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5 personal attributes of successful leaders

Article originally published by the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 12, 2021.

On March 29, I wrote a column headlined, “7 leadership traits of successful people.” Today, I write about five of the personal attributes of successful leaders, based on my experience as a CEO, board member and as an observer of leaders at all organizational levels. So, what are these personal attributes? 

Enjoys engaging with others

Successful leaders take a genuine interest in people. They treat their people well. In his book “The Inspirational Leader,” Gifford Thomas writes, “Leadership is about people, it’s about inspiring people to believe that the impossible is possible and building people to perform at heights they would never imagine… you must genuinely care about them professionally as well as personally.” 

Leave your office, walk around and speak with your employees at all levels, not only with your direct reports. Show interest in what they are working on. Employees will go that extra mile when they know that the leader cares about them and what they do within the organization.

Possesses a high level of emotional intelligence

In a 2004 Harvard Business Review article, University of New Hampshire psychologist John D. Mayer wrote, “Emotional intelligence (EQ is different than IQ, or intelligence quotient) is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions [and] to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships.”

I describe emotional intelligence in more practical terms. An individual with emotional intelligence:

  • Recognizes how others perceive them.
  • Builds coalitions.
  • Communicates in a manner most effectively received by the listener. 
  • Meets their commitments to others.
  • Recognizes the unintended consequences of words and actions.
  • Doesn’t communicate with others in a way that puts them on the defensive.
  • Genuinely listens when a direct report shares an idea or proposes a new initiative.
  • Bases decisions on what is best for the organization, not them personally.
  • Possesses common sense and good critical judgment.
  • Admits mistakes, takes the blame if it’s their fault and gives credit where credit is due.
  • Avoids being an imperial leader; doesn’t self-aggrandize.

A leader with a high IQ but who lacks emotional intelligence will not be very effective. IQ gets you the job, EQ gets you promoted.

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Engenders trust

Have you ever worked in an organization where there was a low level of trust? This type of organization has a toxic atmosphere, which significantly reduces its effectiveness.

Stephen Covey, the late motivational speaker, writer and advisor, once wrote, “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” 

When people don’t trust each other, there is an invisible elephant in the room, which adversely impacts the effectiveness of the decision-making process. 

Values their credibility

Your credibility is your most cherished personal and professional possession. Once lost, it is very difficult, if not impossible to earn back. 

There are many examples of individuals who continue to damage their credibility in business and politics. Loss of credibility hurts their reputation, which adversely impacts their ability to be trusted and taken seriously in the future.

Knows their legacy

When I served as CEO of my company, one of my board members once asked me what my legacy is – what I wanted to leave the company, its shareholders and its employees after I was gone. 

After a few weeks of thought, I told him I wanted the company’s shareholders and employees to say that the leadership team of the company built a strong corporate culture, value system and operational platform from which the company could grow, serving its customers with products and services that made a difference in the quality of life. I also wanted to be known as someone who helped develop other leaders. Vocalizing that legacy catalyzed my focus.

Embrace these personal attributes. They will help you succeed not only in the business world, but will also help you live a fulfilling life. 

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at

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