Sailing on


Harness the wind and get moving by examining the keys to leadership


Exhibiting effective leadership can mean different things in various situations, and we all bring unique knowledge, skills and personalities to the table. It’s easy to spot a leader when things are going well – financially, operationally, or otherwise. However, the most respected, effective managers emerge most necessarily when an organization faces a challenging situation or emergent crisis. Good leaders can help navigate safely through calm and treacherous waters.

As a labor and employment lawyer who has counseled and represented businesses and organizations of all types and sizes for nearly 25 years, I’ve found that excellent leaders are those who share certain common traits:

1. Empathy
2. Curiosity
3. Selfless attitude and work ethic

Effective leaders show empathy, and those who successfully lead from the top of an organization have compassion for others. These individuals are typically respected with good character, and a listening, caring heart and mind. They demonstrate integrity and have the courage necessary to make tough – even unpopular – calls, and they are self-aware enough to understand their limitations and show others that it’s OK to feel vulnerable.

Organizational leaders with these empathetic and sensitive traits generally have a higher emotional intelligence level, which serves them well in steering a company or group toward a common goal. If we think about leaders we’ve known, it’s highly likely they all communicated personally with all segments of the organization about why a decision serves the employees’ best interests, as well as those of the organization as a whole. These leaders listen openly to steer difficult conversations, while making the discussions constructive without being offensive.

On the other hand, it’s likely we all have observed some narcissistic leaders who failed their organizations due to their ego-driven lack of care – for the employees and/or volunteers, or customers – which quickly becomes obvious to all, except to the narcissist. Respect for those leaders is rapidly lost and rarely regained.

Effective leaders are also curious, wanting to learn as much as possible, from all viewpoints and perspectives, before making a decision. They seek counsel and advice from folks of disparate backgrounds and experiences, including those inside and outside the organization.

Leaders who think critically will ask the right questions, the difficult questions, even if they’re scared to hear the answers. Curious managers want to challenge the status quo to break through to solutions that may not have been at the forefront of thought beforehand. Importantly, leaders wanting to lead their organization seek advice outside of their normal sphere of influence, avoiding the tendency to listen to “yes men” alone. Again, we have all seen damaging legal risks arise and fester because leaders leaned on only those who agreed with the leaders, without challenge to the thought process or status quo. Good leaders will test themselves and their thinking.

Lastly, effective leaders put others ahead of themselves. Exhibiting a selfless, servant leadership attitude garners significant respect and extracts similar self-sacrifice from those being led. When those who work for an organization see their leader putting in the time, working the grind alongside them, it galvanizes an organization, especially during challenging circumstances. Workers expend extra energy to serve the larger purpose when they know that their leaders could care less who gets the credit. The reward is the work itself.

In short, leaders who demonstrate the traits discussed above are well-equipped to manage an organization – or any group of people combining to serve a large purpose – when the environs facing it are negative or adverse, whether it be an economic hardship, demoralized workforce, or industry-related stressors. Indeed, when a business is in peril, either from the inside or outside, workers and other stakeholders look to their leaders. Become a leader who exhibits these traits, and you will likely steer your organization’s ship successfully, whether it be through calm waters or rough seas.

Nikhil (Nik) Joshi, Esq., is a board-certified specialist in labor and employment law with more than two decades of experience representing employers and business owners. He can be reached at [email protected].



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