Never Try to Fake Essential Leadership Traits

Created: Friday, April 28, 2023, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 10:00 am

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By John McLachlan, co-author Real Leaders: A Practical Guide to the Essential Qualities of Effective Leadership

If you are trusted, your team will follow you. Being trustworthy allows people to feel safe, and from a place of safety, people can better express themselves, allow their creativity to flow, have some fun, and even feel confident to challenge you when they need to. This creates a great workplace culture where employees feel supported, happy, heard, and inspired.

Never Try to Fake Essential Leadership Traits
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But trust can’t simply be expected from the outset. Trust is earned and developed over time, and to achieve this there are three key traits leaders need to demonstrate: honesty, consistency, and integrity.

These traits cannot be faked, certainly not for long – it’s easier to be genuine. Plus, people will see through the fakery. Even if they don’t consciously know that you’re lying or presenting a facade, they will feel it intuitively. As a result, they won’t trust you, even though you appear to be embodying the three essential leadership traits.

And be warned, attempting to ‘learn’ how to embody these three essential leadership traits is pretty much the same as faking it. However, you can learn how to tap into these attributes within yourself. By developing your self-awareness and by understanding yourself better, you can discover your values and become more emotionally regulated. Other people and their ideas stop becoming a threat and start becoming useful challenges.

It all starts with integrity.

Integrity – being the real you

There is no one style of leadership, no one personality mold of a good leader. What a great leader is to one person isn’t to another. Rather than trying to be a good leader by doing what you think you should do, focus on being who you actually are. Some people think they need to be tough or inspirational, but if that’s not who you are, it will come across as phony and will fail.

Many organizations thrive under the leadership of a straightforward, no-nonsense, authoritarian figure. Meanwhile, a softer approach where everyone’s voice is heard can benefit other organizations, benefitting from taking in a wide perspective because of enhanced creativity. But pretending to listen is just going to frustrate people when they quickly realize that you’re going to do what you want anyway, regardless of input. Likewise, trying to be authoritarian when you are a natural listener will likely fill you with self-doubt and that will lead to others doubting you too.

By coming to know and understand yourself better, you will know your strengths, natural inclinations, and principles. This integrity helps with finding your tribe and aligning your team. If people know what they’re getting from you, they can more easily make the decision to work with you or not. Similarly, if, after doing some self-exploration, you discover that your principles are misaligned with your organization, you can make the decision to stay and change things or leave and find a better fit elsewhere.

Honesty – clear communication of what you mean

Once you know and understand your beliefs and values, be honest and communicate with them clearly and consistently.

Bragging your way through a meeting by pretending to have all the answers isn’t honest. Instead, it is far better and more honest to simply say “I’m not sure” and go and find out. People will respect you more, not less.

However, honestly, it is not about always saying whatever is on your mind. That can often be rude and confusing. The honesty we are talking about is where you say what you believe and stick to it.

The most common hindrance to honest communication is management or sales speak. Management speak is often used as a way to cover up a lack of confidence. Don’t run an idea up a flagpole, just share it and ask for comments and opinions.

Eliminating management speak from your vocabulary, will lay the foundations for a robust approach to mission-critical interactions, allowing you to sharpen the point of this pencil and all sing from the same hymn sheet. Or, in human speak, prepare a useful approach to communication that provides clarity and allows everyone to work in unison.

Doing this consistently will make you be seen as more honest, clear and confident.

Consistency – providing safety through predictability

By clearly and honestly communicating your principles, your integrity will shine through, and you’ll be well on your way to building trust with your team. But once is not enough. You need to continue communicating consistently for trust to keep building.

Consistency is about making things predictable for others. They can count on you to turn up and leave at around the same time each day, react in fairly predictable ways, and stick to your beliefs and principles.

When things are more predictable, they’re safer. Colleagues won’t need to second guess you, your reactions, or themselves. They’ll simply know that things are fine because you’re a person of principle. They’ll also be better able to represent you and your perspective when you’re not there because they have a consistent idea of how you’ll perceive and react to things.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. It’s hard (if not impossible) to do the same things and react in the same ways every single day. You might have stressors in your personal life that are impacting you at work or you might have work stress, such as a tight deadline, that you need to manage.

If things get difficult and it’s hard to maintain consistency, fall back on honesty and integrity. If you’re someone who usually likes to hear everyone’s perspectives. but time-constraints won’t allow it, simply name it and be clear. Rather than rushing everyone to have a say before ignoring them in favor of your own thoughts, it is much more honest to explain that you need a quick decision, so the usual format is being ditched on this occasion. There is no ambiguity or interpretation required – your team has simply been told what is happening and why.


By bringing together the three essential leadership traits—honesty, consistency, and integrity—you will come to be appreciated as someone who is trustworthy and reliable. Not everyone will like or agree with you all of the time, but if they trust you to consistently stick to your principles and be honest, they will be much more likely to follow you.

John McLachlan
John McLachlan is co-author of Real Leaders: A Practical Guide to the Essential Qualities of Effective Leadership and co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy, a leadership development and organizational design consultancy working with business leaders to help align teams, support innovation, build sustainable organizations and develop exceptional people who are better able to achieve results – giving leaders more time to do what they do best.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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