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12 definitive traits of a leader: Part 4-Knowledge



by Jeff Custer | Monday, May 16, 2022


One often reported source of toxicity in leaders is incompetence. One reason is that the individual contributor to leader pipeline often doesn’t exist anymore. And the other part is new leaders who are on a steep learning curve and simply don’t know how to do the job yet.

What’s promising and what you should take to heart is that new leaders, with the right guidance, will become competent over time.


Where we should be concerned are the longtime leaders who carry the label of being incompetent. Their incompetence hurts engagement, erodes trust, squashes productivity, and elevates stress—and it left unchecked leads to increased employee turnover.

The best and most successful leaders shine when it comes to knowledge.


  1. They’re firmly grounded in their beliefs and values. Effective leaders are self-aware. They know why they do things and why they make decisions the way they do. Toxic leaders on the other hand are like tumbleweeds blowing in the wind. Their decision making is haphazard and unpredictable. And they most often choose the most expedient option in the moment.

  2. They know what they need to know. Effective leaders have a keen awareness of the knowledge required to be successful. Conventional wisdom tells us we must, as leaders, have specific technical knowledge of the work being performed in our organizations. While that may be true in some situations, I’ve found that leaders really need a different type of knowledge. Once, while leading a construction group, I had a seasoned foreman tell me I shouldn’t have the leadership role because I hadn’t been in the construction trade. In his mind, I couldn’t lead because I didn’t have the right level of technical knowledge. We agreed to disagree. I always told him the group didn’t need me to tell them how to do their work… they knew how to do that. What they needed was someone who could remove roadblocks, plan for the future, and solve problems that prevented them from doing the actual work. I knew what I needed to know to be effective.

  3. They always want to know more. They crave new ways, thoughts, and especially strategies. Effective leaders are observant of things going on around them. They’re on the lookout for leadership examples, both good and bad, that can be replicated or avoided. As they increase their level of knowledge, they incorporate and refine their methods and practices in an effort to constantly get better.


Effective leaders have the right knowledge of themselves, of the job, and a thirst to know more that propels them forward to success.


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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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