5 Critical Traits of High Impact Leaders

The morning rush sweeps you up like a speck of dust, relegating your focus to the monotony of management and your enthusiasm to the corner of your mind. You don’t need passion to finish your work, right? No one will notice if you do a half-job. But you notice, and your clients notice, and in time your staff notices. Why does your team look so disappointed? It’s because a leader who can’t find a reason to enjoy their work, can’t possibly ask their staff to do the same. Their various gazes bite into you like a drill powered by their disappointment. But as that thick, caustic bubble of denial rises from your scorching throat, and excuses begin to formulate in your mind, a revelation occurs. You aren’t in trouble of losing your job, but of losing your passion. For a leader like you, there’s nothing worse. So, you’ve accepted that you need to improve yourself as a leader, but how do you begin? You can’t just go back to how you were. You can’t defer to others and avoid the responsibility. You need to become more than just a leader, you need to become a High Impact Leader.

 It is fair to say that among the many tools available to a savvy businessman or woman, leadership is by far the most elusive. Albeit the most essential. There are too many vital roles within any project or business to list off, but in any field, the leader serves as the focal point—the keystone around whom success is built. But what does a High Impact Leader look like? How do they develop the skills to be what they are? What are the skills that make a High Impact Leader and how does the definition differ from simply a “Good Leader?” At their core, a High Impact Leader is one versed in following talents. Much like a good recipe, each of these skills can be measured out to suit the individual, but they are nonetheless present in every leader who considers themselves High Impact.


 No surprise, High Impact Leadership begins with you and your own self-awareness. I’m the first to admit that this is an intrinsically difficult task; the mirror is the hardest place to do honest critiquing since it is shaped and distorted by our own ego.  But a High Impact Leader objectively looks at themselves and actively works to improve upon their weaknesses before trying to confront another’s. This sense of perspective paves the way for self-management. Understanding yourself allows you control of your own emotions and allows your priorities to prevail over your desires. This skill is the foundation of sound decision making, a central pillar of leadership. After these two things are achieved, you can begin to place yourself alongside your staff and establish your presence among them.

Keep in mind that leadership presence is a very delicate balance. If you are constantly involved in places within your organization you don’t belong, you become ineffective. If you are in the right place but constantly impose your views on your team, you’re little more than a micro-manager. Rather, your presence is optimized by your ability to position yourself strategically in a way that allows your team to operate the most efficiently and leaves a positive impact. A leader provides comfort and motivation while at the same time creating a “gold standard” for their team to aspire to. A High Impact Leader that masters self not only paves the way for their own personal achievement but also charts a path of exceptional performance for their team.  


 Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft once said, “Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent." In his statement, Gates conveys another critical facet of High Impact Leadership – thinking agility.  The agility of one’s thought refers to a High Impact Leader’s ability to understand and apply their diverse knowledge to improve their team’s productivity. Like Self-Direction, this facet of leadership is more inwardly focused but is reflected by the outward momentum of the team. The leader is responsible for establishing a sense of direction, placing goals in front of the team and providing the best conditions to achieve it. For this, knowledge of the industry and the market is essential because a High Impact Leader uses their business acumen to anticipate potential hurdles or changes and methods to overcome them by thinking two steps ahead. Leaders like Bill Gates and General Motor’s Mary Barra know all too well how critical this skill is in order to keep an organization positioned for success today and in the future.


Your people are the most important asset of your organization. This cannot be stressed enough. Yet, when I sit down with clients to discuss organizational improvements the first inclination for many is to discuss metrics and benchmarks. And, unsurprisingly, I can often find a direct correlation between the amount of investment in their people and overall organizational performance.  A High Impact Leader understands this correlation – that their business thrives only when they have invested in individual and team development. First, this requires a clear understanding of expectations, communication of those expectations, and investment of resources to ensure competency is built and expectations can be met.  While it isn’t necessary for a leader to befriend their team, leaders must invest in them and build trust. The human element of High Impact Leadership cannot be ignored.

 In addition to competency, cooperation and collaboration are essential human people-centric elements. When a High Impact Leader builds a culture of collaboration they are setting up a framework of high performance. In a culture of cooperation and collaboration there is trust and transparency among team members. Individuals are able to communicate and come together to meet organizational goals more seamlessly. Cooperation and collaboration empower teams in a way that allows issues to be resolved at the lowest levels in the organization, which improves productivity.  Ask yourself now, what is the culture of your team?  Do you find yourself having to intervene in too many decisions? Are team members comfortable approaching you with new ideas?  Do you see behaviors that indicate team members feel empowered? These are aspects of the culture fostered by a High Impact Leader. We discuss these types of dynamics extensively during our Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team assessments. A leader is someone who understands their people; they help them grow as individuals, they foster teamwork both in and beyond the workplace and in doing so create a culture that improves productivity.


To achieve any semblance of success, a High Impact Leader is one who is a master communicator. Make no mistake, this goes beyond emails, e-bulletins, newsletters or PowerPoint presentations. Think of it this way – communication from leaders is about connection and inspiration, not just transmission of information. This is another area that is not necessarily intuitive for all, so training and coaching to develop this skill set is highly encouraged.  Knowing what to say and how to say it in order to ensure the message is received most effectively by your team members takes a heightened level of emotional intelligence (also known as EQ). But, by harnessing this powerful skill you are able to reap the benefits of the most important factor in steady work communication: trust.

Without trust, your team has not bought in fully to achieving your vision. They may disagree or foresee obstacles you don’t but be unwilling to communicate these to you without trust. And, believe me when I tell you, you want them to speak up. Communication must flow freely in both directions. A High Impact Leader leverages these varying opinions to build alignment throughout the organization. For this reason, clear, reciprocal, authentic communication is the ultimate competitive advantage for High Impact Leaders.


Although we just spent some time talking about communication, I’m going to conclude with advice best conveyed by Benjamin Franklin, “Well done is better than well said.” A High Impact Leader is the consummate “do-er”.   Bringing all these concepts together and translating them into action is the difference between potential and performance.  The High Impact Leader doesn’t sit in some ivory tower simply barking out commands, they are the equivalent of a boots-on-the-ground general who shares equally in the successes and failures of their soldiers. In particular, a High Impact Leader augments failure into opportunity. In many situations you will have leaders who try to “move-past” failure, or worse, there are leaders who only credit themselves with success and delegate any failure to their subordinates. A High Impact Leader does neither of these things. Rather, the High Impact Leader starts a dialogue and asks: Why did we fail? What lessons were learned? How can we improve? Doing this does more than establish accountability, it creates an environment of learning and a culture of growth focused on improved results.  Action for a High Impact Leader is what follows after they have provided their team every advantage in their work. Providing a vision to aspire to and all tools needed to achieve it.

 So, while leaders fall into different categories, those who desire to be “high impact” should heed these critical traits. If we were sitting across from one another having an honest conversation about your High Impact Leadership, what would you say?  Are you feeling a little overwhelmed and thinking, “where do I begin?” Would you share how your team or organization has stagnated and you’re not sure how to fix it? Would you let me know how you realize your own shortcomings now but aren’t sure how to go about improving on them? Everyday, Coxswain Consulting helps leaders (or aspiring leaders) like yourself go from potential to high performance through education, coaching, assessments, and advisory services.  To explore what solutions may be right for you or your organization, please visit www.CoxswainAdvisors.com.

Curious about your leadership style? Take our brief assessment.

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.


Almost Done

After signing up, you'll be immediately directed to your first freebie -- our High Impact Leader infographic!