What Do the Most Effective Leaders Have in Common?

Most effective leaders

The most effective leaders are self-aware.

In my early 40s, my boss surprised me in a good way.

She handed out personality assessments to our team, and when she got the results, my boss noted our strengths. She figured out what made us tick and what kind of support, tools, and resources we needed to thrive at work. In other words, she used the results to make our jobs easier.

Critically, she also used them to help us work together.

A coworker loved numbers, data, and spreadsheets, so she put her in charge of the budget. Another loved planning and watching the early stages of a project come together. A third team member thrived when she nurtured client relationships.

She gave us the freedom to play to our strengths and lean on each other, and, as a result, we worked like a well-oiled machine.

My boss made it happen with lots of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. She realized she didn’t know everything, so she used a tool (in her case, assessments) to gather data and better understand her employees.

Growing into one of the most effective leaders starts with honoring your personality type and making a conscious effort to cultivate self-awareness at work.

Follow this blueprint to learn about yourself and other people.

Wants, Needs, and Must-Haves

Knowing yourself starts with identifying your wants, needs, and must-haves.

If you think about it, how we approach our professional lives is kind of weird.

For important decisions in life, we do a lot of planning and research. Consider getting a car, putting together a wedding or big event, or buying a new home. You know what you want going into it.

Most homebuyers have a list of wants, needs, and must-haves, and their lists might look like this:

  • Must-haves include things like air conditioning and hot water. They’re non-negotiable.
  • Needs are right up there. They’re also top priorities, and ideally, you want to purchase a home with all or most of the items on your “needs” list. They include things like parking and location. There may be some wiggle room to add a need after the fact (e.g., if you need an extra room, you may be willing to close off an open sitting room). 
  • Wants include things like a swimming pool, hot tub, beautiful landscaping, or a waterfall shower. You’re willing to buy a house without them. You can be flexible while knowing these things might make you happy someday. 

So what? What does a wants, needs, and must-haves list have to do with leadership? The most effective leaders understand their inner selves and deeper motivations. Identifying their wants, needs, and must-haves helps them enjoy peace, purpose, and contentment, build relationships, find the right role, and ultimately tune into what other people need.

I recommend sitting down and making a list for your career. What do you want? What do you need? What are your must-haves?

Some examples:

You may feel like you need health insurance, investment options, and a retirement plan through your employer. Others are willing to explore different avenues to get them, like getting on their spouse’s plan or contributing to a solo 401(k). Some people need variety, challenge, and forward movement. Others want a predictable routine. They’re content with having the same responsibilities year after year. Some people are willing to do commission-based work; others need a steady paycheck.

Write your list. Get specific.

If you’re thinking, “I already have a job,” or even “I’m in a leadership role at my company. I can’t leave now”… yes, I still highly encourage you to make your list of wants, needs, and must-haves. With your list in hand, you can see whether your list aligns with your current role.

If they don’t, you can begin to take the steps to change that.

Emotional intelligence starts with knowing ourselves. The most effective leaders take their wants, needs, and must-haves seriously. Do you know yours?

Know Your Operating System

Another critical step to increase your self-awareness at work is to know your operating system.

There are four operating systems:

Promoters (socializers) –

Promoters are playful, interactive, and expressive. They love people. They’re inspiring, talkative, and generally “mix well with others.” These personality types have a lot of enthusiasm. At the office, they tend to be idea people. They have a lot of ideas and passion, especially when they get started.

They may benefit from extra accountability and structure to see projects through.

Supporters (relaters) –

A supporter is patient, kind, and sensitive to what other people need. They’re the ones you go to if you need an ear. They’re understanding and extraordinarily loyal. Their goal is to make others feel seen, heard, and respected.

When you’re building emotional intelligence, it’s important to know supporters have a hard time advocating for themselves. If you’re a supporter, take extra steps to stand up for your needs and work with your personality type.

If you know a supporter, thank them for their thoughtfulness and efforts. Make sure to recognize everything they do to bring people together.

Analyzers (thinkers) –

Analyzers are precise, organized, and detail-oriented. They’re efficient, systematic, and enjoy playing by the rules.

To cultivate more self-awareness at work, analyzers can add a little more compassion and empathy to what they do. Analyzers thrive on data and facts, so they typically benefit from making a conscious effort to welcome feedback from other people as well.

Controllers (drivers) –

Controllers are commanding. They’re independent and daring, and their focus is getting results.

We typically think controllers make the most effective leaders, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Taking initiative and making confident decisions are great qualities to have. However, controllers do their best when they balance out their drive with active listening skills and extra care to pay attention to other people’s needs.

The most effective leaders know their operating system and use this information to have more self-awareness at work.

When you know your operating system, you can play to your strengths and (the hard part) be aware of where you may need to make extra efforts for your team.

Put It Into Practice What do the most effective leaders do? The most effective leaders know themselves. They take great pains to increase their self-awareness at work. They know their wants, needs, must-haves, and operating systems. They think of emotional intelligence as a muscle. They know they must continue to do the work or that muscle will atrophy. Applying their knowledge is the most critically important part.

Having emotional intelligence and self-awareness at work is the goal, and the most effective leaders use this heightened awareness to help themselves and everyone else around them.

Once you understand your wants and needs, ask yourself if it extends to your team members. Do you know what they want? What they need?

Be like my boss in my early 40s. Be self-aware enough to know that you don’t know everything, and that’s okay. Use tools like personality assessments and the operating systems to learn more about your employees, and then lead the people. Know everyone’s different. Know we all want and need different things. Lead according to your team’s unique personality types.

Effective Leaders

That’s what makes a leader effective. That’s what makes a leader stand out and truly and utterly make a difference in people’s lives.

Do you just want to check the boxes, or do you want to help our employees grow into the most driven, content, and purposeful versions of themselves?

It all starts with cultivating self-awareness at work. Then, it’s about extending that same awareness to other people. It’s about putting your emotional intelligence into practice.

Don’t work against yourself or your employees. As the old saying goes, you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. Find out the shape and color of your employees—find out what motivates them, what makes them feel, and what guides them to put forth their best effort.

Find out and know it through-and-through, and then work with them to create a team that seamlessly rolls in and out with the tides.

Knowing yourself is no easy task! For extra accountability and support as you work toward growing into one of the most effective leaders, please reach out. It’s my pleasure to help guide you.

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