4 Traits of Motivational Leaders Who Keep It Real

As someone who finds talent for a living I see leadership from both sides of the desk. I partner with leaders, many of them are VPS or CEOS, who are staffing up management ranks, or perhaps dealing with the difficult job of replacing a team member who isn’t working out. And I work tirelessly and advocate for job seekers with leadership credentials and aspirations. This both-sides-now view has taught me a lot about what it takes to be an inspirational, motivational leader. And while there are many leadership books out there pushing various principles or approaches, in my experience it really boils down to four key attributes.

The single most important trait of an effective leader is emotional intelligence from my perspective, what author and psychologist Daniel Goleman has boiled down to four ‘capabilities’: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skill.

It’s amazing, in this hyper-social and connected world, how few people exhibit emotional intelligence. Many who aspire to leadership are intensely self-aware (driven by an inner vision and ambition) but lack the capacity to be socially aware: they’re just tone-deaf when it comes to the people around them.

The ego can do harm to even the best leaders. The world seems to only revolve around their needs and not those around them. They may be able to manage their actions, but have no skills to manage the actions of others.

Hiring for people like this is tough to find (believe it or or not), so I try to focus my practice on seeking out talented people with the following four attributes:

1. Ability to read people: both the said and unsaid.

Leaders must be able to hear everything, which means they need to be an expert at picking up not only the nuances of spoken language but also able to read body language. Careful listening really helps.

2. Responsible

This goes beyond self-control, which doesn’t necessarily encompass a personal sense of ethics, to include a solid ethical grounding. If you’re going to ask people to do things for your business, you must not only be responsible, but able to inspire those around you to responsibility.

3. Compassionate

Many leaders who believe themselves to be very ethical lack a sense of compassion. They’ve intellectualized feelings into abstractions and lost the capacity to react at an emotional, caring level. I’m not saying always be a softy of course – just realize that feelings are always a force to be dealt with in the workplace.

4. Socially available

It’s increasingly important to be able to read and react to subtle social signals. Go a step further and come out of your shell. Talk to people both online and in real life. Find out what drives them. Share your vision. This matters.

Go For It. Exceed Your Own Expectations.

Connect further with Meghan

Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized leader in talent strategy and a pioneer in building the business case for brand humanization. Founder of TalentCulture and a serial entrepreneur, Meghan creates successful ventures by navigating the complexities of career and workplace branding. In her practice as a social recruiter and strategist, Meghan has placed hundreds of individuals with clients ranging from Fortune 500s to the most innovative software start-up companies in the world, including Google, Microsoft and emerging companies in the social technology and media marketplace.

Graphic by Shawn Murphy


Meghan M. Biro is a globally recognized HR + technology analyst, brand strategist, author, speaker and social media champion. She is founder of TalentCulture and hosts #WorkTrends a popular Twitter Chat and podcast every Wednesday. Her storied career spans across recruiting, HR technology and brand management for hundreds of companies, from startups to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google. She has been a guest on numerous radio and television shows and has been a featured speaker at global HR and technology conferences. Meghan co-authored The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time. Meghan regularly serves on advisory boards and committees for leading HR and technology brands.

  • Pal

    These traits are so true. Sadly for many leaders some of them are hard, even impossible to learn. All leaders are able to become better at all these traits, but will never become experts.

  • Mervyn Murray

    Great article Meghan! If only leaders would recognise that there is plenty of scope for their development in EQ areas and that they are not too old to learn them. Too many decide that it is always someone else’s responsibility, not theirs! Treating their people as children would be one area I would want to see tackled more. I’m getting off my soap box now M. Thank you once again.

  • Guy Farmer

    Great post Meghan. Emotional intelligence is a valuable skill for leaders and one that is underutilized. The great part is that people can learn the skills necessary to practice this type of leadership. When they lead this way, they’ll find that it helps them get more done with less effort. The result is happier and more productive leaders, employees and workplaces.

  • Meghan M. Biro

    Thanks very much for stopping by Guy. Wise words from your end. Appreciate your thoughts.

    Being a leader, in a very macro view, means being driven by a mission that is much larger than yourself.

    Bringing your compassion and humanity to work should be encouraged for everyone on the team — or even in your related social communities. These are not “soft skills” for leaders – they are essential.

  • Scott Smith

    Meghan – nicely done.

    Being able to “read” people, or as you noted, reading the non-verbal cues becomes increasingly challenging with remote & dispersed teams.

    Responsibility is an interesting point – it seems to be inherent in the “management” aspect of the role; but when noted in terms of inspiration, I can see where you are going & will make an additional comment.

    Compassion is a key point in building teams. My father told me of a quote by Vince Lombardi (I’ve never been able to verify – but is still valid), “The difference between a Team and a Committee – on a Team the members love each other.” I have been using this point in team building for years telling my teams we need to have Compassion. Well stated.

    Socially Available – I need to ponder a bit. I agree Leaders need to connect with others on multiple levels. When it leads to sharing a vision…absolutely.

    Four traits I recommend for intentional leadership available to any person without regard to organizational position:

    •Communicate Vision: It is not necessary for the Leader to create the Vision. This particular skill is the ability to reach out into the future, grab hold of the possibilities and bring them into the present; to let the team members understand their actions today make that imagined future possible by their work today;

    •Inspire Greatness: The Leader is going to push, like a coach pushing an athlete to ever greater achievements; having the responsibility guide people to do more than they thought they were capable of accomplishing;

    •Build Trust: The responsibility does not end when trust is built between the Leader and the team; rather,
    when the culture of the organization fosters trust between all team members;

    •Move to Action: This is your report card as a Leader. The final step is moving from a concept or idea to an action; if people are not acting & executing, you are simply an inspiring speaker.

    It is a challenge to identify specific actions anyone can take to be an intentional leader – it is important to find a few, such as EQ, to develop.

    thank you for posting…

  • AjitSingh

    Nice Information and Great post .Your blog prompted me to go online.I am Very interested in this topic and eager to learn more about it.I have also very useful information regarding motivational speakers and corporate trainers who can show you how to see beyond your obstacles, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market.if you want to know about time management, leadership training tips and motivational seminars you can easily contact them at http://www.successcorners.com

  • Masha

    A good reminder Meghan.

  • Terry

    Most people I work for definitely fail in most of these!

  • Karen C.

    Hi Megan,
    Thank you for this informative post. I think my favorite statement was, “Many who aspire to leadership are intensely self-aware (driven by an inner vision and ambition) but lack the capacity to be socially aware: they’re just tone-deaf when it comes to the people around them.” This is a scary but very true observation! As a graduate in psychology and a very new business owner myself I am always looking for effective ways to lead, to learn from my employees, and to avoid traits that many of my past employers exhibited in the workplace! I will definitely look into Daniel Goleman’s findings a bit more! In my research I was lucky to come across the book by author Bill Sims Jr. “Green Beans & Ice Cream” (http://greenbeanleadership.com/). The author is well known for designing behavior-based recognition and reward programs for companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Disney. He explains the best and the worst ways to motivate people, how to use positive reinforcement correctly, and most importantly how a behavior change can turn around your whole business. The author backs up these practices with anecdotes, examples, and official research. While the book focuses on improving work performances, its lessons can also be used in daily life, in families, and in other personal relationships. It’s helped me a lot and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too! Thanks again

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