly – has obvious favourites and discriminates (13%)
  • Gives work to people they clearly cant do, requests often totally unreasonable with no coaching or development provided (10%)
  • Doesn’t listen to what people have to say – think they know already (7%)



  • Articulate, natural communicator – ensures others are bought in and understand the part they play (14%)
  • Genuine and approachable listener – creates adult to adult, respectful and equal relationships (14%)
  • People issues a clear priority – always available, always open and will always help (14%)
  • Sensitive and empathetic to others, understand the impact they have – able to connect with people at the personal values level and connect these with those of the organisation.  Makes people feel special (13%)
  • Charismatic, fun and interesting to be around (11%)
  • Actively relates to people at all levels – relaxed and friendly (10%)
  • Self-expressed and genuine, able to show humanity and vulnerabilities (9%)
  • Makes a real effort to get to know people personally – even beyond work (8%)
  • Energetic, positive and upbeat, and able to energise others (7%)
Not Engaging

  • Bullying, aggressive and domineering behaviour – looking to prove own superiority and power, giving public put downs and personally showing off at the expense of others (25%)
  • No interest or planning around people issues – pays no attention, ignores and generally hides from others (22%)
  • No thought for others’ circumstances or individuality (19%)
  • Impersonal, one-style manner, android-like or superficially smooth, no genuine empathy (15%)
  • Overly emotional behaviour – angry, irritable, visibly stressed (12%)
  • Lack of personal courtesy– doesn’t say good-morning or any other basics, no appreciation or thank-you (7%)

  • Diligent networking and stakeholder management – manages personal profile, gets right people on side, listens well, manages conflict constructively (20%)
  • Creative thinking, novel, new, out-of-the box ideas – flexible and open minded (16%)
  • Good knowledge and understanding of the product/technology, business/organization, and the marketplace (16%)
  • Strong intellect, quick and incisive critical thinker – solves problems quickly and constructively (16%)
  • Shapes direction in an organized manner to a clear and exciting vision – makes right judgments and linkages, thinks beyond today (16%)
  • Knows when to stand back and when to be hands on – clearly defined strategic role (8%)
  • Invites ideas from others and reacts well when they are offered (5%)
  • Diligent personal preparation and organisation, manages own weaknesses (3%).
Not astute

  • Tactical focus with little recognition of strategic context – doesn’t notice when things are going wrong and makes no effort to tie in realities with corporate vision (21%)
  • Inflexible and opinionated, closed to others contributions, insistent on by-the-book approaches (21%)
  • Displays superficial knowledge and understanding (20%)
  • Unrealistic, unclear or inconsistent expectations (14%
  • Defensive of their empire, silo mentality, closed or even hostile to stakeholders/opposite numbers (13%)
  • Inappropriate decisions not based on proper facts or robust thinking (11%)





  • Never wavers around their commitment – challenges, removes obstacles, doesn’t compromise, backs people, optimistic (31%)
  • Focused and organized – prioritises well, does what they say they will and expects same of others, results driven (16%)
  • Commands attention – personal presence, gravitas, authoritative, professional and confident (15%)
  • Clear constant and ambitious around where they are going and what they expect everyone to do – able to share this simply with others (14%)
  • Demonstrates passion, belief and absolute conviction in what they are doing (11%)
  • Dynamic, large amount of personal energy – gets results and will dive in themselves to help if needed (8%)
  • Committed and loyal to the organisation, does things for the greater good (5%)



Not Determined

  • Doesn’t show interest in the work – public nay saying, no drive for results (23%)
  • Won’t help, not available, indecisive, misses meetings (20%)
  • No effort to provide vision or context, inconsistent decision making, compromises all the time (20%)
  • Lazy – doesn’t take ideas forward, no preparation or organisation for meetings, often cancels, doesn’t deliver or do what they said they would (20%)
  • Delegates/dumps things on others that they should be doing themselves – doesn’t take responsibility (11%)
  • Personally disorganized and chaotic (6%)

  • Gives direct and regular feedback, firm robust and timely so people know exactly where they stand performance wise – praise is sincere, specific and genuine, and repeated poor performance acted upon  (28%)
  • Frank and honest in all communications – regular, no jargon, and concise (25%)
  • Sets standards and principles, then role models actions and behaviours expected consistently and constantly – does what they say they will (18%)
  • Open, even tempered and doesn’t seek to blame when given bad news – deals with it, ensures learning then moves on (12%)
  • Actively shares specific information useful for development or a particular role  (12%)
  • Recognises own strengths, admits own mistakes – doesn’t try to be anything other than they are (5%)


Not straight

  • Tells lies, gossips behind peoples backs, two-faced (26%)
  • Very changeable views, responses, moods, demands – inconsistent and mercurial (23%)
  • Very poor about giving feedback – avoids, ill-judged or wrong, conflicting, or insincere (16%)
  • Appears to have secret personal agenda – very hard to read, seems to have ulterior motives (16%)
  • Doesn’t keep people properly informed, withholds information (14%)
  • Advocates vales then doesn’t live by them (5%)


How do I delegate effectively? (Part 1)

Intellectually, we all get it, we know that we need to delegate.

Many of my coachees have been on courses about delegation, yet it still does not translate into a change of behaviour.

I have identified below some of the more common reasons for not delegating which come up in our coaching session:

I don’t have the time” Delegating, although initially time consuming eventually frees up time so why would we not create time to ultimately save time?It often comes down to prioritisation, leaving things to the last minute so that there really is not the time to delegate effectively.  This is a really good excuse we can give to ourselves for not delegating, but is it really a barrier?

Although time is presented as the barrier to effective delegation, there are underlying reasons which are the real cause.

“the person I am delegating to is swamped too” Concern for the other person, ie the one to whom you are delegating to, is probably the second most common reason I hear.This can have some legitimacy, in that, the person may not have the necessary skill set to perform the work as effectively as you might, so will take longer to complete the task.  They may also have a high workload too.

As their line manager your role is to help them to manage their workload, to develop the skills and expertise to be as good as you at the tasks delegated.

Often this is simply an assumption on the part of the manager.

“There is no point” This negative assumption can have several underlying causes which might include:

  • Not seeing the value of delegation as a development tool
  • Assuming the other person will not do it to your standard
  • Not wanting to let go control
  • Cultural norms in your organisation which reward being ‘super-busy’ and managing a high workload

I have found when I probe these excuses a little more, there is often an underlying lack of trust which is the real barrier to delegation.

This lack of trust takes two forms.

  1. Trust in the other person to:
  • Do the task as well as you would
  • Have the capacity to do the task to the timescale and standard required
  • Have the capability to do the task
  • Approach the task with the right attitude

2. Trust in yourself to:

  • Delegate effectively to ensure that the task and your expectations are understood
  • Let go control of the task
  • Delegate in a timely way to enable the other person to complete the task effectively

The key to effective delegation is to understand where your lack of trust lies, then work on ways to increase the trust to enable you to delegate effectively.

If you would like more information on effective delegation or would like to look at coaching to help you increase your effectiveness at work contact us on 01926 633086 or info@athenaprofessional.co.uk