Leadership

The No. 1 trait all great leaders share, according to a former Google career coach

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Great leaders have this one skill in common

Despite what Machiavelli said, great leaders don't have to be feared. They don't even have to be loved.

According to the co-founder of Google's career mentoring program, they just have to listen.

Jenny Blake, a career strategist who has helped more than 1,000 people at Google advance at work, says that trying to solve a problem immediately can sometimes do more harm than good.

"One of the biggest mistakes that I see managers making is immediately jumping in to give advice or trying to troubleshoot in the middle of a career conversation," Blake says, "rather than really [asking] open ended questions."


Former Google career coach Jenny Blake shares her best advice in "Pivot."
Source: Mark Hanauer

According to Blake, 75 percent of complicated or tough conversations should be listening and only 25 percent should be giving advice.

"Great leaders and managers make listening a priority," Blake tells CNBC. "Not just any listening, active listening." Like Ron Swanson from NBC's "Parks and Recreation," who often offers just the right amount of sage advice after lending a sympathetic ear.

By taking a step back and listening, you get a better sense of the problem. You can then make better decisions.

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson talking during a scene of "Parks and Recreation."
NBC Universal/Getty Images

To get a better sense of what your team members need, Blake recommends asking these open ended questions in one-on-one meetings:

  • What's working best in your role?

  • What strengths are you most excited about developing?

  • When do you feel most in the zone?

An independent survey of 3,100 workers, ranging from junior employees to CEOs, found that great leaders foster a culture of respect and motivation.

Listening, Blake says, is one of the easiest ways to foster that type of environment.

For more great advice, check out Blake's book "Pivot: The Only Move that Matters is Your Next One. "

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Your career is like a smartphone, says a former Google career coach
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