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Great leaders have these 3 essential traits

A lack of ego and an ample amount of self-awareness are both important.

Great leaders have these 3 essential traits
[Photo: Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images]

The first time I interviewed Adam, he sat across from me in my office adjusting his glasses, and speaking in a low, calm tone. He didn’t radiate charisma, the way you imagine a hot shot leader would appear, with a fancy suit and tie.

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But I wasn’t looking for some hot shot executive either.

I learned later that day that Adam had been kind to our driver, striking up conversation from the beginning of his drive to our company. When I asked him questions, he wasn’t arrogant about everything he’d accomplished. Instead, I was taken aback by his knowledge of my business. He’d done his homework.

And when he didn’t know the answer to a question, he had the confidence and humility to say, “I don’t know, but I promise I’ll find out.”

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Needless to say, I hired him within the week.

I started my tech company 16 years ago. Since then, I’ve attended a multitude of conferences where you come across all kinds of leaders. It is perhaps no surprise to anyone that ego plays a major role in the tech industry.

To put it mildly: There’s a lot of hype. People speak a mile a minute about their startups and upcoming projects. They look you in the eye and radiate charm. All of this sounds well and good, but it’s not what I look for when recruiting.

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Many online resources cite charisma, decisiveness, and strategic thinking at the top of the list when hiring, but I’d like to share my own recommendations for the three leadership skills to look for in your company’s next class of leaders.

1. Self-awareness is more than just a nice-to-have

Here’s something a lot of leaders don’t often recognize: The Great Resignation occurred partly because employees felt uncared for during one of the scariest times of their lives.

Those who refuse to take a critical look at themselves or their peers’ actions will blame the pandemic for massive turnover rates. But the truth is, living through a work environment that prioritized productivity over well-being was one of the major reasons people began leaving their jobs. And that’s on us as leaders.

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A recent Pew Research Center survey cited feeling disrespected at work as one of the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year. Other reasons included low pay and no growth opportunities.

Nearly everything about our lives has changed since the COVID-19 crisis began, and as leaders, we need to be able to accept that fact and act accordingly.

That’s why for me, one of the biggest skills I look for in a leadership role is whether the person has the capacity to self-reflect. Can they own up to their mistakes? Can they see their own shortcomings or merely blame external circumstances when things go south?

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2. Emotional intelligence is a necessity

There has always been a clamor for leaders to develop more soft skills, but never has that been more important than in 2022. Harvard Business School contributor Tim Stobierski believes emotional intelligence is critical right now.

He defines this trait as the ability to recognize and manage our own emotions as well as those in others. “By developing your emotional intelligence, you can better communicate, motivate your team, delegate tasks, and remain flexible under pressure—in short, the requirements of being an effective leader.”

When recruiting for your company’s next class of leaders, this skill should take precedent. At my company, it’s essential for me to bring people on board who aren’t just talented and driven, but also capable of maintaining a harmonious workplace.

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3. Trust-building is part of building a strong culture

The thing about Adam I liked the most was this: He gave you a sense of safety—the kind you’d look for in a captain steering a ship; someone self-assured and who emitted the ability to handle heavy seas.

That skill of building trust isn’t something every leader possesses—and it’s often why cultures become toxic or their employees end up leaving. A huge component of fostering trust comes down to communication.

According to Stobierski, some of the most important ways of achieving this involve: active listening, empathy, transparency, and even one’s body language. He refers to this last one as “presenting open and comforting body language that builds rapport and makes others feel comfortable sharing opinions.”

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That’s what Adam radiated—and it’s one of the reasons I hired him.

Looking forward, it’s imperative that leaders create environments where people feel safe and that their wellbeing is a priority. American author John Maxwell put it well: “To add value to others, one must first value others.”

 

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