How do you know you’re a great leader?

5 Traits People Aren’t Talking About

By Marianne Renner, Leadership Coach, Author, Keynote Speaker


I’ve had the opportunity to ask thousands of leaders to describe the best leader they’ve ever worked with.

Their answers might surprise you.

You’re not likely to see them in LinkedIn profiles or resumes. They don’t include years of experience, ability to balance a budget or able to work in a fast-paced environment. These are required skills in the workplace, no doubt. But they’re not what will make you a great leader.                                                                                                                                                                

Let’s start with the definition of leadership.

Leadership is more than a box in an org structure. It’s the ability to influence others to take action toward a desired outcome.

To be a leader, it’s only logical that the one thing you need is a group of followers.

In one word, leadership is influence.

 If you can’t influence, you can’t lead.

In all the conversations I’ve had with leaders about the best bosses they’ve ever had, I’ve never heard, “they were a great multi-tasker.”

Instead, I heard words like, trust, integrity, compassion, authenticity, transparent communication.

Here’s why this really matters.

After I ask leaders to describe the best boss they’ve ever had, the next question is, “how did that person impact your work?”

When you’re working for a great leader, you show up differently. You’re more engaged. You’re motivated in unprecedented ways.

You give your all when times are good, and you give your all when times are tough.

You go to the ends of the earth to reach goals and push through challenges.

You probably know what it feels like to work for someone who doesn’t quite fit your idea of a great leader. You lack motivation. You lack energy. It takes everything you’ve got some days to just drag yourself across the finish line.

This can have a draining impact on an organization. Productivity suffers. Quality takes a hit. Engagement scores tank. The worst part is that often times the damage is subtle, making hard to identify the root cause.


Organizations that stand out have great leaders. Teams that rise above the crowd have great leaders.

Here are the top 5 characteristics I’ve heard over and over from hundreds of leaders who’ve confessed that this is what inspires, influences and motivates them into action.




  1. Trust
    Team members state that they had a relationship built on trust with their favorite leader. Their leader trusted them to do their work and empowered them to lead projects and make decisions that impacted the team and organization.  In return, teams trusted their favorite leaders, and were more likely to take and follow direction of their leaders.

    Repeatedly, I heard phrases like, “he trusts me to do my work. She believes in my ability. He encouraged me, and didn’t micromanage me.” 
  2. Integrity
    When teams cite integrity as a top characteristic of their favorite leaders, I ask them to describe what integrity means to them. “Their actions match their words.” Leaders who have the greatest influence with their teams clearly articulate their values and act accordingly.

  3. Compassion
    Favorite leaders care about their teams and truly want the very best for them. This doesn’t mean you become best friends. It means you empathize without enabling. Your teams will move mountains for you when they describe you as someone who, “cares about me as a person, and wants to see me succeed.”

  4. Communication
    Leaders who hold the greatest influence with their teams communicate clearly, directly and transparently. When it comes time to deliver the tough messages, they do so without beating around the bush. Their teams know that the best leaders have their teams’ best interest at heart. Trust already has been established. So speaking directly and respectfully is appreciated and admired by team members.

  5. Authenticity
    When teams describe their favorite leaders as having authenticity, the question I ask is, “how do you define authenticity?” The answer I hear most often is, “you can just tell. You can feel it when someone is being true to who they are.” These leaders are not trying to fit a mold or show up in a way that tries to impress others. Simply put, they’re genuine.

If you’re a leader, and you’re struggling with a team that lacks motivation, don’t look at how you can replace the team. Instead, use that team as a mirror to look within. Where can you grow in these five areas?


Download my free DISC “cheat sheet” for tips to understand different personalities. 

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