Last week, a respected colleague asked me to evaluate her honestly on 12 leadership traits; she is in a prestigious nationwide program for emerging business leaders and this is one of her weekly assignments. Though it’s not mentioned on the list, I think she’s already exhibited an essential characteristic of a leader: a willingness to take on a year’s worth of professional-improvement classes with voluminous amounts of homework on top of her typically exhausting day in a demanding job.

Survey done! No, that would be the Planet Janet Single-Question Leadership Trait Survey, which asks: “Do you willingly take on extra work for no other reason than that you might learn something new and improve yourself, positively affecting not only your life but the lives of those you associate with?” The Planet Janet One-Question Leadership Trait Survey is not afraid to end its questions with prepositions.

My Single-Question leadership Trait Survey is based on the adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Take a moment to think of a couple of folks you consider to be leaders. If you were to text or call one of them right now, you would invariably catch them in the middle of something—working, creating, building. And when they retire, they become professional volunteers, lending their time and talents to bring up the next generation of leaders through civic and community engagement. This is likely the most neglected natural resource in America today—the retired workforce.

But I digress, in order to make an important point about the great untapped potential among us. Let us return to the 12-point leadership trait survey which I was tasked to complete.

Naturally, I said I would do it, though in the back of my mind, I did consider briefly how I truly enjoy working with this person, and I wondered if this survey might have an adverse effect on my ability to add her to the estimated 1.7 friends I have accumulated since moving here. But then I remembered that I cannot have any friends at work, because I work directly for the boss of our organization, Yar Eynnuf, whose name has been spelled backwards for privacy, and who, by the way, is one of the finest leaders I have had the privilege to know. True leadership comes with an essential loneliness—because you must make unpopular yet wise decisions that will never make everyone 100% happy but will advance the organization while building among your team that intangible thing called “character.” In many ways, I learned this as a parent who was never a “friend” to my children growing up, but rather a firm-yet-loving Chief of Staff. The unpopular yet guiding standards I upheld and decisions I made include:

• You must at least try every food you are served.

• You will exhibit good manners at all times, remembering to say please and thank you.

• You cannot attend a co-ed sleepover after the cast party in high school.

The survey I will be completing, just after I finish this column, mop my floors, and make Christmas treats for a get-together this evening, asks me to rate my coworker on a scale of 1 to five on the following traits: Self-aware, Visible, Influential, Adaptable, Empathy, Efficient, Innovative, Strategic, Thoughtful, Decisive, Integrity, and Resilient. It strikes me like a “Superhero Report Card.” Some of these traits, in my view, require years of crafting and honing to warrant a perfect score. Some are frankly not teachable—again, my opinion, but you either have integrity or you don’t.

I’m looking forward to completing the survey and discussing it with my coworker. I don’t even think it will be awkward, because any areas for growth are probably already on her radar.  Go ahead, evaluate yourself—that’s what a leader would do. Or, take my one-question quiz instead and start your Christmas baking.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer who lives in Georgetown County. Her column is publshed weekly. Contact her at