Four Fundamental Leadership Traits to Gain Competitive Advantage

By Lee Ellis

In Patrick Lencioni’s latest book,  The Advantage, he points out that in today’s competitive world a healthy organization is likely to be the greatest competitive advantage you can have. 4 leadership traits for competitive advantageHe’s right, so what exactly does that look like?

Well, let’s take a closer look at an unhealthy organization. To outsiders like Pat and me, three strong indicators are:

A lack of trust leading to poor teamwork and alignment.

A lack of clarity about mission, vision, and values.

A fear of conflict. People are not allowed to say what they really think.

With these symptoms, you can predict a lack of accountability on team goals which results in sloppy execution, inadequate results, and ultimately, a poor reputation in your industry. However you, the smart business leader, want the best results and a great place to work (they typically go together), so let’s consider the four fundamentals that can achieve both goals.

1. Build Trust

Trust is the hallmark of cohesive teams. Without it, people have doubts, fears, and uncertainty making alignment and unity impossible. Remember that we’re not talking about baseline trust such as “Do I trust you not to steal my wallet?”

Trust in this context means that I understand and accept you because you’re willing to be vulnerable and genuine. There are no hidden agendas, so I know you won’t take advantage of me if I’m not at the meeting with the boss. This kind of trust takes time, and leaders must go first with this virtue.

2. Clarify and Over-Communicate

Leading a business means facing many crucial issues and decisions every day, but a good leader has the ability to synthesize large amounts of information into something simple. Too often leaders assume that their staff see and understand what they do, and this causes many problems with execution. Imagine the quarterback having a complex play in mind, yet he only calls a short version of it in the huddle. Ten teammates must execute precisely to make the next play a success; but if they don’t have the same picture as the quarterback, mistakes will likely result in a setback. It’s the same in business.

Leaders have to continually clarify and over-communicate the message all the way to the bottom of the organization to make sure the team understands what plays the leader is calling.

3. Create a Safe Environment and Encourage Debate

In healthy organizations there’s an absence of fear, and courage is rewarded. Do your people have to walk on eggshells, or do they feel safe with you? Can they disagree with you and have a fair hearing, or do your reactions equate disagreement with disloyalty? Healthy leaders invite creative conflict prior to making key decisions to get team buy in and to make sure that other reasonable ideas are evaluated. They’re more interested in being effective than being “right.”

One of the greatest desires of all people is to be understood, so show courage by listening and learning from your people. Your courage, vulnerability, and authenticity will be seen as strengths.

4. Be Courageous

Leading isn’t easy. Every day you face tough issues, and your people are watching to see if you will walk the talk of your stated values. It will take all the courage you have and the support of your team and confidants to consistently lead with honor.

Lean into the pain of your fears to do what you know is right, and you will send a message of healthy courage throughout your organization. Remember that positive emotions are contagious and powerful, and leaders go first.

Image courtesy of kraifreedom /


Lee EllisLee Ellis is president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, team building, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning.

His latest book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Learn more at

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