Three Traits Great Leaders Have in Common

February 16, 2016         By: Erika Napoletano

There are bosses, whose authority is tied up in rank, tenure, or pay grade. And then there are leaders, who are front-of-the-pack because the people behind them wouldn’t have it any other way. Leaders, not bosses, inspire the best from their teams. But how do they do this?

To find out, we reached out to experts—authors who speak all over the world sharing and reinforcing the fundamentals of leadership every day. What follows are three key takeaways from their leadership know-how, plus links to their books, in case you happen to fall in “Yes!” with any of these ideas.

Integrity Is Courage, Too

“Courage gives you what it takes to step up and assume the mantle of leadership, and tenacity keeps you going when your role requires everything you’ve got,” writes Carey Lorenz, author of Fearless Leadership: High-Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck” and the U.S. Military’s first female F-14 Tomcat pilot. But, she adds, neither of those traits are enough to make you a true fearless leader. “If you have any hope of inspiring the people under you to innovate and take risks—if you want to win their confidence and loyalty and work with them to do great things—you’ve got to have (this) fundamental trait of fearless leadership: integrity.”

This leadership lesson on integrity is one of her favorites. Why? Because it’s difficult—if not impossible—to follow a leader who doesn’t have the respect of his or her team. And there’s no way around it: You can’t earn respect without integrity, or the ability to stand behind your word and principles so a team knows who and what they’re following, and why.

Clarity Even In Fog

There’s an inarguable pressure on leaders to have all the answers. You have a team of people looking to you for direction. The truth is, however, that even the world’s greatest leaders are human and don’t have all the answers every time. That’s why Todd Henry, author of “Louder Than Words”, focuses on why great leaders need to be clear about direction even when outcomes are less clear:

“Even when you don’t have all the answers, and are uncertain about the right direction, you have to be clear about your expectations of team members. When you aren’t clear, your team is likely to spin out into frustration and stagnation. When uncertain, many leaders are ambiguous in how they communicate because they don’t want to risk being wrong. However, that lack of clarity trickles down to the team and causes paralysis. Over time, the team will adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach to their work, which drains motivation.”

Great leaders know that team paralysis stalls any vision – and when the wheels grind to a halt, even the greatest leaders fall swiftly.

Results, Not Approval

Of course you want to be the leader who’s revered by your team—the one who had the great ideas that your entire team loved and couldn’t wait to implement.

But are you valuing the appreciation over the results that solid, direction-oriented leadership can create?

In his forthcoming book, “Achiever”, John Michael Morgan (also the author of the bestselling “Brand Against the Machine”) hones in on how competent leaders fail to bridge the gap to great by focusing too much on approval—and at the expense of the results they were engaged to produce.

“Too many leaders…want their ideas to be liked. They want social media love. They want people to sing their praises,” Morgan writes. “But none of that matters if they’re not accomplishing making their vision a reality. For a leader, the achievement of goals is all that matters. You will never be the most liked leader alive, but you can be the one who gets things done. Strong leaders seek results, not approval.”

As you examine your own leadership style, think about how much focus you place on being “liked.” And there’s nothing at all wrong with being liked by your team. But when the affection comes at the expense of what you were hired to do, it’s time for a rethink on your leadership style.