In this fast-paced, ever-changing, turbulent time, the importance of effective leadership is discussed more than ever. Search the internet for the discrete phrase “characteristics of leadership,” and the result is roughly 9 million entries offering the top traits of a leader.

Often, leaders are described with action words, such as “results-oriented,” “innovative,” “driven” or “visionary.” Sometimes, they are described by what leaders do and how they approach the role, such as the systematic leader (leaders who use and rely on a set of methods and management principles) or the servant leader (a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve).

Over many decades serving in leadership roles, reflecting on my own development as a leader, talking with colleagues, and reading and studying leadership, I have come to believe that there are four essential attributes that drive what I define as responsive leadership. Responsive leaders focus on the people within the organization to achieve success. These four attributes sustain leadership and make it strong in both triumph and crisis, as well as transportable and transferrable in different environments. They must be consistently used and followed — no matter which leadership style one employs — but especially if one aims to be a responsive leader. I call these leadership attributes The Big Four.

Curiosity: The Desire to Continuously Learn, Discover and Grow Intellectually

Curiosity plays a critical role in steering an organizational transformation, creating a new product or innovation, or better understanding the competition. With a curious mind, the leader will seek knowledge and understanding from a variety of sources, including subordinates, peers, experts and trusted advisers. As a result, his or her organization will be wiser and stronger.

Humility: A Sincere Regard for the Reality That We Cannot Go It Alone

Never underestimate the power of humility. It reinforces leaders’ curiosity and gives them the courage to surround themselves with the very best — people who are highly competent and perhaps even smarter than themselves. With humility, leaders know that they can learn from others and are fully aware that they do not have all the answers. Employees often respond best to a humble leader.

Empathy: The Ability to Understand and Appreciate Other Human Beings

The ability to understand the feelings of others keeps leaders in touch with their own feelings as the organization tackles problems and finds solutions. Empathy is foundational to workplace cooperation and productive collaboration. In most work environments, employees must work with others in order to be successful. Empathy keeps leaders tuned into the impact that dramatic industry changes are having on the people around them and on the organization. Regardless of leadership style, many executives would agree that empathy is a basic, and critical, quality of a successful leader.

Resilience: The Capacity to Recover and Keep Going Forward in the Face of Adversity

All leaders will face adversity at some point in their careers. Some of the hardest work leaders encounter is rebounding from a setback. Recovering quickly from what they perceive as a failure, and what everyone around them perceives as a failure, can accelerate their own personal recovery process. Equally importantly, it can enable accelerated organizational growth and continued development. Resilience can provide organizational backbone and stamina during the hardest of times.

Each of the Big Four attributes — curiosity, humility, empathy and resilience — is integral to responsive leadership. In these turbulent times, leaders who believe in and practice responsive leadership are more equipped to solve complex leadership challenges, drive change, and enable organizational transformation and success.

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