04/06/2016 02:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Traits of the Most Successful Leaders


Have you ever worked for someone who's overly blunt, direct, and/or rude? Certainly, they can be difficult to work with. You never know what to expect. They're often singularly focused on the task at hand without considering the people working for them.

On the other hand, have you ever worked for someone who's so kind -- even people-pleasing -- that it's difficult to get to the truth of what they're really saying? At the risk of hurting someone's feelings, they hold back their real thoughts and feelings on matters.

These, of course, are somewhat extreme examples, but perhaps you can relate on some level.

With this in mind, here are three essential traits great leaders embody.

1. Honesty and Directness

Leaders who lead well have the courage to be honest with their employees. They speak the truth and they speak it clearly, even if the truth might upset the employee or cast a bad light on themselves. The best kinds of leaders aren't afraid of the truth and seek to reveal rather than cover up.

This kind of honesty and directness naturally suggests a leader who's an expert in clear communication. Similarly, a direct leader is often an active, decisive leader. He or she doesn't sit back and wait for action to occur. They make things happen, and often through being able to be honest about their company's needs with their employees.

2. Kindness and Respect

A top leader has the ability to not only be honest and speak what is true, but they know how to share the truth with respect and kindness toward others. Leaders who lead by treating people with respect and kindness refuse to be rude or curt. They don't shame employees into accomplishing tasks, and neither do they attempt to "one-up" their workers in vain attempts to motivate them.

Kind leaders treat their people first as humans and then as employees. Instead of seeing their team as wheels to turn in order to get a job done, they see them as other humans with value, worth, and dignity solely because of their humanity. Consequently, they treat their employees with kindness and respect -- and that treatment is often reciprocated.

3. Indifference

The kind of indifference I'm speaking to here doesn't negate the first two points. A leader shouldn't be indifferent to the job at hand, being honest, or showing kindness. Rather, a leader needs to learn to be indifferent to getting positive feedback from employees. This does not mean that they don't care what their employees think of them. Rather, it means that they learn to let go of the need for external positive feedback from others.

Some leaders can be direct. Others can be kind. But few can be both direct and kind. However, even fewer can be direct, kind, and let go of their innate need for people to still like and/or love them. Out of fear of disappointing others or not being liked for telling difficult truths, they hold back what they really want to say.

When a leader can release their internal grasp on their need for their employees' adoration or positive perceptions, they're freed up to be even more honest, respectful, and kind without needing or demanding reciprocal action. This is a hard truth for leaders, and one that many otherwise excellent leaders may have never truly considered.

But It's Not Just for Leaders

The most fascinating aspect to me of these three essential traits for leadership is that they're integral to all relationships! Whether it's from parent to child, spouse to spouse, or boss to employee, when people on both sides of the relationship can be clear and direct with kindness and respect and let go of their need to automatically be loved in return, a healthy space is created in which that relationship can flourish.

The next time you run into a situation where you believe you're not truly being heard by the other person, ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I being as honest as I can be?
2. Am I communicating clearly? Does he or she have all of the information about the situation from my perspective?
3. Is my directness overpowering my kindness, or vice versa?
4. How much of what I'm saying (or not saying) is actually a result of my fear of what they'll think of me?

Just remember: be honest, be kind, and be indifferent to "being liked." You may be surprised at the outcome.

For more information, pick up a copy my book The Stories We Tell Ourselves. Click here to ask questions or make comments. Feel free to email Scott.