The 7 “Weak” Qualities Strong Leaders Possess

January 15, 2018

These are supposedly "weak" qualities that strong leaders embody.

Recently, we surveyed 2,000 business leaders and asked them the skills they need most at their company. Their answer – leadership.

But what is leadership, exactly?

For some of us, when we think of a great leader, we think of someone like the great American General George Patton.

Fiery. Strong. Shouts orders, rigorously enforces discipline, their way or the highway.

Well, here’s the truth: those traits are not necessary to be a great leader. In fact, to be a great leader, you need to do many things that run counter to that stereotype. Things considered “weak” from the antiquated perspective of what a great leader should be.

It’s not to say these "weak" tactics make your employees walk all over you or you have no respect. Just the opposite: by doing them, you’ll earn the respect of your employees, and they’ll work harder for you.

    1. A great leader doesn’t work all the time.

You always think of great leaders as people who work harder than everyone. That’s true – there’s no substitute for working hard.

But that doesn’t mean working all the time. In fact, taking time off – both time off throughout the week and vacations throughout the year – will actually make you a calmer, more strategic and more creative leader.

Conversely, if you are working all the time, it isn’t a sign you are some great leader who is committed to your vision. Instead, you are probably just bad at managing your time. As time management Guru Dave Crenshaw says, “busy is another word for ineffective.”

    2. A great leader isn’t afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Great leaders project competence, right? And what better way to show competence than always knowing the right answer?

That’s false. The best leaders are decisive, yes. But they make decisions by admitting what they don’t know and considering other opinions.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who knew what, so long as the right decision is made. Acting like you know everything – even when you don’t – will lead to either delayed decisions or the wrong decision being made.

The best leaders are confident enough to ask for help and make decisions as a team, instead of individually.

    3. A great leader doesn’t need to raise their voice.

There’s a great story Fred Kofman tells in his free LinkedIn Learning course on managing conflict. He described a boss who thought he was a strong leader because he would yell at his employees.

The reality? Behind his back, the employees made fun of it. They thought the tactic – and the boss – was a joke. In reality, this man who thought he was such a strong leader didn’t have any control over his employees at all.

Instead, the best leaders exhibit the qualities they want in their team. So, if they want discipline, they act disciplined – which means not losing their temper and screaming. Besides, a leader is far more effective if they don’t have to resort to those kinds of techniques to get the attention of their people.

    4. A great leader admits mistakes.

Similar to point two, admitting failure feels like the exact opposite thing a boss should do. It’s demoralizing when a leader admits a failure, right? 


Again, a leader should display the qualities they want in their team. And great teams admit their failures for several reasons – it ensures they don’t happen again, it makes it easier to learn from them and it encourages risk-taking, which is key to innovation.

Yes, admitting failure is never fun and can be embarrassing. But, when a leader does it, it has a tremendously positive impact.

    5. A great leader is compassionate.

This sounds like a new-age, “soft” trait. It isn't.

Really, compassion just means understanding what a person’s going through and doing your best to help them get through it. That’s exactly what leadership is – your job is to help your team members accomplish their goals.

“Compassion helps reinforce the fact that we're all on the same team, that we're all in this trying to realize the same mission, the same vision, manifest and execute against the same strategy,” LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said in his free course on Compassionate Management. “So, that's where I think it can be a game changer.”

    6. A great leader isn’t afraid to change course (even with a person).

Giving up is what losers do, right? A great leader doesn’t give up – a great leader pushes forward no matter what.

Well, yes and no.

A great leader will do whatever it takes to achieve their vision, yes. But, that means giving up on many tactics and strategies along the way to find out what really works. Otherwise, you’ll just keep ramming your head against the wall.

Same goes for people. A great leader should do everything they can to help their people succeed. But, sometimes, that means letting them go, so they can find a position that better suits them.

“One of the most common questions I get, is if you're managing compassionately how do you ever let anyone go?” Weiner said in his free course.  “That's not a compassionate thing to do. It turns out when someone's struggling in their role, the least compassionate thing you can do is have them stay in the role.”

    7. A great leader doesn’t need to be an outgoing extrovert.

Finally, it’s simply not true that a leader needs to be this extrovert who loves being the center of attention. In fact, there is evidence that introverts can actually be better leaders than extroverts.

The truth? Leaders come from all walks of life and have all types of personalities. Yes, there are really outgoing, highly opinionated leaders like Mark Cuban. There are also more withdrawn leaders like Mark Zuckerberg who are just – if not more – successful.

One thing all great leaders have in common? They know themselves and are true to themselves. That means not adopting a personality you think a leader should have, but instead accepting your personality and figuring out how to best use it to lead.

The takeaway

Anyone can be a leader. There’s no one set personality or one set style – it’s about being who you are, being vulnerable and, most importantly of all, putting others above yourself.

None of the qualities listed above are “weak” – that thinking comes from an image that has no relationship with the truth. In reality, adopting these seven traits will make you appear much stronger to your employees, and make you more effective.

Looking to become a better leader? Check out these three LinkedIn Learning courses, which are free for the month of January: