Leadership traits can be a dime a dozen. There are some people who value direct communication. Some people look for a leader who can motivate them through passion. And others think that having a leader who is willing to make him or herself vulnerable is what separates them from the pack. However you define great leadership skills is up to you, but we all have a bar for which we use to measure things.
Rather than sit here and talk about the leadership traits I look for in a person, I decided to open things up a little bit by asking the Shut Up & Hustle community. That’s why I reached out to colleagues, former bosses, mentors, friends and family to get their thoughts on how the define leadership.
Turning to email and utilizing LinkedIn, there were a lot of people who replied with solid things that they look for in a leader. And, whether it’s pushing someone to be their best — as former Apple CEO Steve Jobs often did — someone who has a solid plan, or some other form of inspiration, here’s what 15 professionals had to say they look for most when it comes to great leadership traits.
To keep things as simple as possible, I wanted to simply know what leadership traits people looked for the most. What defined a great leader to them? Well, here’s what the professionals I spoke with had to say.
JENN SCHMUKLER (Senior Copywriter + Content Strategist)
“I think a great leader needs to have strong moral fiber, know which direction they’re heading in, have a firm handle on what they believe in (which also needs to be clear to the people they’re leading), and they need to adhere to it through their actions and choices. If they do that, their people will trust and respect them and happily follow their lead.
“In addition, they need to rally behind the people they’re leading and set them up for success. And, though it can be hard to delegate and relinquish control, micromanaging is an absolute no. It stifles those being led, hinders them from growing and learning, and shows them that their leader has little confidence in them. No one wants to follow someone like that, so everyone loses in that scenario.
“I also think it’s important for a leader to feel ‘of the people.’ If they feel too far removed from the culture and experiences of those they lead, everyone will sort of feel like it’s the blind leading the not-blind.”
MEREDITH BODGAS (Editor-in-Chief)
“A great leader is one who can assemble a team that complements his or her own strengths and weaknesses and empowers them to speak their minds; even when the leader doesn’t agree. Great leaders know when to go with others’ ideas over their own and give credit to them. Great leaders also can alter their management style to bring out the best in each individual team member. They share their successes with the team who helped make them possible, and own up to their failures to inspire their reports to take risks and stumbles — and get back up.”
ALAN BROWN (Co-Founder and CEO at DNA Seattle)
“To me, the biggest leadership traits that true leaders possess are those who are willing to be themselves, to be vulnerable, who are honest, have empathy, ask for help, and accept responsibility. I see too many people who are in leadership positions who try to be someone they are not, and who believe that ‘leadership’ means being right and having all of the answers. People follow leaders they can trust — who are accessible, who own their mistakes and who are human.”
JENNIFER A. GARRETT (Author of Move the Ball, High Performance Expert & Football Strategist)
“A leader isn’t a status defined by a position or a title. Rather, it’s something earned through action and example. Leadership is about being able to influence others to not only achieve your desired outcomes, but also to inspire and empower others to achieve higher levels of greatness in their own lives.
“Great leaders are people who add value to the individuals and the organization(s) that they lead. They work for the benefit of others and help others to ‘move the ball’ forward; they don’t just focus on their own personal gain. Great leaders inspire and motivate; they don’t intimidate or manipulate. They live and work with people to understand others’ problems in order to solve them.
“Great leaders possess the courage to take risks and push the boundaries of comfortability and traditional thinking. They encourage their teams to always find lessons from failed outcomes and setbacks.
“Great leaders also follow a moral compass that points in the right direction, and they always do the right thing, regardless of trends — even if it means that they stand alone. Lastly, great leaders make a positive impact on others and give people reasons to push through any situation in order to achieve success.
“In my opinion, the true measure of a great leader is not in their ability to be better than everyone else, but in their ability to find those unseen talents in their people and challenge their teams to deliver results and reach greatness.”
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GREGG ROSENZWEIG (Creative Director + Managing Editor)
“Someone who has the balls to lead from the front, despite what people say behind his or her back. Someone who possesses a deep understanding of what moves people to take action, not drown in a well of apathy. Someone who is unafraid to do the unpopular, despite the prevalence of more commonly accepted views.”
ZACH WRIGHT (Director, Professional Services + Strategy)
“I think a great leader is someone who has the ability to adapt and understanding that, they themselves, are still growing. A great leader can inspire others, while finding opportunities to help others grow. For some IC’s, that means you will need to point them in the right direction, and, for others, it means to just let them run with it. But the ability to adapt gives you the flexibility to do both, while finding opportunities for the IC to improve.
