1 trait great leaders possess more than any other

Is your employee a screw-up or did the employee just make a mistake?

What you've done in your job shouldn't define who you are as a person.

Say you just start a new job as a college recruiter. You haven't worked in the academic field before, but you have a ton of sales experience. You go to a college event and make a big mistake with a contest giving out free shirts, which violates collegiate rules. Does that make you a complete moron? No. Does it mean you have no purpose in life? No. It means you didn't quite brush up on the rules for events related to handing out free gear.

The problem, of course, is that the boss might not see things that clearly. And, by "clearly" I mean she might not have the capacity to separate who you are from what you've done.

Great leaders--those who are insightful, perceptive, and show empathy--can spot the difference between an error on the job and an actual character flaw.

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8 world leaders under 40
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8 world leaders under 40

8. Volodymyr Groysman, 39, is Ukraine's youngest ever prime minister. He was elected by Parliament in April 2016 and is a close ally of the president, Petro Poroshenko, who took power in 2014 following the ousting of the Russian-backed authoritarian Viktor Yanukovych.

REUTERS/Anastasia Sirotkina/Pool

7. Jüri Ratas (center) , 38, is the new prime minister of Estonia (he was voted into office in November 2016) and the leader of the country's Centre Party.

Photo Credit: PA 

6. Saleh Ali al-Sammad, 38, is the leader of the Houthi militants, who control much of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa. (The US is providing support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, and Yemen also has a separate provisional government with a president and prime minister.)

 ( MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

5. Macedonian Prime Minister Emil Dimitriev, 38, took power in January 2016 after his predecessor, Nikola Gruevski, agreed to step down following protests against Gruevski for alleged mass wiretapping of Macedonian officials.

(ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

4. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 37, is the fifth king of Bhutan — a position he took on when he was just 26 and his father abdicated the throne. Wangchuck oversaw the institution of the country's new constitution in 2008, and is encouraging democratization.

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 

3. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 36, is the Emir of Qatar — a post he took over in 2013 from his father (who took power from his own father in a non-violent coup 18 years prior).

 REUTERS/Carl Court/Pool

2. Kim Jong-un, who succeeded his father as supreme leader of North Korea in 2011, is just 33. He has continued to brutally repress opposition within the closed-off country and escalate testing of its nuclear missiles.

 REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION E\

1. At 28, Vanessa D'Ambrosio, who is serving a six-month term as the captain regent of San Marino, a mountainous European microstate, is the youngest leader of any country in the world. D'Ambrosio will lead the country alongside her co-captain regent, Mimma Zavoli, until October 2017.

Photo Credit: Twitter/Vanessa D'Ambrosio

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In fact, it may be the one trait that distinguishes the good leaders from the great leaders in business. This is not always easy, because what you do reveals your character...except when that isn't the case. Sometimes, what you do reveals that you're human. For that college recruiter, handing out free shirts is perfectly acceptable at an auto show or farming convention. It's not a perfect indication of character.

Employees know the difference. Let's pick a different example to illustrate how.

In one of my first jobs in management at a sign company, I led a graphics design team. One of my employees had great character, and she would always show up on time at work. She had an incredible capacity to show support to her colleagues, to pick up the slack on a project, and to work harder than anyone else. At the time, I was new to a role where I had to manage a budget and make most of the hire and fire decisions. However, all I noticed about this employee is that she was not learning how to use a new software program. It was a complete mystery to her. As her boss, I kept noticing how she'd insist on doing things "the old way" and refused to learn the new application.

Here's the mistake I made. Looking back, I should have noticed her ability to work with the team, that she had the character and underlying talents needed to complete projects. She just didn't like the new software and didn't have enough training. I should have found a different role for her. Maybe it would have been as a supervisor, or even in a different department. Instead, I went through the steps to have her terminated. Eventually, her replacement showed up and had an incredible knowledge of the graphics design app...but also had an uncooperative spirit. That new hire lasted about one year.

What was my mistake? I failed to recognize the difference between who someone is and what the person has done. At my next company working as a manager, I started looking for character traits like how the person works on the team, whether he or she could cooperate and learn, and eventually started seeing the potential in people instead of always noticing their mistakes. I've tried to maintain that outlook.

What about you? When you think about leadership, it's easy to come up with the wrong definition. It's not the person who knows everything or who has the biggest office. It's not the person with the loudest voice or the most commanding presence.

Often, it's the person who is the best at noticing the talents and character traits of employees and drawing out their potential. That is true leadership--that requires true insight and vision. A bad leader never looks below the surface--is this person following the rules only? Is this person skilled or talented? They just can't tell.

Skill is easy to fake. Anyone can learn an app. The real challenge as leaders is to become perceptive enough that you see beyond skill and see the character of the person.

22 PHOTOS
What famous business leaders looked like in high school
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What famous business leaders looked like in high school
Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban may have ditched his wild 'do, but otherwise, he hasn't aged a day since he took his senior portrait in 1976!

(Classmates.com/Reuters)

Barbara Corcoran

"Shark Tank" star and real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran was a cheerleader in her heyday -- and she hasn't lost any of pep since 1969.

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Barbara Corcoran

We weren't kidding!

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Barbara Corcoran
(Classmates.com/Getty)
Warren Buffett

The business magnate was quite the dapper young man in 1947.

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Steve Wozniak

These days, the Apple co-founder opts for more casual looks than his tux in his 1968 senior portrait.

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Steve Jobs

Wozniak's business partner, Steve Jobs, rocked the man-bob in 1972.

(Classmates.com/Reuters)

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren had the same penchant for plaid suits in 1957!

(Classmates.com/Reuters)

Paul Allen

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen looked totally current with his Warby Parker-esque frames in 1969.

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Bill Gates

Plaid shirt? Check. V-neck sweater? Double-check. Bill Gates' style sure hasn't changed since the 8th grade in 1969.

(Classmates.com/AP)

Paul Allen and Bill Gates

Adorable! Allen and Gates have taken their friendship from the computer lab to the basketball court.

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Oprah Winfrey

Before Oprah was one of the biggest TV personalities and businesswomen in the world, she was voted "Most Popular" in her 1971 high school yearbook.

(Classmates.com/AP)

Oprah Winfrey

Love those peace sign earrings!

(Classmates.com/PA)

Michael Bloomberg

No doubt 1960 Debate Club helped prepare Michael Bloomberg for a future in business and politics!

(Classmates.com/AP)

Michael Bloomberg

Just take a look at those determined eyes ...

(Classmates.com/AP)

Marissa Mayer

These days, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer speaks sans notecards. Here she is at her 1993 homecoming dance.

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Marissa Mayer

The only thing that's changed since this 1993 debate is Mayer's hair -- the CEO went from a wavy brunette to a straight blonde bob!

(Classmates.com/Getty)

Donald Trump

Trump's soccer days are behind him -- but his competitive spirit lives on.

(Classmates.com/Reuters)

Donald Trump

He even had a bit of the same combover in 1964!

(Classmates.com/AP)

Marcus Lemonis

"The Profit" star Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises, rocked a 'fro in 1988.

(Classmates.com/AP)

Abi Heller

We wonder what Classmates.com and Intelius CEO Abi Heller's former schoolmates think of his biz!

(Classmates.com)

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