Top 10 Legacy Leadership Traits for Success

by | Dec 15, 2020

nicoa dunne
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When it comes to defining leadership traits, the list can grow pretty long—a lot of it depends on who you’re leading and where you’re leading them to, right? Well, not necessarily. I’d like to take a special look at ten specific leadership traits that I know are key for all leaders to possess. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. You and your leaders will not have a tight grip on all ten traits every moment of every day. But it’s the act of awareness of these leadership traits in your own leadership style day in and day out that makes you an effective legacy leader in the long run. 

Try to remain aware and be intentional about which of these traits you employ already, circumstances when they show up for you, and how well you employ them. How do you do that? Start observing yourself now! I’ll ask you to rate yourself throughout this blog to help! And then you can assess the gap to prioritize where you want to focus your leadership style going forward.

1) A legacy leader is self-aware. 

Nobody likes a leader who believes they’ve got it all figured out and they’re just waiting for you to catch up, right? Right. It is important for a leader to be self-aware enough to realize when the way they are showing up isn’t serving them, and to know when to step back and let someone else step forward. And more importantly, a legacy leader is so self-aware that they know when they need to take the reins and lead. 

Leaders who practice self-awareness in their daily leadership styles love to get feedback from the people they lead, and they take that feedback seriously without becoming offended or defensive. When was the last time you asked for feedback? Did you listen and learn? When was the last time the feedback you received was an attempt at constructive criticism? How did you handle it? 

Knowing your blindspots as a leader is key to success and overall effectiveness. Legacy leaders are constantly looking for ways to grow, improve, enhance their effectiveness, and they also admit to themselves and others when they simply come up short.

On a scale of 1–10, how self-aware do you believe you are as a leader?

2) A legacy leader is courageous. 

Courage is a key leadership trait that cannot be overlooked. A legacy leader needs to be able to weigh the pros and cons of every decision they make, even the split-second ones. Of course, leaders don’t need to act brazenly with no regard for their team or the company they represent, but they do need to take calculated risks when the benefits are great enough. And sometimes that takes courage—bravery in the face of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I call this the FUD factor. When faced with a business situation and employees steeped in the FUD factor, a courageous leader is key.

Of course FUD is present in the working world. A lot can be on the line! Overcoming that FUD factor is a must for legacy leaders. It’s not that leaders are so courageous that they don’t experience the fear, uncertainty, and doubt—it’s that they acknowledge, accept, and address that FUD factor intentionally to move beyond it. 

How? Knowing that the goals and objectives are greater than themselves. Legacy leaders keep their eye on the vision, the purpose, because knowing both paves the way for solutions. Practice stepping back and not only observing yourself, but separating your fear from your efforts.

On a scale of 1–10, how courageous are you as a leader?

3) A legacy leader is respectful.

Leaders must be respectful of themselves and the people around them—always. Seriously, always. This is one of the leadership traits that I can’t roll back on the importance of, because without a conducive, mutual respect for self and others, things will simply fall apart. 

As a legacy leader, respect ties into self-awareness first in the sense that it takes a lot of respect for yourself to be able to respect those around you. Even in difficult situations—or moments when you aren’t receiving that same respect—legacy leaders know that what is happening isn’t about them, and they are able to stay detached while remaining respectful. 

Self respect looks like self care, boundary setting, and ultimately role modeling for others what respect looks and feels like. How do you define self respect for yourself? Trust that prioritizing yourself first is actually a sign of respect giving you the energy and insight needed to serve others with the respect they deserve.

On a scale of 1–10, how respectful are you as a leader?

4) A legacy leader communicates effectively.

This one is such a necessary leadership trait that probably has the largest impact on whether you leave a legacy you’ll be proud of or not! A leader who can communicate effectively is an absolute necessity, and you probably haven’t gotten where you are without some communication skills. Nevertheless, communication skills are critical for sustainable success and motivating and leading others. And the good news is that it is a learned skill!

Effective leadership communication helps others move through challenges and inspire others to keep moving forward. Imagine if you could eliminate all misunderstandings and miscommunications and simply use intentional language to solve the issues that you’re facing. 

That is the key to effective communication—intentionality. Take the time to reflect upon your communication approach by asking for feedback not only from your own leader but, more importantly, your team. 

On a scale of 1–10, how effective do you feel you are as a communicator?

5) A legacy leader is empathetic.

What’s better than a leader who recognizes and acknowledges your struggles in a way that enables you to feel safe and encourages you to get back to your normal productive self? An empathetic leader understands that we can’t all give 100% every single day, and that life happens. Legacy leaders acknowledge the whole person who works with them. Showing empathy as a leader is demonstrated through acknowledgement of who you are as a human being. Communicating genuine empathy allows the other person to feel respected, accepted, and understood.

This way of leading is also key to replenishing their team’s energy, and they are empathetic enough to sense when that energy is dipping. I’ve worked with leaders before who seemed to have no empathy at all—you probably have, too—and it’s just hard to come in to work every day and feel productive for a person like that, isn’t it? Legacy leaders who proactively employ empathy in their leadership styles forge a path for their team members to be the best they can be in a way that works for them as individuals and as part of the team. 

How do you learn to practice more empathy? Go back to leadership trait #3! Empathy is key to establishing both trust and respect, which can be defined as showing due regard for the feelings, needs, or rights of others. And those things are only enabled by beginning with a practice of self respect first and foremost.

On a scale of 1–10, how empathetic would you say you are as a leader?

6) A legacy leader is accountable.

If you are a leader, hold yourself accountable and encourage your employees to do the same! Accountability can transform the way a group of people work with each other and depend on each other. It can make people feel they are not alone in their effort, that everyone is pulling their weight and is capable of succeeding. Accountable leaders and their team members thrive.

