Wisdom//

How Can You Be Sure Someone Has True Leadership Potential? Look for 3 Rare Signs

It would be a mistake to interpret this as 'soft.'

Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock
Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock

Do you have a good boss story? Mine takes me back to my corporate days over 15 years ago. I reported to an executive that, to this day, is still my favorite boss. Here’s why:

  • He didn’t get caught up in his positional power;
  • He made me feel like an equal and was approachable, despite his executive status;
  • He allowed me the freedom to make important decisions; 
  • He provided me with all the resources and mentoring I needed to grow as a leader.

While I could write a thesis on the impact of his servant leadership style, you’ll find similar patterns of behavior in leaders aspiring to take care of their people first, before themselves. 

Not to confuse this philosophy with doormat-leadership, meeting others’ needs (and having clear goals and measures of accountability in place for good performance) has always been good for business. 

Having said that, there are certain traits most of us would never consider attaching to strong leaders in the harsh, transactional world of business. But if the traits below are exhibited on a human-to-human level, the people dynamics at work between managers and their workers would shift in a dramatic way. This, too, would be good for business.

Here are three rare traits to look for in such leaders.

1. They are patient.

When we react to an event with explosive anger or passive-aggressiveness, we are being impulsive, shortsighted, and usually not giving much thought to what we are doing.

It usually happens when we don’t get something we want, or react to an unresolved issue without taking in all varied views from different angles. We see this in our daily interactions with bosses who have not mastered the powerful leadership virtue of patience.

The best leaders respond rather than react to a situation by using patience to their advantage to assess a situation, process, and get perspective. Such leaders leverage patience to consider the situation and decide the best approach to handle things.

2. They admit they don’t have all the answers.

This takes humility, a leadership powerhouse often misinterpreted as weak or soft. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Groundbreaking research concluded that a humble leader doesn’t believe success is inevitable. Acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers, humble leaders solicit feedback and encourage their people to take initiative. They are also more apt to celebrate others’ accomplishments before their own.

As the research findings assert, humility in action doesn’t weaken a leader’s authority. Rather, it offers her more flexibility in how she exercises and delegates her power and authority.

3. They remove obstacles from their people’s path.

What I’ve studied and witnessed in every great leader is that they do everything in their power to remove the pain and alleviate the suffering of employees. The rarefied trait is found ingrained in leaders with compassion.

Before dismissing it as too touchy-feely, know that compassion has been extensively documented and verified as a leadership force of nature in the new Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, the first evidence-based literature on compassion, altruism, and empathy, as documented by experts in positive psychology.

Compassion is a more objective form of empathy and is defined as “walking a mile in another person’s shoes.” In other words, a compassionate reaction in a leader is to put himself in the suffering employee’s shoes and do everything in his power to alleviate the employee’s suffering.

Put another way, this idea of seeing things clearly through your employee’s perspective can be invaluable when it comes to meeting their needs, coaching for performance, and working through challenging emotional situations.

Originally published on Inc.

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