Business Leadership Today

10 Elements of Leadership


Carol Schultz, Contributor

In today’s rapidly changing work environment, leadership can make or break the cohesivity of a business. With more virtual meetings and less in-person interaction, a well-rounded leader is needed to connect your organization. 

After all, building trust between leaders and employees is the new business currency, according to new research by PwC.

There are many aspects to think about when leading a business, but on a macro level, it comes down to making your staff feel empowered, connected, and always moving forward. 

Leaders do this by incorporating 10 distinct leadership elements that emphasize trust and a positive work environment that supports both the success and well-being of team members.

The 10 elements of leadership are authenticity, effective communication, coachability, supporting a culture of feedback, commitment to alignment, openness to differing ideas, transparency, the ability to shift behavior based on mistakes, humility, and vulnerability. 

In this article, I’ll discuss how these elements will guide you to become a better leader and foster trust among your employees.

1. Authenticity

Stay true to who you are. 

You’ve probably come across this adage in your life many times, and it’s equally true in business. When you speak candidly, your staff will feel connected to you and be more open. And vice versa: The minute you start acting performatively, your employees will sense it, feel like they’re being manipulated, and you’ll lose trust.

During my 30-plus years as a recruiter, many of my candidates and clients have said to me, “I’ve told you things I’ve never told a recruiter before.” This happens because I’m always honest and forthcoming with the people I work with, so they feel comfortable being so as well. 

The same rings true in your business: If your employees feel you’re being genuine, they’ll be more inclined to open up and trust you with information.

How will this benefit your organization? A Gallup report reveals that companies with a highly engaged workforce have 21% higher profitability and 17% higher productivity. And being genuine is one of many ways to keep employees engaged.

2. Effective Communication

Let’s start with what effective communication actually means. It refers to the process of delivering a message clearly, where the receiver can recite the message back in an accurate way. 

You’ll want to master this because effective internal communication motivates 85% of employees to become more engaged at work, according to Trade Press Services.

Effective communication can take on a few different forms within an organization. For example, the most important message that must be communicated is the company’s vision. This comes from the CEO. 

You must make sure your entire executive team is on the same page—and same paragraph—when it comes to this vision, and then ensure all employees are, too.

Communication is also best done in person. If that’s not possible, the second-best method is video chatting; beyond that is talking on the phone, and lastly, emailing or texting. 

So, if you have company news, it’s best to meet with everyone in the same room or over a Zoom call if you can’t gather your employees in the same place.

Also, remember: Communication goes both ways. 

As a leader, you need to get your messages across. But you must listen and respond to others’ feedback as well. Any and all messages must be listened to rather than heard.

What’s the distinction? To listen, the receiver must quiet distractions within the mind and around themselves to absorb the message and respond appropriately. Listening must be done with intent, unlike hearing, which isn’t intentional.

3. Coachability

“Leaders aren’t born; they’re made,” said Vince Lombardi, a renowned football coach.

Just as top athletes rely on their coaches, top leaders need coaches, too. 

To transform into a great leader, you’ll need a skilled executive coach to help you improve. If you’re open to it, a coach will help you identify issues you can’t see and ways to move past them.

Imagine driving home from work late at night. It’s dark, and you can barely see the road ahead. Suddenly, you drive over a pothole, and your tire blows out. You couldn’t see the deep hole in the road, even though it was right in front of you.

This is where a coach comes in, figuratively. If you had known the pothole was there, you would have driven around it or taken a different route.

Coaches are there to help you discover your blind spots, like the pothole. However, a great coach won’t yell, “Swerve to the left; there’s a pothole ahead!” Instead, they’ll guide you so you can discover it for yourself and adapt accordingly.

4. Supporting a Culture of Feedback

A culture of feedback is essential in any business, so listen closely. It refers to a workplace environment where employees at any level feel free to express their thoughts and provide feedback without the fear of reprisal.

To foster this in a company, you, as the leader, must lead by example. Start by calling a company-wide meeting to introduce this concept and your commitment to it. Most importantly, mention that any employee can schedule a one-on-one with you to discuss any issue or problem.

Once an employee schedules a meeting, that’s where active listening comes into play. Be approachable. Showing empathy toward a disgruntled employee may determine whether they leave your company—or stay. 

Thank them for sharing, and later, think about what may need to be adjusted based on the information they provided. This will reinforce that you’re serious about fostering a culture of feedback and making employees feel valued.

5. Commitment to Alignment

Does your executive team know the vision and strategy for your company? Do your on-the-ground employees know it, too? Unfortunately, only 22% of teams believe that their leaders have a clear direction, according to Gallup.

An aligned organization is one in which the leadership team has a cohesive understanding of the company’s vision, business strategy, and communication strategy. Hanging a framed vision statement on a wall in the main office won’t cut it.

What can you do if your people are out of alignment? As a leader, start by making sure your C-suite members can all explain the company’s vision in the same way. 