A legacy leader isn’t afraid to ask their team to hold them accountable to their words and actions, even when things don’t go as planned. This encourages an attitude that leads to productivity and loyalty that can provide fulfillment to everyone involved. Even when accountability creates difficult or awkward situations, it is worth it—probably even more so in those moments. 

I would say this is the most difficult of all the leadership traits. Why? Because oftentimes we don’t really know what accountability looks like. That’s where the next leadership trait can come into play.

On a scale of 1–10, how well do you hold yourself accountable as a leader?

7) A legacy leader is insightful.

How often are you looking ahead as a leader? It is your responsibility to plan ahead and to come prepared for whatever the future holds, and the only way to do those things is to remain insightful about what has occurred in the past, what is happening now, and anticipating what is to come. A lot of this leadership trait is born out of experience and conversations with other leaders, so don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re feeling a little worried about what’s coming next. Insight doesn’t always have to be you and you alone. Actually, it almost never is.

Nobody can accurately predict the future, so don’t expect that of yourself or punish yourself whenever you can’t fulfill that impossible requirement, but do spend time pondering what you do know. Set aside time regularly—put it on your calendar—and sit with yourself, your circumstances, and your current knowing. What is it showing you? What is it telling you?  Insight isn’t always 100% accurate of course, but it gives you the advantage of preparedness with perspective, and that can result in your team being more relaxed and ready to take on whatever challenges or successes might be just around the corner. Your intentional insight will guide them there.

On a scale of 1–10, how insightful do you feel as a leader?

8) A legacy leader is careful.

Nobody wants to follow the angry bull as it crashes through the china shop, breaking and busting everything in its path. That is why it is so vital that leaders remain careful in their leadership roles—careful to keep in mind the impact they are having with every decision they make. I love breaking down the word careful and really pondering what this means in the case of legacy leadership! 

How much do you care as a leader? How full of care are you? Remember, in many situations, leaders have significant sway over the lives, well being, and even finances of the people they’re leading. Legacy leaders who are most conscious take a lot of care with the impact of those decisions related to their responsibilities. How? By pausing, reflecting, and collaborating with others before significant decisions are made. They take care.

Being careful doesn’t mean that you have to walk around on eggshells or watch what you do and say at every turn, just most turns. It means intentionally taking the time to care about your team and to make decisions with them in mind first in a way that can serve all parties involved. 

On a scale of 1–10, how careful, or full of care, are you as a leader?

9) A legacy leader is adaptable. 

Quick, make a new decision! Things can change at any moment, and a legacy leader knows this and has the power and flexibility to adapt to those sudden changes without freaking out or throwing people under the bus in the process. Leaders who haven’t yet learned adaptability tend to flounder when things become difficult—when the challenge becomes a bit too confusing or too many unexpected issues pop up.

How does a legacy leader manage effectively no matter what is thrown at them, while another leader freezes or becomes paralyzed by the situation? By practicing a calm, grounded approach to assessing the situation before proceeding. Yes, with practice, learning to pause and reflect before responding vs. reacting is key.

Adaptability, like insightfulness, is a leadership trait that can take years of experience and growth to learn, both personally and professionally; however, it doesn’t have to only come with age and experience. It is a learned skill! So don’t beat yourself up if it’s still something that you’re working on. I’ll let you in on a little secret…We’re all still working on all of these leadership traits. Now that you’re aware, you can’t unknow this skill as a powerful trait for success. Eventually you will settle into your own adaptability as you progress as a leader, and you’ll get better, more sustainable results.

On a scale of 1–10, how adaptable are you as a leader?

10) A legacy leader is innovative.

Leading requires constant innovation, or put more simply, your own personal creativity. What can you do differently in order to create the outcome that you and your team members are all striving for? 

I often ask my clients: How is what you are doing getting you what you want? If you aren’t getting what you want, are you willing to try a different way? Step back. Gather your team. Work together to get your creative juices flowing. Do you need a brainstorming session? Do you need a war room? Start from a clean piece of paper with your challenge. What can you tweak, or who can you move around? What solutions can you come up with that haven’t been tested before? All of these are questions for the innovative leader.

Innovation isn’t something that always comes naturally, so don’t beat yourself up. But to practice being an innovative leader, start by asking others for insights. Just because you are the leader doesn’t mean you have to have the solution all by yourself. That understanding in and of itself may be the most innovative approach you can take, right?

An innovative mind is just as important in a leadership role as it is for an artist working on their next great piece. Consider what you can do as a leader to be creative and move into a new way of being that sets you and your team apart from the rest of the world. Believe me, your team will follow you for life when you include them in creative solution finding when faced with a challenge. Talk about a legacy!

On a scale of 1–10, how innovative would you consider yourself as a leader?

Becoming a Legacy Leader with These 10 Leadership Traits

So how are you applying the top 10 legacy leadership traits for success? Would you consider yourself a legacy leader? 

Observing where you stand today in each of these areas is the first step in getting you where you want to be in the future. So take the time right now to reflect on these 10 traits and ask yourself, “When I retire, how do I want to be remembered as a leader? How am I perceived today as a leader?” If there is a gap, you’ll know where to focus going forward.

Start right now by repeating after me: I am a self-aware, courageous, respectful, communicative, empathetic, accountable, insightful, careful, adaptable, innovative leader!

Want help seeing yourself and bridging any legacy leadership gaps? I like to recommend conducting a Leadership 360 and then coaching to the gaps that are uncovered in that process. Coaching works. Contact me here to find out more about learning to #LeadByDesign.