The 3 Essential Traits Of Great Leaders

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We all want to be successful leaders, right? So naturally, we wonder, what qualities make a great leader? 

I was a leader in the media and entertainment industry for over 25 years, and I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic leaders over the years…and yes, I encountered a few that were not so great, as well. I always wondered what it was about people that made them good leaders, the je ne sais quoi, the “it” factor that set them apart. Now, as an executive coach, I have the opportunity to talk with both leaders and employees to understand what makes certain people exceptional at leading a team.  Luckily for us, my informed and cumulative assessment over time of leadership qualities revealed that becoming an amazing leader is actually simple and achievable.

3 C’s of Leadership

How can you be a successful leader, one that everyone wants to work for, your staff adores, and your boss appreciates? I have identified 3 qualities that I see consistently in outstanding leaders that I have worked with. The combination of these qualities makes them uniquely superior leaders, the type of leaders that others admire and want to follow. They possess the 3 C’s of Leadership: Competence, Communication, and Connection.


First and foremost, you have to be knowledgeable about your industry and competent in your team’s roles and responsibilities. A leader sets a good example, mentors their team, is available for questions, and provides support as needed. These factors all require proficiency. A leader who is a great teacher is extraordinary. They know how to do a particular role or responsibility successfully and efficiently, and they eagerly share their knowledge, building team member skills quickly. 

I had a leader like this; she was one of my first bosses. She had been a teacher earlier in her career. She was patient, worked with me until I was up to speed and comfortable in the role. She never lost her patience with me and always made sure I was comfortable before adding responsibilities. I truly enjoyed learning from and working for her. As you can imagine, I always felt confident and comfortable in the role, and because I appreciated and respected her, I wanted to do an excellent job, too. 


The second C stands for communication. Successful leaders are great communicators. They are proficient writers, typically engaging public speakers, and good conversationalists with staff, peers, and clients. They can convey a point of view in all forms of communication, as well as sway opinion.

Communicate in a respectful manner – don’t just tell your team members what you want but explain to them why.”

Jeff Morales

Another boss of mine was a journalism major and an excellent communicator on all platforms. He held regular staff meetings to communicate our goals and help track how we worked to achieve them. He talked about the larger strategy for our department, the company, and where we fit within the overall industry ecosystem. He made sure everyone was clear on his expectations, as well as the future he envisioned. He inspired us. As a result, I understood the purpose of my job and how I helped the company. I not only enjoyed working with him, but I also saw the value of conveying strategy and incorporating staff in a vision. As you can imagine, he went on to be extraordinarily successful, and he’s currently a C-Suite executive for a top media company.


The last C on my list is for connection: the ability to connect with people. It sounds easy, you may be thinking, “Okay, sure I am friendly so I’m good at connecting, right?” but the type of connecting I’m referring to is actually deeper. It is the ability to build an emotional bond during interactions. It requires someone who is a good listener, who empathizes and shows vulnerability. Think of a conversation where you felt the person you were talking with was able to truly understand you, could put themselves in your shoes, and see an issue from your perspective. They were capable of sincere connection.

I had a senior-level client with this skill in spades. His team loved him because he genuinely cared and took the time to connect with them, to know about their lives, both personal and professional. As a result, his staff was very loyal and willing to persevere through tough times. That is what teams need, especially through the distance imposed by Covid, as there are many tough times for most of us. The pandemic makes the 3 C’s of leadership that much more necessary and valuable. The best news is that these leadership traits can be honed through practice. If you read my post on Reflection, you know I am a fan of asking yourself four questions at the end of each day and journaling your answers. If you want to improve your 3 C’s, add this quick exercise. Grade yourself on how you did on each of the C’s: Competence, Communication, and Connection. If you have a low number, ask yourself what you would do differently going forward and put it into practice.

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Kim Martin