Much has been published about the traits that leaders need to have in order to build an effective team. In my experience as an executive coach working with successful leaders for more than 11 years, what I learned is that leadership is all about people.
The heart of every organization is its people. The people are the ones who bring in the numbers and who actually help the organization achieve its goals. And this is the reason most leaders are constantly updating themselves with the best practices in building high-performing and engaged teams.
To help leaders build high-performing teams, I started a podcast, Leading Great Workplaces, and one of the questions I asked my guests is this: Which one trait do leaders need to have in order to lead great workplaces?
Here’s what successful leaders and fellow coaches shared during the interviews:
It’s the ability to adapt. But to adapt for the purpose of serving and elevating others. If you think about this, many leaders are successful in one place and they come to a new place and they expect to have the same results — unaware that they are different people, they have a different culture. That trait is the ability to adapt to a new environment but also having a purpose and the purpose is to serve, the purpose is to elevate others. — Luis Velasquez
2: Giving people hope
People would do amazing things if they just have a little bit of hope. There’s no one thing but I think if you’re going to do one thing is give people hope — that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Like we’re going to get through this thing together and there’s going to be better days and so I think that’s one of those intangibles during a time like this. — Jim Collison
3: Emotional regulation
Emotional regulation is sort of what goes along and married empathy. Now, the question is, is the leader responsible or is the only one responsible for emotional regulation empathy? I think it’s less about what the leader must do than what the whole should do with the leader.
We often put on the leader — be emotionally regulated, be empathetic, while everybody else is not. And there’s a disconnect between what the system does and what the leader does and the leader has this boulder on their necks trying to get up the hill while everybody else is kind of gnawing at the leader…
So that’s really what to me is important. While you have that leader who walks in the room and changes the tone, you also need to know why they’re changing the tone.
So put yourself in their shoes, as to why they are changing the tone. How are they feeling, what are the fifth element, killer outcomes that they need to accomplish they feel maybe are not being accomplished?
So a mix of that kind of emotional regulation empathy with coaching and helping others to realize their situation and what the whole is, truly I think is the core competency of what a great leader is all about. — Louis Carter
4: Open communication
Nowadays there’s a lot of talk about psychological safety, and of course this is a very big concept that people talk about and it makes whole sense. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever and one of the things that I have been working on with a lot of leaders is how can you make conversations easier and faster.
Psychological safety is a big thing but you need to put a lot of small things in place to lower these hurdles in conversations. And these are small things like making sure your office door is open and making sure your desk is placed in a way that is easy to approach you. It’s also things like walking around, making people cups of coffee, going around to do some small talk.
It’s being very deliberate about continuously lowering hurdles in conversations… And that’s super important because these hurdles to start conversations seem to always grow. They never not grow so you have to continue to have to make sure that these hurdles dissipate. — Will Linssen
Compassion makes you have empathy for other people. It probably drives you to be more transparent as well, because those are all important things in being a leader. If you’re compassionate about your company and about your team members, you think about what’s going to be better, what’s going to be best for them and you don’t think about it as an ego play where you’re the leader, you’re the boss so you always have to be right and if you’re not, nobody’s going to hold you accountable. Having compassion is also having humility. — Reese Fernandez-Ruiz
A leader would know what’s the best, should know where to go, but a truly impactful leader is somebody who is inclusive.
An inclusive leader gets inputs from other members of the team so that it’s not just a decision made by the leader alone, but really a collective decision based on everybody’s inputs. And I think being inclusive is easier said than done.
When I think about inclusivity as a characteristic, it can be time-consuming. However, I really feel that investing that time to get inputs, get feedback, and listen is crucial because if you don’t listen and you just think that it’s this all the time and you don’t expand and listen to others, it will just make it a very one-sided type of leadership. — Rudyard Von De Leon
7: Being others-centric
What is a leader? A leader leads people. So you’ve got to be others-centric. There is no “I” in leader. And it’s funny because the higher you get in an organization — the higher and higher and higher you get, you become less and less important.
Because you are just one of dozens, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of employees. And it’s the employees who are creating value for the organization.
It really isn’t you as that individual. The value is being created every single day with every transaction that’s taking place with your customer or consumer. That’s where the value is being created.
So the higher you get, the less important you are. It’s not about you at the leadership level. The highest leadership is not about you. It is about leading others to the place where they want to go. It’s getting everyone in that ship and heading them in the same direction.
And so if you want to create a workplace that’s really great to work in, you need to focus on the day-to-day employee experience. Those are the folks who are creating value for your customers. — Brenda Bence
Curiosity. I think leaders tend to always make assumptions — assuming how somebody would react. But we also assume that we understand how people see situations and we don’t know.
So when you have a conversation with someone to maybe lay out the challenges, ask them what the challenges are, lay out what you think the problem might be, but then ask them their story, “How do you see the situation?” And really listen and appreciate their experience no matter what it is, even if you don’t agree. It’s just where they are right now. So we need to receive and appreciate what the person is experiencing, what they’re feeling about it, how they see it. That’s where you start so people have to feel seen, heard, and valued.
We always have to be aware of what we’re feeling in the moment… The brain always looking for who is the socially dominant person in the room, which is the leader. And so whatever the leader’s feeling, that sets the emotional tone. It’s contagious. So if the leader is feeling hopeful and courageous, people will feel hopeful and courageous. If the leader is worried, anxious or irritated, then either they’re going to take on those same emotions or they’re going to feel fearful. — Marcia Reynolds
9: Support employee development and growth
One thing that research has shown again and again is really important — the great work of Amy Edmondson around psychological safety. How do you create that?
It’s sort of a complex concatenation of techniques, but if we were to boil it down to one important building block — this might not be sufficient in terms of creating a great workplace, but it’s certainly, I would say, important — it’s really showing employees that you care about them and their development.
It is kind of frightening to be in a situation where you feel like, as an employee, you’re constantly being evaluated and judged and like somebody is looking over your shoulder with the purpose of measuring you and seeing if you’re good enough.
You can and you should be holding people accountable. But I think it needs to come from a place where people are not feeling scared and you understand that everybody can get better and that you’re willing to give them room to get better. — Dorie Clark
Confidence is when I know that I will deliver on my promises to myself and to my people. That leads to credibility because if I deliver my promises, people trust me because without confidence and credibility, there is no trust, no magnitude of your vision. There is no team and actually you’re not a leader because people don’t trust you. They don’t follow you.
As a leader, I promised my people that I’m with them. I’m not promising that. Call me when you have problems. I’m with them and they could see how they must see that I’m contributing to this value creation in a great extent as they are. So I’m not just controlling them. I’m working hard to create that value together with them, so my role as a leader is overlapping their roles and I am therefore always with them, not just some way behind or in front and with them…
We’re all humans. We all have ego. But to what extent or how we control our ego is quite important… Big ego kills vision, it kills respect for people, it kills ability to see beauty in people, it kills everything, drops people off a cliff. Then you can’t talk about vision. You can’t talk about great goals for people. You can’t talk about great culture. That kills everything. — Oleg Konovalov
We can learn so much from the coaches and consultants on what makes a great leader.
Think about your own team and organization. Which of these traits will help you create a highly engaged and productive team? What steps do you need to take to be able to apply the leadership traits with your role?
An example is emotional regulation. How do you recognize your effect on other people? How can you self-check before you enter a meeting? Are you able to think before you react? These are crucial questions you need to ask yourself to be good at emotional regulation.
Write down the traits you need as a leader. Remember to think about your role and your environment. Think about the three steps you need to take to make it happen. Create success measures with each action step to keep yourself on track.
Note: Minor edits were made on the responses for readability and conciseness.