Young people most value emotional intelligence in a leader – but a third still equate leadership with men

Published: 13 Sep 2018

Boardroom meeting
  • 58% of young people say listening or empathy are the most important leadership traits
  • 10% or less chose discipline, dominance or ruthlessness as desired leadership traits
  • Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Gareth Southgate voted as young people’s most admired leaders
  • But 34% of 14 to 18-year-olds say men are naturally better leaders than women

Research by The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) shows that the UK’s perceptions of the traits that make a good leader are shifting from tradition – however a third of young people still believe men are naturally better leaders.

New research from the charity, which equips young people with the skills needed to become the leaders of tomorrow, demonstrates respect for a new style of leadership – one that values inclusivity and empathy over authority and discipline – is thriving among young people.

Asked about the most important characteristic for a leader to have, 58% of people aged 14-18 said listening skills, or kindness and empathy. In comparison, just 10% chose discipline as the most important trait, 6% opted for dominance, and 3% said ruthlessness.

The leaders that young people most admire further reinforces a shift in the desired values of a leader. Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane were voted the most admirable leaders among young people – all known for their modest, patient and empowering leadership styles.

The research, however, throws up evidence that perceptions around gender and leadership aren’t as progressive. While Oprah Winfrey follows in fifth place, the top four leaders voted as most admired by young people are men. A further 34% of young people also think that there have historically been more male leaders because men are naturally better at leading than women.

In response to the findings, the DofE is calling for the public, and particularly young people, to recognise how skills such as compassion, confidence, and resilience are crucial to their future success.

Sarah Willingham, entrepreneur, ex-Dragon’s Den investor and supporter of the DofE, said:

“For too long, good leadership has been associated with dominance and authority so it’s brilliant to see attitudes changing among young people. Throughout my career, I’ve seen many examples of these traits only getting people so far, before they’re caught out, and ultimately, it’s empathy and resilience that tends to win.

“Programmes like The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, that build the right skills and challenge young people to explore their potential, are crucial to nurturing our next generation of great leaders.” 

While there has been a welcome shift in perceptions of good leadership, young people worry about having the right skills to become leaders themselves. Two thirds (66%) of 14-18-year-olds would like a leadership role but 40% think a lack of confidence will hold them back. A further 40% think that self-belief will be a deciding factor in their success. 

Peter Westgarth, CEO of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, said:

Whether it’s the ‘Gareth Southgate’ effect or not, it’s encouraging to see that inclusive leadership skills are being recognised by young people. It’s no longer about being the loudest and most dominant person in the room – compassion, self-belief and staying power are much more important. Yet it’s unfortunate that so many young people lack confidence in their ability to become leaders. The DofE is passionate about equipping young people with the confidence and skills the research tells us are needed to become the leaders of tomorrow – coping with pressure and listening to others, while also being kind and empathetic. Talking to young people who have achieved a DofE Award, they tell me that is exactly what they have got from their DofE experience. We want all young people to have that opportunity to thrive”

Leadership infographic

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For further information, please contact Aga Maciejewska:, 020 3696 5804, or Georgia Woolford:, 01753 727472        

Notes to editors

About the survey:

The research was conducted by Censuswide using a sample of 1004 UK 14-18-year olds. The research was carried out between 17.07.18 - 20.07.18. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles. 

Full list of leaders that young people most admire:

  1. Barack Obama
  2. Bill Gates
  3. Gareth Southgate
  4. Harry Kane
  5. Oprah Winfrey
  6. Emma Watson
  7. Donald Trump
  8. Jeremy Corbyn
  9. Elon Musk
  10. Malala Yousafzai
  11. Theresa May
  12. Hilary Clinton
  13. Nicola Sturgeon
  14. Desmond Tutu
  15. Emma Gonzalez
  16. Sheryl Sandberg


About The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award:

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award notes to editors – figures correct as of 2017/18 stats

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) is the world’s leading youth achievement award that is currently helping 430,000 young people to develop for life and work in the UK.

In 2017/2018, over 275,000 young people started a DofE programme, including over 60,000 from disadvantaged backgrounds. Founded by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in 1956, the DofE is currently being delivered in 10,014 DofE centres such as schools, youth clubs and prisons, supported by over 3,000 partner organisations and approximately 40,000 adult volunteers.

In total, over six million people have participated in DofE programmes in the UK and achieved over 2.8 million Awards since 1956. In 2017/2018, 142,961 achieved a Bronze, Silver or Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

The DofE is supported by UK employers including Amey, St James’s Place, Tarmac, British Gas, DFS, Heathrow and RSM who endorse the skills and attributes developed whilst doing a DofE programme such as resilience, commitment, self-motivation and team working.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is a Registered Charity No 1072490 and in Scotland No SC038254 and a Royal Charter Corporation RC000806.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation is a Registered Charity in England and Wales, No 1072453. There are more than one million young people currently participating globally in more than 140 countries and territories.

For more information about the DofE, go to