The 5 Intangible Traits You Need To Have To Be A Good Leader

Posted by Hannah Broaddus

The 5 Intangible Traits You Need To Have To Be A Good Leader

Want to help build your company? Be a good leader? Leave a legacy in your wake?

Of course you do. We all do.

There’s functional skills that every leader needs to have to be successful. But what about the stuff deep down? You know when you meet a person and you think — they are clearly a born leader. Ever wonder what the basic, god-given personality traits are that make up that person? What makes leading so natural for them?

In his book The Intangibles of Leadership, Richard Davis argues that a person with an entire toolkit of learned “functional leadership” skills can still fail if they don’t possess the most important intangible personality traits.

On the flip side, those ingrained with the most important intangible traits will always be able to learn the necessary functional skills to be a leader. So at the end of the day, to lead, you have to have these intangibles.

With that in mind, I’ve outline 5 traits below that every good leader needs to have ingrained into them. These traits are not a learned skill or something that you can see — they are intangible — they make up your soul and the very fiber of your being.

These are the things that always allow you to spot a leader when you see one.



Every good leader needs to have grit. This is the passion and the drive to keep going, to get up when you fail, to go after your dream time and time again. Grit is unfailing effort and energy that’s put in year after year. It’s when you expect something to be difficult, but you believe that it still can be done.

Grit is often found in children that have had a tough upbringing, because it is built when you find success even though something is difficult. The easier your life has been, the less likely you have a lot of grit. It’s tenacity; to get something done and see it through no matter what.

Angela Lee Duckworth talks about grit in her spectacular TedTalk, “The key to success? Grit”. It’s definitely worth taking the time to watch below.


The Key To Success? Grit Ted Talk


How Do You Build Grit?

To develop grit, you must experience difficulty. Things cannot be easy.

The best way to build grit is to jump into challenges and help find solutions to them. JPur yourself in situations that are not easy, and have the tenacity to see them through and find a good solution.

If you want an easier approach, just hang around with other people that have grit. Grit is a way of looking at the world and approaching your life, and this viewpoint is contagious. You’ll pick it up from them over time.

Lastly, if you are a leader, when you show grit your whole team will be come grittier. You’re setting the example, so if you show this tenacity, your whole team will find ways to discover new solutions and bring your business in the right direction.


Self Awareness

Every great leader needs to be self-aware. They need to understand that their history, their experience and their upbringing has brought them to the place that they are today. Each person understands their world because of the story that they’ve grown up in. Therefore, every leader needs to self-reflect to understand if and when they’re doing something wrong or why they are driven to do it.

Everyone has blind spots, including all of our leaders. A blind spot is something that you are bad at, but you are blind to it — you may even think it’s one of your strengths. Get stressed at work? Not to worry, good thing you don’t bring down the whole team with your stress. Oh wait, you do. That is a blind spot.

Something that you do, that you don’t realize that you do.

Self-awareness will help you turn that blind spot into a weakness. This is a good thing — you may still be bad it, but at least you’re aware of it and can begin working on improving.


How Do You Build Self Awareness?

To look at yourself, you need a “mirror”. In this case, not an actual mirror, but a person who can accurately reflect your actions back to you. Someone who will tell you how it is, and how others see you. This feedback will start the snowball effect of building self-awareness.

To get this feedback from anyone important to you — your colleagues, your boss, your spouse, your kids — you have to be willing and open really hear their response. It may come as a surprise and it may feel negative, so you have to be prepared to withhold any hurt, anger or judgement that you’ll want to fling back.

This is a challenge, but an important responsibility. You need to know this feedback. This means you’ll need to create an environment where this information is safe to share. For example, you can prompt them by saying, “Tell me — what are my blind spots? Don’t be concerned about hurting my feelings, and don’t try to protect me from the truth”.

Then, once they do offer you feedback, you’ll have to take it all in stride. You need to know the honest truth about how you act and how your actions affect others. Take it in, sit on it and reflect.

Can’t do that quite yet? Start out by being quiet. Practices like meditation help build self-awareness too.



Resourcefulness is the ability to problem solve your way out of a situation. It’s a way to look at things differently or come up with solutions that might not be readily available. It’s the ability to learn with what you’ve got, or find new ways to do things.

People with high levels of resourcefulness figure it out. When they hit an insurmountable challenge, they try and fail and try again until they get it right.

Think it’s not that important? Think again. Companies that get good at resourcefulness grow at a 35% rate faster than their competition.


How To Build Resourcefulness

The best way to build resourcefulness, like grit, is to put yourself into challenging situations. These may be situations where you feel confused, the situation is awkward and problems seem unsurmountable.

The second step, after putting yourself in this situation, is to not quit. You have to see this challenge through. Every time that your brain learns that it can work its way through challenges, you are more likely to find ways to be resourceful in the future.

Practice this skill by putting yourself in challenging situations, and you will get better at it.

PS - A great way to discover your next generation of leaders is to put your young emerging leaders in a room together with a problem. Watch who really drives the resolution. See who thinks in new and different ways. That person will naturally have more resourcefulness. Once you know this, you can put them on the fast track for management, because these are the kind of skilled leaders that you’ll want to promote.


Self-Sacrificing Love

Have you ever had a boss that you knew truly cared about you? That wanted to see your life go in the right direction? That wanted what was best for you and cared when bad things happened in your personal life?

These leaders are personally invested in their team and (gasp) even love them. It is this caring, this genuine concern, that people feel drawn to. People feel safer when the veil of professionalism that keeps employees and bosses stiff and distanced is removed. Naturally, people want a real connection. Part of that is genuine concern and caring about your teams’ lives.

This is a trait that can’t be faked — if you’re faking your caring or concern, it will always be sniffed out.

Bottom line — love your team. Love your boss, love your coworkers. Show them real concern and have a vested interest in their lives. Invest in them. Invest your time and your emotions. It might seem unnecessary in the short term (especially when you have piles of paperwork and tasks stacking up), but it is the best investment that you can make in the long run.

Who doesn’t want to follow someone who’s shown them love and concern? People are shown to follow leaders who inspire them, who invest in them and who are important to them. In the long run, if you invest in the people around you, they will rally and invest back in you and your company.


How To Build Self Sacrificing Love For Others

Slow down. Get to know your team. Care deeply.

Show more concern and more understanding. Humanize them.

Show them that you really care, in the way that you would want to be shown, even (no, especially!) at the times when it is the most challenging.



Your team doesn’t want to just be a replaceable cog in the wheel. They want to feel a sense of meaning and purpose. Every day, the hours that they spend doing their work need to matter.

Simon Sinek outlines in his book, Start With Why, why we need to focus on the why of business rather than the what or the how.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Most employees, he explains, understand the what — “We produce gluten free bread”. They probably understand the how — “we bring in all the ingredients, bake it, package it, and sell it to distributors and grocery stores nationwide”. But the why? “We want to give power back to people who’ve had it taken away by a disease, by giving them back foods that they love.”


How To Build Purpose

How do you bring purpose into your life?  Find your own why.

What is your why? It’s the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, that you can’t wait to do. It’s the reason that you love what you do, through all of it’s challenges day in and day out.

But most importantly, the why is the thing that will make people to rally around your cause and help you build your business. It’s the reason that your employees will stand behind you and the reason that your customers will love you so much that they’ll want to not just buy from you, but also promote you to family and friends.

So why do you do what you do?

And if you’re not the top leader in your company, why do you do what you do every day? What’s the most important thing in your life? And are you doing it?

Topics: Industry Trends, Business & Leadership



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