“A good leader is not defined on paper, but by their actions. The actions in support of their team far out weigh the words they share about how they lead.”
JACKIE O’SULLIVAN (Media Specialist)
“A true leader, to me, is one with a clear and concise plan. One who treats all with equal respect, whether they’re leading a project or making coffee. A leader should exude confidence at all times, so that those following his or her direction trusts in the decisions made, while knowing there is a solid base to the project.”
AUSTIN CANTWELL (Founder & Senior Managing Partner, Digital Marketing Agency)
“There are two leadership traits that stand out to me in a great leader. As a business owner, I try to live by these, as-well-as infuse them into my culture. In my opinion, the two traits of a great leader are having a strong mind and a soft heart. My definition of ‘a strong mind’ is someone who is very decisive in their actions and words, clear in their direction and goals, and always focused on the mission at hand.
“My definition of ‘a soft heart’ is someone who understands that we are all people and life is more than just work. They care for people beyond results. They know how to make a connection with their people through meaningful communication and relationship. They know how to give credit and constructive feedback when it’s due. They look out for others’ best interests, and help those people reach their goals.
“By properly marrying these two leadership traits, a leader can inspire others through actions, relationship, culture and, ultimately, create a positive, healthy, happy work environment where people will do the proverbial ‘run through a wall’ for one other.”
LAUREN HOLT (Senior Account Executive)
“I think a great leader is someone who can build upon their team’s individual strengths to help the team succeed as a whole. I think they are good communicators who push their team to improve upon their strengths, but not in a discouraging way. I also think they’re equally putting in as much work as the team, if not more. They’re optimistic, encouraging, and, most importantly, honest. Once their team members trust them, they can truly have an impact.”
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ERIC MAURY (Associate Creative Director + Copywriter)
“I heard a quote yesterday from the recently departed Toni Morrison, and I think she nails what it means to be a great leader.
“Morrison said, ‘I tell my students that, when you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’
“I think the point within that quote is that great leaders empower others. No matter what field you’re in, if you’re in a prominent position, you’re talented beyond imagination. But what separates all these talented individuals is not about the individual at all.
“A great leader knows that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It’s about the team. Great leaders motivate, they inspire, but they’re also able to let go. A great leader will give you all the tools you need to succeed, but will also be there to support you if you fail. Great leaders understand that failing is unfortunately part of the learning process. They build you up, and they let you grow at your pace. They listen. They tailor your work toward your goals. They help you become the person you want to be (by trying something new), not accept the role you’re in. A great leader doesn’t look for the fanfare or the admiration — they’ve gotten that, that’s why they are in a position where they are. Their new job is empowering their team to achieve heights previously unimaginable.”
THOMAS BOBSON (Marketing Director)
“I think there’s one leadership trait that encompasses/permeates a leader’s actions: integrity. We’ve all comes across leaders that lack integrity, and this causes them (or at least their actions) to seem superficial, inconsistent and/or self-righteous. If a leader has integrity as a foundational quality, it becomes easy to follow their lead.”
AMBER BELUS (Facilities Assistant + Freelance Writer)
“I don’t think a leader has anything to do with a job title. I think you can lead by example — if you work hard and keep a positive attitude, which will inspire others to follow suit. Negativity in the workplace rubs off on fellow employees.”
JOSH WOMACK (Copywriter + Comedian)
“A great leader has your back. He or she will allow you to make mistakes and to grow from them. A great leader should also be someone else’s biggest cheerleader, especially when professional challenges present themselves. To inspire, they should communicate often and never pass up an opportunity to say ‘Good job’ or give feedback by pulling from their own, previous experiences.”
NAKEISHA CAMPBELL (Entertainment & Lifestyle Writer)
“I think the strongest leaders are the ones who aim to make leaders out of those who are under their guidance. They have a knack for recognizing great potential and they constantly motivate their teams to be the best version of themselves. They also work with integrity and aren’t afraid to be transparent.”
BEN HOLTHUS (Financial Advisor)
“If you haven’t seen it, watch the Ted Talk that Simon Sinek gives on how great leaders inspire action, it’s a good one.
“Personally, I don’t think you can define leadership. I think all sorts of people with different personalities and styles can be effective leaders. I think authenticity is super important, and, personally, I gravitate towards servant leaders who lead with humility and put the needs of their team ahead of their own personal interests. I’ve always worked harder for people who I know care about me and personally invest in my success. I try to do the same while leading my people.”