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You Only Need This One Trait to be a Great Leader


Often I am asked what traits define a good leader. There’s really only one trait needed. TRUST.


That said trust is complex and in order to obtain it you must have many other traits like honesty integrity, respect, good communication and many other traits. No one says, “I trust my leader, but I don’t respect them.” The amount of characteristics that are required in order to obtain the trust of others is complex. Trust truly is the one thing that defines excellent leadership.


Sunnie Giles wrote an interesting article for the Harvard Business Review in March of 2016, “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World.” Giles took a more scientific approach by interviewing 174 leaders from around the world and asked them to pick the 15 most important traits of a good leader from a list of 74. The results were interesting. The most crucial trait that great leaders needed to have was “high ethical and moral standards.” An overwhelming 67% of respondents chose that one trait as the most important, followed by 56% responding “communicating clear expectations”. These traits are just a small part of what makes up trust. Having high ethical and moral standards embodies the trust trait.


Giles went on to discuss how the top two leadership traits are really focused on making employees feel safe in the workplace. When you think about it, that’s what trust does. Trust makes individuals feel safe. Feeling like you can rely on your leader because you trust them makes you feel safe. When leaders have high ethical and moral standards, employees know their leadership is not playing favorites, and as a result, they understand that the coworker next to them is being treated the same as they are. While the work may be tough at times, with the patient counts high and the clients demanding, the team knows they are all in it together. Trusting in leadership when times are tough is what will get teams through challenging moments.

No One Personality is Best


I am often asked “what kind of personality is best?” This is a different question than the best traits needed, but people are often disappointed with my response which always is, “none.”

Usually type A personalities gravitate to the role because they have more of a desire to lead. They like to control, manage and coach others. While type A personalities can make great leaders, many can struggle to gain the trust of their team. That said, type B leaders may struggle gaining trust just the same. There truly is no “perfect” personality that makes a leader. I have seen amazing leaders who are type A, B, introverted, extroverted, empathetic and even those who struggle with empathy. All of these very different leaders were effective because they centered their leadership style around trust.


Recognize What Skills You Need to Learn


Too often people hold a misconception that “leaders are born” and “not made”. There have been several studies that have conclude that while some individuals may inherently have traits that define a good leader, all individuals must learn to become trusted effective leaders. No one is born a perfect leader. Everyone has to grow and improve upon the natural skills they already have. I may come into a leadership role with good communication skills, but I may struggle with empathy. No one is a perfect leader without working to improve their leadership skills.


Think about the first time you drew blood from a pet patient. You were nervous and probably held the syringe wrong. For many in veterinary medicine they don’t even think about drawing blood. It just comes naturally. Learning leadership skills is similar. I really have a disliking for the term “soft skill” for this reason. These is nothing “soft” nor easy about learning how to decrease a conflict between team members. There is nothing “soft” about learning how to motivate teams. To me these skills still have to be put into physical practice just like our hard skills do and require just as much education in learning how to perform them well.


I encourage individuals to learn about themselves and realize where they may struggle. In areas where an individual may need to improve they should focus on education and learning those skills. There are plenty of online free courses and classes on leadership skills from communication to team development.


“Trust is a fragile thing. Easy to break. Easy to lose and one of the hardest things to ever get back”

If you are struggling as a leader ask yourself, “why does my team not trust me?” I promise that if you team is failing it likely has to do with a trust of leadership, hospital, each other or a combination.

Trust is the center of all great leaders. If you can master that trait then you will be an effective leader. Once you have the trust of your team be sure not to lose it. It is a trait that will take you years to develop and in just one incident you could destroy it. It is the only trait that leaders must have in order to be that unicorn leader.


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