The Single Most Important Leadership Quality

Thursday, 16 August @ 3:02 PM

Someone recently asked me to choose the most important quality of an effective leader. Before you read on, take a moment to think about how you would answer this question?

To set the stage for this, I should share that I am a big believer in the maxim – “Leadership is Action, Not Position.” For me, this means that people, regardless of their title or position can be powerful leaders. And, it means that the actions of people in leadership positions can (and do) cause them to not be true leaders at all.

Okay, so back to the question – what is the single most important quality of an effective leader? I really hadn’t thought about it this way before. I could easily list off a number of important skills and traits – but to choose just one? Even John C. Maxwell has 21 on his list, “The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader.” The interesting thing is… the one quality that came to mind for me as the most important of all – wasn’t on this list.

For me, TRUST is the single most important quality for a leader.

Granted, a leader with all the qualities on Maxwell’s list is likely to engender trust. But, it’s certainly not a given. I’ve seen people in leadership positions who had tremendous vision, laser focus and great communication skills – but the people around them just didn’t trust them enough to take the risks or make the extraordinary efforts needed to achieve the leader’s vision.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people who weren’t in designated leadership positions at all – yet they were able to make a significant impact on the organization. And a big part of why they were able to do this is because people trusted them enough to follow their lead.

Trust is a tricky thing. First of all, it’s tricky because it is something that is earned, not learned. You earn trust with your actions – and how closely your actions are aligned with your words. This is especially true when living up to your word is a difficult thing to do. I’m sure you can remember a time that you were disappointed to see a leader who clearly didn’t walk the talk when times got tough. Hopefully, you also can remember someone making a really tough decision that clearly reflected their spoken values.

The other tricky thing about trust is that it’s much easier to lose than it is to gain. One significant break in trust can erode months, even years of trust building with your team. There are far too many examples of this in the news these days.

So what does all this have to do with Philanthropegie? Our audience is made up of individuals, organizations and nonprofits who are working to change the world. Volunteers and financial supporters rarely have the opportunity to see the direct impact of the time and money they’ve invested in a social good organization. Sure, they can read about it…but most of the time they are simply trusting in the organization and its leadership. This makes trust an especially important component of social good leadership.

As you take responsibility for leadership – regardless of your position, focus on trust. Give others every reason to believe that your actions match your words. In the long run, I believe this is the single most important thing you can do.


Ric Leutwyler




One thought on “The Single Most Important Leadership Quality

  1. Great article.! Especially your point about trust being difficult to gain but easy to lose. Thanks for sharing the link with me over on

    Shawn Kendrick

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