Leadership

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

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
Former Google career coach Jenny Blake shares her best advice in "Pivot."

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
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson talking during a scene of "Parks and Recreation."

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."