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When you think of great leaders, what personal traits typically come to mind? If I were to make a safe bet here, I would assume they would mostly be strength associated traits. Things like Charisma, Confidence, Panache, Boldness….etc.

You think of those because they are what we’ve come to associate with great leaders. To be a great leader means that not only are you required to win your own battles but to also ensure your team members are well equipped to win theirs as well (and to occasionally jump in whenever necessary to help them out).

Strength is key

Leaders have no option but to be strong, it just wouldn’t work any other way. The moment your adversary (or your team members) smell a hint of weakness, it goes downhill from there. When your adversary senses your weakness, they’ve already won half the battle, they’ve already gained a mental edge over you.

Quite dissimilarly but just as damaging, when your own team sense your weakness, they lose their confidence (which is largely an extension of your own).

A team without confidence is a team that subconsciously works against its self.

We’re not all the same

Just as leaders needs to be fully aware of their own strengths and limitations, they should know the same about their teams. Said knowledge is absolutely essential to strike this fine balance between getting the most out of your team but not demanding what is beyond their capability.

If there’s one drawback of too much strength though, its the tendency to become “Ruthless” and place the expectations you expect of yourself on others (who may not have the ability to meet them). A trap every leader should be wary of.

Ruthlessness can have some rewarding short term results, mainly getting maximum productivity out of people, but on the long run, it is the exact opposite. It comes hand in hand with unrealistic demands (and lack of appreciation, because nothing is ever truly enough). The result is employee burn out and losing your best talent to other more supportive environments.

Underrated Leadership traits

So we’ve addressed some of the famous traits associated with great leaders (even those that cause negative results like ruthlessness). What about the other hidden traits that do not get as much attention? That’s where “Empathy” comes into play.

Empathy is the ability to understand other people and put oneself in their shoes. It is one of the most important traits leaders must posses in their arsenal.

While “Empathy” is but a single word, it can take thousands of words to express even a glimpse of its true meaning.

Below is but a humble attempt to put some of the thoughts my brain puts together when I think of empathy

  • Show genuine interest in the lives of the team members with whom you work, it shouldn’t be all “just business”.
  • Put yourself in their shoes before making a decision, you’d be surprised by the number of times you’ll make a change.
  • Always motivate them, even those who aren’t performing well. “Especially” those who aren’t performing well.
  • Listen to their problems, even those you can’t solve. The simple feat of being genuinely heard makes a huge difference to one’s morale even when not presented with a solution.
  • Make it clear that you genuinely trust them. One of the best ways of showing trust is through empowerment and delegation.
  • Show them that you’re on their side, you’re an ally not an enemy.
  • Leaders should know how to communicate bad news, its just part of the job. The least you can do though, is make the delivery as humane as possible.
  • How you deliver your message is just as important as its content. A poor choice of words can completely change the purpose of your message in the eyes of the recipient. 
  • Be kind, always! The world is tough enough on all of us. Don’t add to the misery. Kindness goes a long way.
  • You are “Not” by default smarter than the team members you lead. you’d be surprised how much you can actually learn from them.

Some leaders manage to achieve excellent business results but they do so off the shoulders of miserable people. Some would call this success (and in a way, it is) but it won’t last.

Work on business results but ignore the wellbeing of your team and the business will inevitably suffer. Balance however, between the two and the business results must eventually follow, even if at the cost of a slow start.

A great leader is not just a person who delivers results but is a person under whom, people are genuinely happy and developing.

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