The Five Traits of Great LeadersBy Gini Dietrich

The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” — Wikipedia

And therein lies the problem with many leaders in corporate America. They were promoted because they were really good at their job, and no one considers whether they’ll be good in the job the promotion provides.

This has to change.

You don’t want to be promoted until you’re terrible at your job, do you? Nor do you want to work with people—either as their boss or their peer—who have been promoted until they’re terrible at their job.

The Five Traits of Great Leaders

So consider this: According to Lighthouse, there are five traits that make great leaders and every one of them can be learned:

  1. Great leaders show great empathy;
  2. Great leaders are good listeners;
  3. Great leaders are consistent and accountable;
  4. Great leaders are interested in the lives of other leaders; and
  5. Great leaders are committed to learning and growth.

You can see these are not skills based on genetics. They can be learned. Here’s how.


I have a friend (and client) who says he first learned about empathy from Bill Clinton, “Let me come and comfort you and see how you feel” (to attractive women).

What? It’s funny because it’s true!

In all seriousness, Lighthouse suggests looking to Empathy: The Basic Quality Many Leaders Keep Getting Wrong. It describes empathy as:

Sympathy involves feeling sorry for someone, empathy requires us to go a step further, and it lasts longer.

Imagine a colleague goes through a difficult situation; let’s say he loses a close family member in an accident. We naturally feel sympathy for him. We may even write a card or express those feelings somehow. For the most part, though, we move on with our lives.

But when we show empathy, we take more time–time to remember how we felt when we lost someone close to us (or how we would feel, if we haven’t had this experience). We think about how this affected our work, our relationships with others.

Even further, we try to imagine specifically how our colleague feels in this situation. We recognize that he (like every individual) will deal with the trauma in his own unique way.

Do you have empathy?

Good Listener

This is such a hard one. As human beings, we listen to respond…not to listen.

When was the last time you actually listened to listen and didn’t think about your answer before the person finished speaking?

Lighthouse says Brian Grazer, the author of A Curious Mind, suggests asking questions when someone on your team comes to you with a challenge, problem, or issue.

Asking questions creates the space for people to raise issues they are worried about that the boss, or their colleagues, may not know about.

Asking questions gives people the chance to tell a different story than the one you’re expecting.

Most important from my perspective is asking questions means people have to make their case for the way they want a decision to go.

Practice listening without the need to respond and ask questions along the way.

Consistent and Accountable

According to Lighthouse, Hall of Fame football coach Bill Walsh wrote:

Others follow you based on the quality of your actions rather than the magnitude of your declarations.

One of the values of Arment Dietrich is that our team does what they say they’re going to do…every time. This means they are accountable to the challenges and to the rewards. They support one another and they always, always deliver.

Other Leaders

It’s pretty easy to sit and think it must be easy at the top. You see your leaders in meetings. You see them traveling to meet clients. You see them walking the halls and chatting with other teammates.

You don’t see them working with clients at 4 a.m. You don’t see them answering emails at midnight. You don’t see them solving issues in between meetings, when they should be eating something or taking a quick walk to clear their minds. You don’t see them trying to balance dinner and homework with their kids while working a big deal that is going to secure your paycheck for the next 12 months.

To be interested in the lives of other leaders means learning the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t just assume that everything you see is all they do. Learn more.

Learning and Growth

According to the Lighthouse article I mentioned above, if a person is willing to learn and grow, they typically have a few—if not all—of the following indicators:

  • Do they take feedback well?
  • Do they seek out hearing how they can improve?
  • Do they read regularly?
  • Do they look for opportunities to learn?

They also are very good at presenting solutions with a challenge versus just saying, “I have a problem” and expecting someone else to fix it.

Books to Develop Great Leaders

These are, of course, only a few of the traits of great leaders.

Lighthouse recommends some books that might help.

If you want to develop the skills of great leaders, get yourself to the library and check out these books, download them, or buy them from the good, ol’ bookstore.

Whichever your method, read them and start working on your leadership skills.

Now it’s your turn. What other skills (and books to read) do you consider that of great leaders?

P.S. It’s really hard to write a blog post while you’re watching game three of the NLDS. I’m fairly certain it took me three times as long as it should have.

Go Cubs, go!

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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