The One Quality That Makes a Truly Great Leader

July 19, 2016, 5:37 PM UTC
Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) group diving off iceberg, Paulet Island, Antarctica
Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) group diving off iceberg, Paulet Island, Antarctica
Suzi Eszterhas — Minden Pictures via Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What quality does every great leader have in common? is written by Sue Quackenbush, chief human resources officer at Vonage.

There’s no single quality that makes a great leader. Looking across industries, great leaders have different management styles, demeanors, skills, and experiences. However, the one quality I believe every great leader has in common is the ability to relate. Leaders can achieve that in three ways:

Active curiosity

First, leaders who can relate are naturally curious about other people. This allows them to engage people by truly listening to what they have to say and getting their perspective—why they think the way they think, what is important to them, and how they would approach a situation. This opens up great leaders to new ideas and creates lasting connections with the people who work for them.

Demonstration of humility

People can relate to leaders who show that they’re down to earth. Humble leaders are able to meet employees on common ground and build more meaningful dialogue, which fosters great relationships and a sense of commonality.

Commitment to kindness

If leaders show their employees that they care—and not just about the business or the task at hand—and take a personal interest in their employees’ well-being, they’ll establish a sense of commitment and loyalty.

There have been many great leaders who owned the ability to relate. An HR director I worked with at a media company, for example, took the time to get to know and understand people, which enabled him to assess and recruit other up-and-coming leaders into the organization. This had a positive impact on the organization’s business units, specifically those related to succession planning and sustainable financial growth.

Similarly, another great leader I worked with was the former CEO at a well-known global organization. He had the ability to relate to employees at all levels of the organization. His ability to connect generated amazing loyalty as well as tremendous organizational growth, in addition to strong financial performance. His championship of key talent has not only produced the organization’s current CEO, but has also produced 85% of the current organization’s executive team members.

When leaders relate to their employees, they can connect, influence, and inspire. All three of these abilities build compelling environments that attract and retain top talent. Great leaders enable organizations to achieve long-term, sustainable financial results through creating compelling environments for top talent. Without the ability to relate, leaders miss out on the potential to build an aligned, engaged, and committed workforce.