4 Surprising Underrated Traits of Leaders

n the past, strong leadership has been associated with such characteristics as directness, aggression, and confidence. While these associations are not necessarily incorrect or invaluable, they leave out a large part of the story. The problem with these traits is that they are not always focused toward egalitarian practices, teamwork or even efficiency. Most importantly, studies have shown that employees have a tendency to value far different traits in their leaders, including the following.

Clear Communication

Communicating clearly is one of those elusive practices - everyone knows it's important, but no one knows exactly how to go about it. A common cause of disappointment, among both bosses and employees, is a lack of clarity in what is expected. Employees often assume that leaders will manage projects and communicate in a particular way that makes sense to them. Similarly, those in management positions expect tasks to be completed the way that seems most efficient to them.

Both viewpoints are subjective and rarely communicated effectively to the other party. Communication can be made clearer by barring one dangerous practice: assumptions. Instead of assuming something is understood, leaders should spell out their expectations and plans in detail.


Nothing kills employee morale faster than the feeling of being shielded from the full truth or, in worse cases, lied to. In a poll of 500 U.S employees, honesty ranked No.1 among desired traits for leaders, beating out responsiveness, cheerfulness, genuineness and even respect. This is particularly eye-opening because many of the other traits listed in the study were also crucial, yet employees chose honesty as the deal breaker.

While your leadership practices may not include lying, they may not incorporate transparency and up-front behavior either. When minimal information about decision-making is provided, employees are often left to fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, this can breed assumptions of dishonesty.

Listening Skills

A telling 2012 study revealed that the primary reason employees fail to take initiative is that leaders simply aren't listening. Sixty-four percent of those polled in the U.S and Canada cited decision-making without employee input as the No. 1 problem. This isn't to say leaders are always careless or closed off to employee ideas, but it's likely they haven't implemented strong enough procedures for collecting feedback.

However, even if intentions are good, data shows that employees tend to interpret this negatively, claiming "employees are not rewarded for taking initiative" and "leadership dismisses ideas without considering them." Thus, asking for more input during meetings or scheduling additional time to meet with employees about their projects certainly merits more attention.

Achievement Recognition

In addition to communicating and listening more, leaders would make groundbreaking strides in gaining employee trust by simply recognizing their achievements more often. Research has shown that appreciation from supervisors is an incredibly high priority for employees - even higher than money. A whopping 83 percent of participants claimed, "recognition for contributions was more fulfilling than any rewards or gifts."

Luckily, this is one of the simplest practices for leaders to implement. Achievement recognition doesn't have to come in the form of a raise or bonus. In fact, it would be more effective as a simple, personalized statement to each individual.

We now know the dire impact that leadership has on employee engagement and retention. In working to construct a clearer definition of what a strong leader looks like, we need to continue examining examples of both strong and weak leadership in order to determine best practices for leadership training. With honest input from both sides of an organization, leaders can work with their team to ensure trust is won and strong relationships are forged.

About the Author: Michele Thompson Rosario, CEO of Bright Effects, helping entrepreneurs get clients, get traffic, and get results.