Are You a Leadership “Freak”?

We sometimes refer to zealous hobbyists as ‘freaks’: tennis freaks, golf freaks, computer freaks. These highly enthusiastic people excel in their pursuits; they are unique, rare, uncommon, top-of-the-bell-curve types.

Are You a Leadership “Freak”?

According to a Harvard Business School of Leadership study, if you are an honest and thankful leader, you are a leadership freak. Why? Because according to this study, 90% of leaders are not honest and thankful; they might be one or the other, but not both.

Leadership Freak Trait #1: HONESTY

For their book, The Leadership Challenge, authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner interviewed tens of thousands of employees nationwide and discovered that the leadership trait employees most wanted to see in their boss was honesty. What does honesty look like in the workplace? We often think of honesty as simply “telling the truth.” However, honesty is far more multifaceted.

To test our honesty, here are a few questions that we as leaders may ask ourselves:

  • Do I always tell the truth even if doing so is difficult?
  • Do I give my employees candid performance feedback?
  • Do I admit my mistakes to others?
  • Do I exaggerate the truth to make myself look better?
  • Do I do the right thing even when no one is looking?
  • Do I answer questions openly and admit “I don’t know” if I don’t have an answer?
  • Are my actions and decision-making processes as transparent as possible?
  • When faced with a failure, do I pass the buck, or do I accept responsibility for my role in it?
  • Do I keep my word, deliver on my promises, and honor my commitments?

In his book The Speed of Trust Stephen M.R. Covey writes:

“When trust goes up, speed will also go up and cost goes down.”

Honesty is the cornerstone of a trustful work environment, and a trustful work environment is the cornerstone of a successful organization. Without trust, our relationships, organizations, and communities suffer.

Leadership Freak Trait #2: THANKFULNESS

In 2012, the American Psychological Association (APA) surveyed over 1,700 employees and found that more than half of those surveyed wanted to look for a new job. What was the respondents’ motivation? Did they want more money? More security? Surprisingly, most surveyed employees wanted to move on because they felt under-appreciated or undervalued.

The Harvard Business School of Leadership study results concurred with those of the APA, citing the vast majority of respondents felt their leaders did not appreciate team member contributions or value their employees. Author of The Leadership Challenge James Kouzes lists “Encourage the Heart“ as one of the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership,” but goes on to describe it as one of the least common leadership traits. He says one of the simplest ways leaders can “Encourage the Heart” is with sincere (honest!) celebrations that recognize employee successes. More than anything, people want to “matter” – to feel appreciated, valued, and important. A simple, yet genuine “Thanks!” from a leader on regular basis goes a long way toward keeping people motivated and feeling good about their work.

Here are a few additional ways we can demonstrate appreciation for those we lead:

  • Express Enthusiasm for New Ideas – When an employee suggests a new program or project idea, resist the temptation to “dive right in” and edit, correct, or provide your own “two cents.”
  • Give Employees Credit for the ‘Little Stuff’ Too – It is easy to celebrate the “big stuff” that makes news headlines and impresses council members, but it is usually the behind-the-scenes “little stuff” that makes big successes possible.
  • Talk “Legacy” – Everyone wants to “leave their mark” but not everyone is lucky enough to have a street or building named after them. Remind employees how they helped make a city, organization, or program what it is today, and how their efforts will have an enduring, positive affect on the organization and the community.

Check out Dan Rockwell’s fun and informative blog ( to learn more ways to become a “leadership freak.”

Hope Horner is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

I often see lists of what makes for a good or great leader, whether the advice is coming from Covey, Jaques, Bennis, Drucker, Bass, Gardiner, or others. And the requisite qualities are spot on.

But I rarely see lists of who wants to be a leader, as opposed to simply having leadership “thrust upon them”.

What are the personal qualities of those who aspire to leadership roles, and hustle to move up that ladder? Are these qualities compatible with what makes for a “leadership freak”, or are they mutually exclusive? Can you be thankful for the efforts of your subordinates when they are construed as the ones who make you look good so that you can move up to the next level? If one is entirely comfortable with unhooking from initiative/program X, to get a higher-level position running program/initiative Y, is it still possible to have a sense of loyalty and honesty?

I don’t want to make out leaders as if they are uncaring narcissistic weasels, but one has to ask the question as to whether the opportunity to acquire leadership roles has a way of bringing that out in more people, or alternatively selecting for it among successful candidates.

Who wants to be a leader? Who is successful at acquiring those roles? Are honesty and thankfulness traits of those who intend to remain where they are, and commit to what the unit/department/organization does, but not traits of those who are content to move on and up?

Greg Donovan

Thank you for sharing this. Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak blog and daily blasts have become one of my trusted consistent sources of straightforward fun insights.

Carol Davison

1. Leaders see through the turmoil to see what the problem/opportunity is, and bring the team back on target. For example, I was merely attending a meeting regarding improving our dog park at the park. A man walked up and started bad mouthing the county, which I didn’t want to happen because they are bending over backwards to help us, and because it was taking the meeting off track. I said “We are discussing how to raise money to purchase trees for the park,” and we went back to the discussion.

2. Why must I be a member of the Knowledge Management page to respond to a generic article?