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12 definitive traits of a leader: Part 11-Independent

By Jeff Custer | Monday, July 11, 2022

To be a successful you can’t be an island. Or rather, you can’t be alone on that island. Relationships matter. They’re the glue that holds organizations together. Yet even in the truth of that situation, the best leaders are independent (but not a loner).

Dependent leaders, if you can even call them leaders, rely on others or processes to provide them guidance. You’ll see in the news someone gets caught embezzling money from their organization—because they became dependent on the money. Which is what drove their decision, as bad as it might be. Nepotism is another situation where leaders may find themselves utterly dependent on the friend or relative who “got” them the job. That leader is beholden to their benefactor.

What are the hallmarks of an independent leader?

  1. They’re ruled by values. When faced with ethical challenges, independent leaders always rely on their deeply held values. Because they understand the difference between right and wrong. You’ll likely hear them say, “What’s the right thing to do?”, even if it isn’t the most advantageous outcome for them personally.

  2. They’re politically astute. Organizations are full of politics—some are healthy, but many aren’t. Independent leaders know these dynamics exist and understand the implications it poses to individuals and the organization. When I bring up the topic of organizational politics, people often respond with, “I don’t do that.” And my response is always, “Yes, you do. You’re probably just not very good at it.” I don’t mean you run around stabbing people in the back. But it means you don't understand the power structures at play. Which means you’re not using your influence or knowledge to manage your through the work environment to get things done in the best possible way.

  3. They think for themselves. Independent leaders have strong opinions rooted in their values and experiences. That’s not to say they can’t be persuaded to change their mind, but they won’t do it easily.

  4. They have a strong sense of self-awareness. Independent leaders know themselves well. They know their strengths, weaknesses, and habits so well that they manage them in the heat of the moment.

  5. They don’t need handholding. Independent leaders can stand on their own and make decisions. They have a maturity that doesn’t necessitate a lot of guidance. When our children were young, I remember holding their hands when we’d cross the street. Otherwise, they’d go wherever they wanted and that wouldn’t be safe.

Independent leaders have the skills to survive the storms that swirl around them. And they’re confident in who they are and what they know. At the same time, they’re not stubborn or so stuck in their ways that they can’t adapt and improve.

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Are you struggling to improve your effectiveness as a leader? Email me at for a free consultation.

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Jeff Custer is a long-time leader at both private and Fortune 500 companies where he has developed and led both high performance individuals and teams. He is passionate about developing leaders and building high impact teams. Jeff resides in the United States.

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