• Gina Folk

5 Traits of a True Leader

One of the biggest questions that gets posed to business experts quite frequently is, What makes a true leader?

After 25 years of leading various types of teams and people (and a tremendous amount of trial and error), I have formulated my own answers to this question—a list of 5 key traits every true leader possesses. After all, just being the head of something—a team, a company, a department, an organization, or even a family—does not entitle you to the title of “leader.”

In my experience, true leaders are:

  1. Authentically Transparent. Leaders let their teams, customers, vendors, and stakeholders get to know who they are, how they operate, and what makes them tick. True leaders have no hidden agendas, and they are aware of their own fallibility. “Authentic transparency” can be viewed simply as acting with integrity and honesty, but I believe it is so much more. Authentic transparency requires sharing with others what is important to you, personally and professionally; it requires having the courage to communicate openly and candidly about how and why you make certain decisions and take certain actions; and it requires consistency.

  2. Innovators. Innovation often makes the list of experts’ lists of top leadership traits—but my definition of innovation is slightly different from the usual. To me, an innovator is someone who is not satisfied with the status quo. They question every action, decision, process, and policy with a childlike curiosity. They are open to seeing through the eyes of others—their employees, customers, peers, and even perceived competitors. And last (though certainly not least), innovators are willing, ready, and able to let go of old and outdated practices and replace them with new and improved versions.

  3. Accessible. True leaders are accessible in mind, body, and spirit. They are open and fully present to every situation in which and person with whom they engage—which means they are not overly attached to their own beliefs, opinions, and ways of operating. Being accessible also means the leader interacts with all levels of their organization, regardless of job title or function. True leaders knows that no one person is any more important than another when it comes to the effectiveness of their department or business.

  4. Reinforcers. True leaders are reinforcers, not enforcers. They understand that their role is to support and strengthen, not to dictate and control. Leaders reinforce by setting and resetting expectations about desired outcomes, and subsequently expecting greatness from each of their team members. True leaders also understand that different people and situations require different reinforcement methods, positive and negative, to achieve outstanding results.

  5. Role Models. This, in my opinion, is the most important trait of a leader, and yet it is the one that is most often ignored or misunderstood. Many leaders have a “do what I say and not what I do” attitude—but true leaders understand that this view is, quite frankly, crap. The best way that I know how to lead and get outstanding results is by example. Being a role model means that you set the same standards for yourself that you set for your teams (in other words, no double standards); you consistently let your actions speak louder than your words; and you model the passion, dedication, commitment, and energy that you would like to see out of your team members.

Ultimately, being a true leader requires a willingness and desire to improve yourself for the good of others. It is not hard; it just takes hard work and dedication.



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