The Most Valuable Leadership Traits

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Sarah Sobieski Writes About The Most Important Traits Found In A Great Leader

What makes an effective leader? This question is a focus of my research as an Industrial/Organizational Psychology graduate student, as a leader in corporations, as an entrepreneur and as a leadership development consultant. Being an effective leader is difficult to master, in part because improving them requires acting against our nature.

Leadership Trait: Possesses strong ethics and ability to develop trust.

Demonstrating high ethical standards while communicating clear expectations are the most highly rated attributes a leader can possess. A leader with these traits conveys a commitment to fairness and avoids blindsiding people by ensuring up front that everyone is on the same page. In a safe environment employees can relax, thereby creating a capacity for social engagement, innovation, creativity and ambition. Making sure that people feel safe allows employees to perform at his or her peak levels.

A true leader figures out what what went right by giving credit to the team or an individual. He or she rarely takes credit themselves. In times of crisis a leader assesses what went wrong by first increasing feelings of safety. This is accomplished by neutralizing feared results and communicating to employees that he or she is just trying to gain an understanding of what went wrong so that the the approach can be changed for the next time. For example, you might approach a conversation about a project gone wrong by saying, “I’m not trying to blame you. I just want to understand what happened.”

Leadership Trait: Empowers others.

Sarah Sobieski Chicago Leaders Who Empower

Sarah Sobieski | The Greatest Leaders Empower Others

Providing clear direction while allowing employees to organize their own time and work is highly important and shows that the leader who embodies this competency understands that no leader can do everything themselves. It’s critical to distribute power throughout the organization and to rely on decision making from those who are closest to the action.

Research has shown that empowered employees report more job satisfaction and create more productive teams with a heightened level of commitment to their organization. And yet many leaders struggle with empowering and delegating because they are reluctant to allow others to make mistakes, and they fear facing negative consequences from their employee’s decisions.

When your position is being challenged perceived threats activate a fight, flight or fight response that we can train our bodies to experience relaxation instead of defensiveness when stress runs high. Try to separate the current situation from the past, share the outcome you fear most with others instead of trying to hold on to control, and remember that giving power up is a great way to increase influence — which builds power over time.

Leadership Trait: Fosters a sense of connection and belonging.

We are a social species who want to connect and feel a sense of belonging. But research suggests that a sense of connection could also impact productivity and emotional well-being. For example, scientists have found that emotions are contagious in the workplace: Employees feel emotionally depleted just by watching unpleasant interactions between coworkers.


Sarah Sobieski Writes About The Most Sought After Leadership Skills

There are some simple ways to promote belonging among employees: Smile at people, call them by name and remember their interests. Pay focused attention when speaking to them, and clearly set the tone of the members of your team having each other’s backs. Using a motto, symbol or ritual that uniquely identifies your team can also strengthen this sense of connection.

Leadership Trait: Open to new ideas and creates a learning culture.

If a leader is open to new ideas, demonstrates flexibility to changing his or her opinions and approaches and provides safety for trial and error they encourage learning; if they don’t, they promote the status quo.  A flexible leader creates a learning culture reflective in his or her values, practices and processes. These conventions encourage employees and and help develop knowledge and competence.

An organization with a learning culture encourages continuous learning and believes that systems influence each other. Since constant learning elevates an individual as a worker and as a person, it opens opportunities for the establishment to transform continuously for the better.

To encourage learning among employees, leaders must first ensure that they are open to learning and change. This can be demonstrated by letting the team know that when problem-solving, all ideas will be considered and then listening to feedback without an agenda and by withholding judgment until everyone has spoken. A greater diversity of ideas will emerge from practicing this approach.

Failure is required for learning, but our relentless pursuit of results can also discourage employees from taking chances. To resolve this conflict, leaders must create a culture that supports risk-taking. One way of doing this is to allow for small failures and require rapid feedback and correction. This provides a platform for building collective intelligence so that employees learn from each other’s mistakes, too.

Leadership Trait: Nurtures growth.

Ongoing training is one of the best ways to nurture and teach your team, thereby increasing their chance of success. By providing them with what they need they will feel a sense of gratitude and loyalty. Think of the people to whom you’re most grateful — parents, teachers, friends, mentors. Chances are, they’ve cared for you or taught you something important.

When leaders show a commitment to our growth, the same primal emotions are tapped. Employees are motivated to reciprocate, expressing their gratitude or loyalty by going the extra mile. The quality of work compelled by appreciation is vastly different than a culture of fear. If you want to inspire the best from your team, advocate for them, support their training and promotion, and go to bat to sponsor their important projects.

These five areas present significant challenges to leaders due to the natural responses that are hardwired into us. But with introspection and a shift in perspective there are vast opportunities for improving everyone’s performance by focusing on our own.

Sarah Sobieski, M.A., is a financial services executive, philanthropist and leadership development scientist.

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