Business Leadership Today

The 7 Leadership Traits


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

There are many skills that can make a person good at managing others. Strategic thinking, delegation, time management, and conflict resolution are just a few.

To be a good leader (whatever your job title) requires a combination of traits and soft skills that may take a little while longer to develop, but anyone can develop them if they work at it. 

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is keeping employees motivated and engaged. 

Leaders need to understand what really motivates their employees to best meet their needs and engage them with their work. They do this by building influence and trust with their employees. 

There are seven main traits that a leader must have or develop to build influence and establish trust-based relationships with their team members. 

The seven leadership traits that help leaders build influence and trust with their teams are accountability, adaptability, authenticity, communication, compassion, self-awareness, and gratitude. Leaders who continuously develop these traits have high-performance teams of highly engaged and motivated employees. 

In this article, we’ll explore these seven traits and how they can help you on your leadership journey. 

1. Accountability

According to the Partners In Leadership Workplace Accountability Study, 85% of the professionals surveyed aren’t clear on their organization’s expected results. 

The study also found that 93% of respondents weren’t able to align their work with expected results or take accountability for them, and 84% faulted leaders’ behavior as the biggest factor impacting responsibility in their organizations.

The buck stops here,” a phrase popularized by US President Harry S. Truman, who displayed a sign with the phrase on his desk in the White House during his presidency, is all about accountability. 

This phrase is a distillation of the idea that when leaders make decisions, they have to accept the responsibility for those decisions and can’t pass the responsibility for bad decisions onto others, while taking credit for good decisions.

Leaders are responsible for their teams and guide them toward achieving goals. When those goals aren’t met, leaders have to be willing to acknowledge their role in the process and learn from their mistakes. 

As David Burkus says, “Too many people try to shift blame and make excuses, but great leaders take ownership of problems and work to find lessons and solutions.” 

Burkus also says that accountability makes the difference between aspiring leaders and inevitable leaders. If you can learn to take ownership of your role and responsibility for your job as a subordinate, you will have a much smoother transition into leadership.

Rather than punishing employees for not achieving expected results, focus on ensuring there is clarity in job expectations, clearly communicate the organization’s goals and the role employees play in achieving those goals, and don’t just react when teams fall short of expectations—make sure you are giving employees recognition when they do achieve the expected results. 

Part of being a good leader is being a good team player. One of the best ways to be a good team player is by taking ownership. In other words, tomorrow’s good leaders don’t throw their teammates under the bus for the team’s failures or take sole credit when the team does great work. 

Team members who step up and hold themselves accountable, especially on collaborative projects, help build respect and influence. Taking responsibility for a team effort, even when that effort was not successful, shows your teammates that you are willing to take ownership of your work and learn from your mistakes. 

2. Adaptability

Great leaders help their teams to thrive, even during difficult times, and during times of change. As constant change is the only thing any of us can be sure of in the business world, adaptability plays a significant role in determining how successful an organization will be in the future.

Change is inevitable, and leaders need to be able to adapt if they expect their employees to adapt. Adaptable leaders really shine in times of uncertainty.

Agility in adapting helps us not only to survive, but to flourish in times of change. Leaders are better able to do this and help their teams do this when they bring employees into the process because it provides them with a variety of viewpoints and approaches to adapting.

Adaptable leaders are flexible, creative, and adept at problem-solving. As situations change, they roll with the punches and help their employees adapt and maintain high performance, even in environments where change is constant.

When leaders embrace change and demonstrate an ability to adapt quickly, but also in an intentional way that doesn’t lose sight of long-term goals, it can help employees feel a much needed sense of stability in potentially challenging times and can help them adapt more easily. 

Adaptable leaders are able to learn from mistakes and have an improvement mindset that facilitates innovation. They are able to maintain a consistent work environment to make employees feel psychologically safe, and they can guide employees as they adapt, making them less fearful of the future and more positive about facing challenges. 

3. Authenticity

Authentic leadership is transparent and ethical leadership behavior that encourages openness in sharing the information needed to make decisions, while accepting input from others.

Authentic leaders are passionate about the work they do and committed to the organization and its employees. They are strongly guided by values, are true to those values, and are true to themselves.

Authenticity is key to establishing and maintaining strong, trusting relationships with employees and helps leaders build influence with those they lead because it conveys honesty, transparency, openness, and consistency. It also shows that, as a leader, you are comfortable enough with your team to show them the real you. 

Self-awareness, which I’ll cover later in this article, active listening, self-management, empathy, and humility are all part of being an authentic leader. 

