/>
X
Business

Top 5 traits of effective leaders

An award-winning CEO and bestselling author of several books identifies the top five effective leadership traits that matter most to successful companies.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer
Stylized depiction of four businesspeople at an office table, one standing dynamically
alla_snesar/Getty

There is no better time than now for business leaders to educate, inspire and elevate their employees. According to one award-winning CEO, the ability to elevate -- to exceed and outperform expectations -- is directly related to your ability to build capacity in yourself and others. 

Given the macro and micro economic conditions of today, how can managers unlock peak performance and innovation by elevating their teams? And what are the leadership traits that have the greatest impact on creating and cultivating a winning culture? 

Robert Glazer is the founder and Chairman of the Board of Acceleration Partners, the premier global partner marketing agency that has won over 30 awards for its world-class company culture. Glazer has a passion for helping individuals build their capacity to outperform. Robert is the author of Friday Forward, an inspirational newsletter that reaches over 200,000 readers worldwide each week, and the #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of several books, including Elevate, Friday Forward, and How To Thrive In The Virtual Workplace.

Glazer shares his ideas and insights via Friday Forward, a popular weekly inspirational newsletter that reaches over 200,000 individuals and business leaders across 60+ countries. He is the host of the Elevate Podcast, where he engages CEOs, authors, and thinkers to discuss personal growth and helping others live their best lives. Glazer's next book Elevate Your Team, publishes in March, and it is a leadership playbook to help leaders and managers help their employees to grow at the same rate as their companies 

Glazer was interviewed by Wall Street Journal Best-selling author Karen Mangia to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the new portrait of leadership and which leadership behaviors to stop, start, and continue now.

Q: Our blueprint for growth often evolves from observing others. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

The leader who has influenced me the most is probably Herb Kelleher, who was the founder of Southwest Airlines. Kelleher set the example for what it means to build an enduring company that has a distinct aligned culture, treats people well, and succeeded by defying conventional wisdom. The culture Kelleher built -- especially Southwest's core values, and the way their team lives them each day -- was what inspired me to establish our cultural principles at my own company, Acceleration Partners (AP). I used to believe culture, core values and company mission statements were marketing BS, but Kelleher convinced me I was wrong.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

My definition of leadership has evolved over time; I discovered that it's less about emulating the qualities of effective leaders, and more about becoming self-aware and leading authentically. Early in my leadership career, my leadership approach was like a patchwork quilt -- a collection of best practices from leaders I admired, and inverses of the leaders I did not respect. It was only once I really started delving into my core values and purpose, and leading in alignment with those principles, that I found my footing.

Above all else, being a leader is about helping people and organizations reach their full potential. Not coincidentally, that's my core purpose in life.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

This is tactical, but few things are worse than company update meetings, where the leader of an organization walks the team through a PowerPoint deck for an hour, with no dialogue or discussion. This is a prime example of a meeting that can be an email, but so many leaders think leadership is about getting in front of a team and giving a state of the union. It's not.

My advice to leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns would be to continuously learn and seek new perspectives. Intellectual capacity, which is a core part of Elevate Your Team, means never assuming you know it all and constantly pursuing new knowledge. Read books and listen to podcasts in your area of focus. Attend workshops and conferences or join a peer community (I've been a member of EO and YPO, as well as several other organizations). Most importantly, surround yourself with people who challenge you to think differently.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

As much as I want to talk about values and self-awareness again, I have a more tactical one that's tripped up so many new leaders: delegation. I always tell our new managers to adhere to the 85 Percent Rule: Effective delegation is when something is done 85 percent how you would have done it yourself, without you having to be involved. Though it's difficult at first, we are better off considering an 85 percent outcome a win, and then addressing the last 15 percent with better instruction and coaching going forward.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?

I have always thought of great leadership as a more universally objective standard. We are better off when we can find fault with the leadership performance of people we agree with politically and recognize the abilities of excellent leaders we disagree with as well. There are certain qualities and behaviors every great leader needs to demonstrate, regardless of their ideology.

Over the years, I have read and saved many lists that detail the characteristics of historically great leaders from business, sports, politics, the military and other areas. Looking back on all these lists, these five leadership qualities constantly crop up, in no particular order:

  1. Integrity: People want leaders they can trust to act for the greater good and tell the truth. We want leaders who act according to their stated principles, are honest with us, and keep their word.
  2. Humility: We gravitate toward leaders who are approachable and don't hold themselves above others. When leaders show humility, empathy, and vulnerability, others instinctively want to follow.
  3. Empowering Others: Great leaders don't do everything themselves -- instead, they set clear vision and values, and direct others to work according to those guiding principles.
  4. Great Communication: Leaders must communicate well, both to move others to action and to ensure their directives are well-understood. This includes sharing bad news with clarity, honesty, and confidence.
  5. Forward-Thinking: A great leader sets a compelling vision for the future, attracting and convincing others to want to join their movement.

Former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden said, "Make each day your masterpiece." How do you embody that quote?

This is connected to one of my favorite quotes: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." One area where I live this is in my preparation for keynotes, which I do regularly for companies, conferences, and organizational events.

When I travel to an event, I bring a bag of adapters that can connect my laptop to pretty much any presentation system or projector, as well as my own slide advancer. I always ensure my presentation deck is saved locally on my laptop and backed up in the cloud. I like to arrive the afternoon before my speech to make certain I don't miss the speech due to unexpected travel delays. After a good night's sleep, I practice my full speech twice -- sometimes at the hotel gym early in the morning. I arrive at the venue early to meet with the AV team and double-check all the details needed to deliver a great speech. This full routine is built off personal best practices, advice from top speakers, and learnings from my previous mistakes. It's a lot of work, but it's worth it -- and I do it before every single speech, no matter how big or small the audience.

Also, this has saved me on several occasions, including last year when the AV system went out during my speech for 10 minutes.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

Above all else, I want people to be able to say their life was better for having known me. I want to be remembered as someone who helped people reach their full potential, told them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear, and helped them leave their own leadership legacy.

Here are 15 leadership lessons from Glazer that resonated with us:

  1. Emulate, then integrate leadership behaviors you admire.
  2. Reconnect with your value and your values.
  3. Create core values of your own.
  4. Develop great people.
  5. Delegate to the great people you develop.
  6. Lead authentically.
  7. Seek to be of service.
  8. Commit to gathering with a purpose.
  9. The best meetings are conversations.
  10. Employee empowerment and engagement results from focused, holistic growth in four key areas: spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional capacity.
  11. Stay teachable by adopting a beginner's mindset -- curious and free of prejudice.
  12. Learn to delegate -- it's about demonstrating trust and empowering others to grow.
  13. Champions are not born. Champions are made in practice. 
  14. Leave everything and everyone better than when you found them. 
  15. First, invest in yourself, and then help others win. 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, a Wall Street Journal Best Selling author, host of the Success From Anywhere podcast, Executive Coach, and tenured technology executive. Her keynotes, workshops, thought leadership, and coaching reach hundreds of thousands of leaders globally each year. Connect with Karen on Twitter @karenmangia and subscribe to her podcast on your preferred podcast platform.

Editorial standards