The Hidden Trait Every Leader Needs and How to Get It


BY JUSTIN FOSTER, Fast Company 2014

The most recognized leadership traits tend to fall in to two categories: behavioral traits such as a personality or people skills and character traits such as integrity or empathy. While behavioral and character traits are certainly indicators of leadership, the most important leadership trait is also the most hidden: intrinsic value.

Intrinsic value is a hidden trait because those who have it don’t talk about it; those who see it in others struggle to articulate it; and those who don’t have it often don’t know what’s missing.

So what is intrinsic value? It’s a deep sense of self-worth and self-awareness that creates a synchronistic balance between internal and external pressures, expectations, and goals. At its core, intrinsic value is when your sense of self-worth arrives more through internal conviction than through external influences or triggers. In short, you believe in yourself.

So where does intrinsic value come from? The first thing to know is that everyone has it and can harness it--if they are willing to do the work. Once you understand that intrinsic value is something that can be cultivated, you can work on honing these five specific traits of intrinsic value:

You are connected to your true self. Others would say you are comfortable in your own skin. Completeness comes from understanding and accepting your strengths, as well as your weaknesses. It also comes from properly harnessing the other four traits listed here.

You recognize that success is never a solo effort; that whatever level of status and success you have today is because others have contributed to your development. As a result, you seek out and mentor young leaders as a way to show your appreciation.

You have overcome a lot of personal pain. This could be a bad childhood, an illness, loss of someone you love, a business failure, combat experience, or something else. Regardless, you have overcome the pain and it gives you a sense of victory. If life hasn’t created this pain, you have the foresight to create it yourself in volunteer work, physical challenges, and similar activities.

You have a perpetual desire for self-improvement and achievement. You are not obsessed with status or the material manifestations of success. Those things are fleeting. You love the pursuit of excellence, knowledge, and achievement.

Regardless of circumstances or conditions, you have an endless conviction that things will work out in the end. This could come from a set of spiritual beliefs or simply the mindset that good things happen when you have a positive attitude. This optimism means that you are adding energy and passion to every leadership situation.

The inward manifestation of intrinsic value is organizing your life and career around your passions and talents. You have a clear vision and a clear plan to execute it. You have great instincts about people and the value of relationships. While uncertainty is a normal human condition, insecurity will be eliminated. You invest in your own personal development and in the development and well being of others.

--Justin Foster is a brand strategist, speaker, and faculty member for The Complete Leader. He is the author of Oatmeal v. Bacon and Human Bacon. Learn more about his theories on social business at