To hone this skill, be mindful of your core values and intentional about how you represent them to your team. Also, be open and receptive to constructive feedback that can make you more aware of your blind spots.

4. Communication

Part of a leader’s job is to communicate information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s core values, mission, and vision. This guides employees in their actions and behaviors.

Leaders also clearly communicate goals, objectives, and expectations to provide the clarity their team members need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence. Leaders set the tone for strong communication by being approachable and open to suggestions. 

Many leaders know that employees need feedback to do their best in their jobs. In fact, a lack of regular feedback ranks high on the list of reasons employees leave their jobs.

Employees need feedback on a regular basis to excel in their roles and build the kind of engagement needed for retention. It provides not only job clarity, but also helps employees course correct when needed, develop an improvement mindset, and build confidence in their work.

But, to be most effective, it needs to be a two-way street, with leadership being open to feedback from employees. This gives employees a voice and helps them to build trust with leadership, which increases employee loyalty. 

The feedback that leaders give to their teams is crucial to building and inspiring teams that do great work. Likewise, the feedback that teams provide to their leaders is crucial for helping them lead well. 

Part of a good system of feedback includes coaching and mentoring employees through regular 1 to 1 meetings to help them do their best work and live their best lives. Leaders can provide actionable steps that help employees improve their work life and maintain a good work/life balance.

The goal of this feedback is to help employees to do their best work, do it well, and better serve their co-workers. When done correctly, it should also boost employees’ level of job satisfaction and overall well-being.

5. Compassion

Compassionate people have positive intentions and genuine concern for others. Compassionate leaders are perceived as stronger and more competent than leaders who aren’t compassionate. 

Compassion takes us beyond empathy. When we empathize, we understand and share the feelings of another person. Compassion is more proactive because it helps us to actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. 

In leadership, compassion creates strong, trust-based connections between leaders and their teams which facilitates successful collaborative efforts. It is a particularly valuable skill for leaders to have due to the potentially negative effects power can have on us. 

Research has shown us that power can impair our mirror-neurological activity, which is the neurological function tied to our ability to understand and interact with others. This leads to a phenomenon known as hubris syndrome, which is defined as a “disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years.”

Greater responsibilities and the resulting pressure of taking on those responsibilities can rewire our brains and cause us to stop caring about others as much as we used to. We may find it more difficult to empathize with others when this happens.

According to Forbes’ contributors Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Louise Chester, compassion can serve as a compass that directs a leader’s intentions, attention, and actions: “Whenever you engage with someone, ask yourself: ‘How can I be of benefit to this person?’ Ask yourself this every time you meet clients, stakeholders, colleagues, family, or friends. Let it be a mantra that drives your intentions, moment by moment, in meeting after meeting.”

Developing compassion can help us avoid hubris syndrome and helps us maintain authentic relationships with our teams. In short, it helps us to be more effective, more caring leaders. It can help us to engage and retain talented employees because it creates a positive work environment where employees feel truly valued. 

6. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness refers to a person’s ability to accurately perceive their emotions and remain aware of them as they occur. This is a valuable skill for anyone, but a surprising number of people actually lack this skill.

Research from Dr. Tasha Eurich, author of the book Insight, found that while 95% of people think that they are moderately or highly self-aware, less than 15% of people are actually self-aware.

Self-awareness fosters good communication, builds trust, and increases accountability. It also helps leaders process their emotions in a more positive way that enables them to address challenges more effectively.

A leader who not only knows themselves really well, but is also sensitive to the emotional needs of others and acts on the knowledge gained through self-awareness and social awareness by leading their teams with tact, diplomacy, and poise will find that they are leading highly engaged employees who feel a sense of purpose in their work and take pride in it. 

7. Gratitude

Did you know that being thankful can reduce depression and anxiety and make us more compassionate toward others? Gratitude creates a virtuous cycle where both the person expressing gratitude and the person receiving it benefit. Gratitude just makes us feel better. 

Gratitude can even make you a better leader, which can lead to other positive outcomes because most people say they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss. 

We recently sat down with Piyush Patel, founder of multiple companies, an investor, speaker, and author of the book Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, about the benefits of expressing gratitude in the workplace. 

Patel says, “Everybody has a different level of motivation, they have a different reason they want to be affirmed, they have a different reason to belong. So how do we tap into that?”

How do we tap into that? By creating a culture of gratitude in our organizations and making being thankful a daily practice. Sharing gratitude not only creates a habit of positive thinking among team members, but it also creates a deeper level of connection between them.

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Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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