Then work down to the lower tiers; can everyone recite it? This is crucial for all-level employees because it will give them a greater purpose in their everyday tasks.

I once asked a founder and CEO, “If I ask each member of your team what the company’s vision is, will it be the same as yours?” He replied: “No.” I continued asking questions, and he realized it made sense to conduct a discovery session with his team to determine and gauge the gaps in alignment.

Later, when we walked through my findings, he was able to see the gaps objectively. He inquired about the steps he’d need to take to get his team fully aligned. I then asked, “Are you open to moving forward?” His answer? “Yes.”

This response was a turning point in transforming his company. His openness to the possibility that he might not know everything—and that there may be a better way of doing things—allowed him to change and move forward.

6. Openness to Differing Ideas

Staffing your company with people who have different points of view will generate a variety of unique ideas and promote growth. But diversity doesn’t just refer to gender and race; it’s about backgrounds. 

To avoid “groupthink,” or thinking in unison, people from many different backgrounds are needed in one room.

One startup I worked with years ago had a reoccurring issue: an inability to innovate its products. As their coach, this issue became clear to me once I sat in on an executive team meeting. The CEO had hired friends from his alma mater to be on his team.

This is a common practice with first-time founders, but it hinders growth. A founder’s friends will reflect the founder’s ideas back to them or build on them, but they’ll never offer a different perspective. Innovation isn’t possible when everyone has the same opinions.

You can ensure your team feels comfortable bringing their ideas to you by actively listening when they express them.

7. Transparency

Your staff commits a large part of their week to your company, so don’t you think they deserve to know what’s happening within the organization?

Communicate the good news—but also the bad news. If you don’t, you’ll create a toxic culture of constant whispering, heated gossip about possible staff cuts, and rumors about what happened with the deal that just fell through. 

All news is best coming from you. This is another method to make sure employees stay engaged.

For example, say you formed your company with a partner. Three years later, after hiring a dozen employees, you and your partner start to have disagreements about how the business should move forward. Eventually, you separate, and you form your own company. 

This can be a delicate situation for employees along for the ride.

On the one hand, you don’t want your employees to be so involved that they lose focus on their work. On the other hand, if they have no idea what happened to cause the split,  they’ll start forming their own ideas based on their observations. They also might jump ship because loyalty is tied to feeling connected. 

The best way to navigate the split would be to let employees in on the decision in an informative way that makes them feel included.

8. The Ability To Shift Behavior Based On Mistakes

The way you see your failures as a leader will determine your success. Viewing failures as lessons will ensure that you can move forward and adapt.

As a leader, mistakes are inevitable, so if you get discouraged because of one setback, you won’t ever reach your goals because it will never be smooth sailing all the time.

One of my clients had a chief revenue officer who spoke to people in the most demeaning way. He would yell at employees in front of other employees, which made everyone uncomfortable. It caused a new hire to quit after only 30 days.

When we began working together, I started to see the CRO’s blind spots and helped him uncover them for himself. We peeled back the onion to understand where this behavior came from, which helped him spot it and stop it. 

Granted, his bad behavior wasn’t fixed overnight, but with consistent work and support, he was able to shift how he communicated with his team.

9. Humility

While being confident in your decisions is important, you must balance your confidence with humility. Remaining humble keeps your mind open to new ideas and shows others that you’re willing to learn despite being in a leadership position.

The minute your ego takes over, you’ll become stuck in your ways, and your eyes won’t be open to all possibilities.

I can’t tell you how many founders have come onto my podcast and told me how their arrogance got in the way when they first got into business. They thought they were the “best” when, in reality, they had much to learn.

Instead of learning the hard way, keep your mind open and check your ego at the door.

10. Vulnerability

Strength is always noted as an essential aspect of leadership, but it’s the ability to be vulnerable that exhibits true strength.

Openly admitting when you make a mistake, showing emotion, and sharing your story are all ways to be vulnerable with your staff. 

The minute you open up, others will relate to you and see you as human, which will connect your team. Sure, you’ll feel exposed and open to judgment, but the more you allow yourself to be vulnerable, the more you’ll see the value it brings.

I once had a conversation with a CEO of an information technology service provider and noticed that he favored brash language. When I asked if he’d be open to a quick chat about his use of certain words, he was all in. He agreed to be vulnerable.

Through the conversation, he could see that the words he was using might come off as judgmental. In that aha moment, he realized he and his team needed communication coaching. He realized there was a better way to do things, a way that would ultimately improve his bottom line.

CAROL SCHULTZ, founder and CEO of Vertical Elevation, is a talent equity and leadership advisory expert with 30 years in the business. She’s helped hundreds of companies transform their organizations and create sustainable, talent-centric cultures that run at maximum efficiency. Her new book is Powered By People: How Talent-Centric Organizations Master Recruitment, Retention, and Revenue (and How to Build One).  

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