To Lead Well, You Need 3 Essential Traits that Can’t be Faked

Successful business leaders develop a lot of trust. They need to be trusted by investors or banks. They require the trust of customers, clients and suppliers. And they absolutely need the trust of the people they work with. 

A leader being trustworthy allows staff to feel safe, and from a place of safety, employees can better express themselves, allow their creativity to flow, have some fun and even feel confident to challenge when they need to. This creates a great workplace culture where people feel supported, happy, heard,and inspired.

Trust is earned and developed over time, and to achieve this there are three key traits leaders need to demonstrate: honestyconsistency, and integrity.


There is no one style of leadership, no one personality mould 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 phoney and will fail. 

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 organisation, you can make the decision to stay and change things or leave and find a better fit elsewhere.


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

Pretending to have all the answers isn’t honest. Instead, it is far better to simply say “I’m not sure” and go and find out. People will respect you more, not less.

A 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, so don’t run an idea up a flagpole, just share it and ask for comments and opinions. Eliminating management speak from your vocabulary, will make you be seen as more honest, clear and confident.


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 favour 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—honestyconsistency, and integrity—you will come to be appreciated as someone who is trustworthy and reliable. These traits cannot be faked, certainly not for long. Keeping up a facade takes effort and work – it’s easier to be genuine. 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 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 organisational design consultancy working with business leaders to help align teams, support innovation, build sustainable organisations and develop exceptional people who are better able to achieve results – giving leaders more time to do what they do best.