5 Traits All Great Leaders Possess

Liz-Cain by

In the last few quarters we’ve seen a trend emerge when recruiting for senior leadership roles. Executives are calling out phrases like “Roll up your sleeves”, “Get your hands dirty”, “Get in the trenches” as key requirements for the VPs they want to hire. And when we talk to candidates, we understand why – “I want to make sure my title is X”, “How many people will I hire this year?”, “How quickly will we scale to have managers/directors on the team?”, “I want to spend more time on strategy in my next role”…

There’s a disconnect here. While execs are looking to build out a hands-on leadership team, VP level candidates seem to be focused on all of the wrong things. And what about the perspective of the VPs’ direct reports and team? This isn’t feedback we can gather in an interview so backdoor references have become an increasingly important step in understanding the true experience and effectiveness of a leader.

In the last week I had two very different experiences when reaching out to direct reports of two candidates for feedback:

Candidate 1: I quickly got “you’d better call me…” in response to my email. I think we all know where that call led, but the feedback that made me pass?…“He can’t say no and was always overcommitting his team. 4 of his 8 direct reports left so far this year.”

Candidate 2: When we couldn’t find time to jump on the phone that day, he sent me a quick text “Liz, he knows his sh*t. I’d work for him again in a heartbeat”.

This got me thinking; what are the qualities of a leader that allow her to deliver on both the expectations of the C-Suite and her direct reports? I’ve worked for and with some great leaders in my career – here are my lessons learned. A great leader…

  • Sets the tone at the top. If you make something a priority, own it. If you don’t take things seriously, no one else will. That means holding yourself and your team accountable, and creating the right environment for inspection, reflection and iteration.
  • Brings focus and clear the noise. You should set the strategy and lead the effort in establishing challenging short and long term goals. Priorities change over time and need to be (re)evaluated regularly – it’s your job to remove distractions and allow your team to execute.
  • Makes time and stay connected. Prioritize your 1:1s, be present and give your undivided attention, and most importantly understand what it takes to be successful in their role, on your team, and at your company.
  • Recognizes they are only one voice at the table; you get one vote. You need to solicit feedback, create an environment where each team member has a voice and truly listen to other perspectives.
  • Works herself out of a job. You give your team members opportunities to grow. You provide honest feedback (good and bad!) to elevate their work, bring visibility to their achievements and be their advocate.

Ultimately, we need more “do-ers”, who want to dig in to solve the tough problems, help their teams to become more productive, efficient and successful, and develop future leaders.

Put your ‘Undercover Boss’ (you know the television show where high-level corporate execs leave the comfort of their offices and secretly take low-level jobs within their companies to find out how things really work…) hat on for a minute to find out how well you understand your team members and how well you are perceived. A little introspection will make you a much better leader.