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Six Traits of the Next Generation of Leaders

A few weeks ago, we set out to uncover the concerns that keep CEOs up at night. The first culprit was the skills gap: a lack of skilled workers. And unfortunately, there’s more for CEOs to worry about. As large numbers of Baby Boomers transition into retirement, organizations have seen a leadership gap emerge as well.

A recent study by CareerBuilder.com and Harris Poll found that corporate leaders are increasingly worried that there are "not enough good leaders within the organization." It’s a worry with huge implications as the workforce ages and current leaders retire with few qualified younger contenders for their positions. Without good leadership, even the strongest company can flounder.

However, regardless of what stage you are in in your career, there is good news; this impending gap can provide you with unprecedented opportunities.

As the global economy continues to evolve, driven by technology, politics and changing attitudes, the traits of successful leaders may also evolve. Characteristics of successful leadership fifty years ago may fall flat today. With that in mind, we’ve compiled some important traits we encourage in the leaders of tomorrow to help bridge the widening leadership gap:

1. An unwavering willingness to tell the truth. Always

So says Joel Trammell, noted author, entrepreneur and leadership expert. "[Leaders] who lose credibility can never regain it," he writes in his CEO advice column in Forbes. "When you communicate, do people believe that you are telling [employees and stakeholders] the objective truth? If they do, then you have credibility. To maintain credibility you have to tell the truth 100 percent of the time."

2. An intrepid spirit

Recently, Russell Reynolds Associates, a noted management consulting company, analyzed its database of over 3,700 CEO evaluations to determine what set leaders apart from other executives. What they found the secret was their intrepid qualities: "the ability to perform effectively in complex and difficult environments." Top executives, they found, were good at "calculated risk taking," had a “bias toward (thoughtful) action," took an "optimistic" view of the world, and were "constructively tough minded" when it came to achieving their goals.

3. A relentless drive to innovate

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, put it simply in a recent article in Entrepreneur magazine that examined some of the skills visionary leaders have mastered. "If things are not failing," says Musk, "you’re not innovating enough." Having the courage to take risks to better your organization and your career could mean the difference between stardom and stagnation.

4. Resilience

Of course, not every risk pays off. Some bold moves flop. That’s why the ability to bounce back from adversity is one of the most important qualities a CEO can have. Consider Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. "I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.com. Literally billions," he admits at a 2014 conference. But he perseveres — and it’s paid off. For example, it took two massive product flops to lead Bezos’ team to create the wildly successful Amazon Marketplace: It now accounts for 40 percent of the company’s sales.

5. Self-awareness

Finally, the ability to be honest with yourself about your strengths and, more importantly, limitations. This is a quality that all leaders should possess. Constantly working towards self-awareness isn’t easy. It requires asking some tough questions and being willing to hear the answers. Writing in Fast Company about what he looks for in the leadership of companies he invests in, Jim Madden, cofounder and managing director of Carrick Capital Partners, boils it all down to one simple question. "The ultimate test," he declares, "is that a CEO should be willing to ask him/herself every quarter, ‘Am I still the best person to run this company?’" To answer that question, you need to be brutally honest with yourself.

6. A commitment to empowering others

In a recent interview in Diversity Journal, Aerotek President Todd Mohr identified the impact great leaders can have on individuals within their organization. "Leaders deliver honest, real-time coaching and feedback, and recognize that doing so is important not only to help each employee succeed in the now," says Mohr, "but also to help him or her build a successful future."

Do you think you have what it takes to be a leader? If you can answer that question with an unequivocal "yes", then you just might have what it takes to fill the leadership gap.

Have additional suggestions for characteristics that future leaders should have? Share them with us using hashtag #leadershipgap.