I can’t think of another period in my lifetime that there’s been so much attention given to leadership – both the good and bad traits that stand out in the actions taken by people who’ve been given a leadership role. Comparisons abound in the news on a daily basis and it’s causing a lot of anxiety and stress for people. I think it’s important to keep in mind that we can all take on the mantle of leadership, even if we’re not currently in a role where people are looking to us to be a leader. All it takes is finding your leadership edge to get started.

If I asked you what leadership traits you most admire, I’d probably get a plethora of responses – some similar, some vastly different. What we respect in leaders is often a reflection what we value and expect from them.

Leadership Traits (word cloud)

Research in recent years has shown that stereotypical feminine leadership traits are what people want in their leaders. People see the value of inherent traits many women have, such as “empathy, openness, the willingness to nurture others.” I decided to outline five core traits that every leader needs to have to build trust in their ability to lead. If you put these into practice, it won’t matter if you’re in a leadership role or not – you’ll develop a leadership edge that will lead to new opportunities.

1) Commitment to communication

Honesty and transparency about decisions and direction make people feel like they’re valued members of a team. This is important for everyone, doubly so for those in leadership positions. It’s frustrating and demotivating to feel like you’re the last to know, so leaders who make a commitment to open communication create a collaborative environment that’s inviting and inclusive.

Personally, I’ve always believed that communication is foundational to good relationships. In my own life, just about every rocky spot in every type of relationship can be traced back to a breakdown of communication. It’s a wonder what we can accomplish when we actually talk to each other and work to understand.

2) Strong motivation fueled by purpose

Have you ever talked to someone who shared everything about their big plans but didn’t seem to have a clue why they wanted to do what they were doing? Knowing why is a critical component of finding your leadership edge. You can be fueled by a passion for the work being done, but if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, you can’t be an effective leader. The purpose is your rudder – it keeps you going in the right direction.

That sense of purpose added to intrinsic motivation to get things done can keep others going as well. If you’ve ever worked with a leader whose passion meets purpose, it’s infectious. People want to go on the journey with them because they see how amazing it can be.

3) Creative approach to solving problems

We’re all human and we all have our faults. I don’t have all the answers and neither do you. Even if you have a strong sense of the right way to address an issue, it’s worth the time and effort to explore other possibilities. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be decisive. Getting input from others and giving them the opportunity to contribute a different perspective can help increase buy-in for the final decision once it’s made.

It also sends the message that you want to do what’s best for the greater good rather than push an agenda. Look at great leaders of the past – they’re known for how they’ve handled stressful, adverse situations. This is where true leaders shine.

4) Generous, positive spirit

We all need a safe place to gripe about things that aren’t going well. But leaders who make negative comments about people or work are hard to trust. Public forums are for building up the team and discussing opportunities (even when the opportunities come out of problems). The words we choose matter. Leaders who choose words that build up and encourage are inspiring to listen to and follow.

Leaders I’ve known who embody this generous, positive spirit are also leaders I can share real issues I’m concerned about. I can have conversations with them that may not be comfortable, but they’re necessary and valuable.

5) Confidence to lead with integrity

You can fake confidence if you’re new to taking the lead in any role, but you can’t fake integrity. Well, you can try, but it catches up with you. (Ooh, boy, have we ever seen this a lot this year!?) No one expects leaders to be perfect. Mistakes happen, but true leaders do what they can to avoid the big mistakes. But they also own up to the errors they’ve made when it’s required.

Where leadership is undertaken without integrity, everything falls into question. Trust, communication, respect, and motivation will all be lost. Developing a leadership edge without integrity is a house of cards no one wants to live in.

Your leadership edge starts with being true to you

You know the airline safety messages that we all ignore at the beginning of every flight? During one part, they tell adults traveling with children to put the oxygen mask on themselves before they secure it on the child(ren). After all, if the adult passes out due to lack of oxygen, they aren’t going to do the child(ren) any good. This admonition is important for leaders as well. You have to take care of your individual needs before you can effectively lead others.

For women, I think it’s important to be mindful of what we take on. A true leadership edge is one that’s realistic about what you can do. It’s focused on the skills, connections, and activities that will help you grow and meet your goals. And, while that may sound selfish, saying yes to something you don’t truly want to do and can’t benefit from won’t help anyone.

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Check out our upcoming events so you don’t miss out on what’s coming! This month’s Wine Down and Mix and Mingle will both explore more about how you can find your leadership edge. And don’t miss the Annual Meeting of Members, Tuesday, September 19th where we’ll be talking about how this past year went and where we’re going in 2018!

Karen C. Wilson, WBN President
WBN President, 2015-18
Senior Content Writer & Editor at Saba-Halogen Software