Voices

The surprising trait common to good leaders

How many times have you looked at a business publication and seen a version of the following headline?

• 5 Traits of Horrible Leaders

• The 10 Things Bad Leaders Do

• How to Spot a Bad Leader

With all this talk about bad leaders, and the havoc they leave in their wake, I started wondering what good leadership looks like and how it can be achieved.

I started asking colleagues about their experience with highly motivating leaders, and some trends emerged. Allan Koltin of Koltin Consulting told me about traits — both good and bad — that he had experienced in his career. He revealed that his favorite leaders, “took a personal interest in me – not just about our work together, but in my life as well. They wanted to build a relationship with me and help me to grow as a professional, on and off the court.”

Another outlier were those leaders who truly believed in him. “Oftentimes, when I had a tough assignment or grueling responsibilities, it made all the difference to have someone who was there to pick me up and give me the confidence that I could achieve my goals.” It wasn’t the ones who made life easy that had the biggest impact; in fact, it was the opposite. The leaders who used “tough love” made the strongest impact on him and helped him prove to himself that he could persevere and succeed.

Julie (Jules) Carman, head of global strategic alliances for accountants at Sage, remembered a cross-country coach that made a huge impression on her early in her life. In addition to teaching her how to be a better athlete, Jules remembers even more how this coach created a safe place and built trust with her.

“He taught me to rise above the clutter and be the better person,” Jules said. “The longevity of these lessons, the consistency, the leading by example, and the unwavering trust has stayed with me for all these years.”

It really made an impression on her how he taught her about taking the higher road and the importance of daily integrity. Lessons like these stick with you and tend to guide your decision-making throughout your career and life.

These conversations reminded me of my own experience with an outstanding leader. Years ago, I worked for a tax and accounting software company and was fortunate enough to report to one of the best leaders I’ve seen in my long career. I was the business development manager and reported to the vice president of sales and marketing. Early in our relationship, I learned to never approach him with any issue before I had thought through every possible scenario and outcome. I knew I had to be prepared to answer any question he might ask.

This isn’t because he would belittle me or find fault. He would simply ask me to come back when I knew the answer. Over time, I realized he was teaching me to be prepared and ultimately better at my job. He cared about me and believed in my potential. I loved working for him, and I made sure I always exceeded his expectations.

Great leadership isn’t contingent on education level, job title or number of years at a firm. What I’ve found is that the best leaders, those that inspire the best in their employees, are those who:

• Truly care: Strong leaders care enough to take a true interest in those who work for them and teach others how to succeed themselves.

• Build trust: True leaders demonstrate they truly care and have the best interests of their employees in mind at all times, which naturally builds trust.

• Show respect: Good leaders not only receive true respect from their team members but show they respect others by the way they act and lead their teams.

What leaders have made the biggest impression on you and changed your life for the better? I’d love to hear your stories and continue the conversation.