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  • Writer's pictureVicki Ryan

The Two Traits of Great Leaders

| by Anne Levinton |


If you are in a leadership position and you can’t answer those two questions, now is the time to figure it out.

There are many leadership factors that impact your effectiveness as a leader, but this combo is the big Kahuna! Leaders can’t lead if nobody will follow them. And you can’t wait until showtime to get people on board.. When you need your team to try something new, to rely on your judgement, or to believe what you are saying, how they respond next depends on what you have said and done up until then.

Every action you have taken as a leader or teammate impacts the quality of trust and confidence you inspire in others. The stronger the foundation of trust, the more confidence people will have. Confidence and trust ensure others are standing with you when things get tough, when support and loyalty are at their most critical.

What does it take to be confident?

A friend once told me, “What you know about yourself, no one can take away from you.” He was spot on. Often, when facing a new challenge, I look back on my experience and the expertise I’ve built over decades as proof that ‘yes, I can handle this, too.’ Competence breeds confidence.

As your career develops, you build a reservoir of knowledge to fall back on situations. When you know your“stuff you project strength and confidence. But what happens when you don’t? What happens when you are early in your career, or when you get that great new opportunity? Your sense of competence may be threatened by a steep learning curve.

Some may tell you to “fake it ‘til you make it,” but that behavior is just that. It’s fake. Fake destroys trust and confidence. It chips away at your foundation because it is a thin veneer that leaves you feeling vulnerable and wondering when you’ll be found out.

That’s exhausting isn’t it? Not to mention, it is often obvious to others who actually do know the answers. When you try to lead that way,the first time you make a mistake your new team is likely to stand back and let you fall on your face.

In my experience, the opposite approach is far more effective. You may be new to a role or a company and, while highly qualified for the job, you don’t yet know the new team or their unique culture.ow do they like to collaborate and communicate.

Also, where’s the restroom? News flash, your team knows you don’t, won’t, and cannot have all the answers. In both scenarios you must rely on the resident knowledge of your team, peers, and boss to succeed. By admitting this and asking for help, you immediately start earning regard and respect. You are building trust from the get-go, and in turn, your team will have confidence in you along the way.. This is the time when your confidence is reflected in your candor and humility. And this powerful combination comes together to drive results and reach business goals. A true win-win.


  1. Listen. Listen good. Spend more time listening than talking. Give the speaker your undivided attention, don’t interrupt You’ll be amazed at what you learn about what is going on if you just stop talking.

  2. Ask “why?” You can’t know if you don’t ask. Be sure to get the whole story rather than making assumptions. Become a pro at probing and asking questions.

  3. Be present. No matter how much you have going on, when you’re in a meeting, be fully present. It’s disrespectful to read email or take calls when someone is sitting across the desk from you.

  4. Let your team shine. Don’t hog the spotlight, point it at others. You may be the leader, but your team does the heavy lifting. Be sure to recognize their contributions privately and publicly.

  5. Learn from mistakes. Stuff happens! When something goes wrong, spend your energy finding out how to get it right the next time, rather than moaning about the outcome. Think lemonade, not lemons.

  6. Never point the finger. Remember the old saying “the buck stops here”? Don’t try and deflect blame for a problem by laying it at someone else’s feet. As the leader, you own the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  7. Tell them the truth. It’s counterproductive to hide the truth to spare a team member’s feelings. If they are not going to get that promotion, help them to understand why, and how to build the skills or change the behaviors that got in the way.

  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Tell them what you can, when you can. If there is whispering about downsizing or restructuring, let the team know that you’ll keep them informed as decisions are made, and then do it.

  9. Under-promise. Over-deliver. A commitment obligates you to do what you said you would do, so don’t make promises you can’t keep. . Broken promises are trust blasters.

  10. Create a safe space for new ideas. Make it safe for team members to disagree with a decision or offer alternative strategies. When you create an atmosphere that encourages debate and new ideas, you give your team a chance to achieve, show their strengths, and develop their trust and confidence in themselves - and that is the mark of a great leader.


Using these 10 Leadership Behaviors above, think back on your own experiences and score yourself using a scale of 0-3 (where 0 = not proficient and 3 = high proficiency).

For anything marked with 0, 1, or 2, you have an opportunity to improve!

Better yet, ask people who know you to assess you and be open to their ideas and feedback!

Anne Levinton is an executive coach, and founder of Intentional Career Strategies, who helps business leaders figure out what they want, so they can focus their energy and act with intention to make it happen.

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