5 traits of effective leaders

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on November 4, 2019

I have written a number of articles about the traits of effective leaders. In this article, I share five traits that are important to me, based on my personal experience.

1. Relate to employees in an effective manner

When situations arise that permit your employees to relate to you, take advantage of the moment. I recall the day I held a town hall meeting at our Kansas City plant two days after we shut down one of the plant’s production units, resulting in the layoff of 17 hourly production and maintenance employees.

As then chief operating officer of PQ Corporation, I wanted to explain that the shutdown was a result of a large customer exiting one of their businesses, and therefore they no longer required the product produced by that production unit.

To say the attendees at the town meeting were not very happy would be an understatement. At a tense moment, one of the hourly workers said to me, “What do you know about working in a chemical plant? All you do is sit behind a desk all day, push paper, and make decisions that affect our lives.”

My immediate response was, “When I was a co-op student at Drexel University, I worked as an hourly worker in a plant like this one and learned much from the production and maintenance staff, so I do know what it’s like to work in a chemical plant.”

I earned instant credibility with those hourly workers, because I related to them in a very effective manner — I was once one of them. The tense atmosphere in the meeting was instantly diffused.

2. Allow yourself to be read by your employees

People need to be in sync with their boss. Have you ever worked for a boss that you could not “read” or did not communicate the direction they wanted to pursue, leaving you to wonder how you should proceed on an issue? I have worked for this type of boss.

This leadership style is not effective. It saps the energy of employees and causes them to be fearful of making decisions or taking actions in their area of responsibility and expertise. Often, people leave bosses, not companies. You don’t want to lose talented employees because of the ineffective leadership of their boss.

Create an environment where your employees are comfortable speaking with you and sharing what they think. By doing so, you will learn more about what is going on in your organization, which will help you achieve the organization’s goals.

3. Communicate reality

As CEO, I would present the results of our businesses at quarterly management meetings at corporate headquarters. The meeting was watched by our management in Europe via teleconference, and was recorded for presentation in Asia the following morning.

I found that when reviewing the results of a business that was not performing to expectations or faced with challenges, it’s best to tell it like it is to management during these quarterly presentations. If I didn’t, I would lose their attention. They would start to look at emails on their phones or whisper to their neighbors. The management knew the state of all of our businesses. If I wasn’t straight with them about a challenged business, they would think I didn’t know, or was afraid to tell them.

Why is it important to communicate the reality of a situation? You marshal all the resources around you toward a common goal — fixing the problem.

4. Don’t tolerate tyrants in your organization

Tyrants who disrespect their direct reports cause untold damage to the performance of their organization as well as make life miserable for those who work for them. These managers tend to micro-manage, blame others for their mistakes and sap the creativity, initiative and vitality from the workplace. They also adversely impact the ability of people to make decisions without “checking with the boss.”

No one can effectively do their job in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. No employee should have to work in such a toxic environment. The best people don’t put up with it, and they eventually leave the company, resulting in a significant loss of talent that will adversely impact the firm’s performance and potential for growth.

I once worked for this type of manager. I was very close to leaving the company, but I stayed and learned how to deal with him. Had I left, the company would have been deprived of a future CEO.

I was eventually promoted out of that manager’s organization, and then promoted again and became his boss. He continued to treat the people in his organization poorly, so I terminated him. The employees within that organization celebrated for days.

5. Never act in an imperial manner

Many CEOs act in an imperial manner. This style separates them from the employees they are leading, and hurts the ability for their employees to relate to them.

When promoted from chief operating officer to CEO, I faced many challenges to earnings growth, requiring organizational changes and reductions in staff. I chose to remain in my row office and not move into my predecessor’s corner office. I converted the corner office into a reception area open to all employees where we could meet and speak with visitors to our company. I did not upgrade my car to a more expensive model, but instead continued to drive a less expensive one.

These were symbols to our employees that my priority was not me, but to grow the company, give our customers a great experience and continue on the journey to improve operational effectiveness, all in the pursuit of increasing shareholder value.

Embrace these five traits. You will be a more effective leader.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

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