9 Subtle Traits of a Great Boss

Look closely and you’ll see what I mean

Max Klein
6 min readSep 28, 2021


Credit: Rido on Shutterstock

One of the greatest leaders I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot in the military and corporate world, is my grandfather. At 96-years-old, he still influences his family to be their best not by telling them, but by showing them through his example.

Besides the obvious leadership traits he harbors such as unselfishness, intelligence, enthusiasm, integrity, and sound judgment, there are subtle traits he harbors as well. Things such as insatiable curiosity about people, a perpetual drive to learn, and a deft harnessing of emotion.

This got me thinking about the subtle marks of a great leader and I started to see similarities between my grandfather and other great leaders I’ve met over the last 25 years of studying and practicing leadership in military, volunteer, and corporate settings.

Here are a few of these subtle traits I’ve seen in common among excellent leaders.

#1. Curiosity

This is one my grandfather and all solid leaders I’ve ever met have had in common. They were perpetually curious.

Curious about the people they led and their lives, their kids, their thoughts, and their concerns. And it was all genuine, not a patronizing management hack.

They asked with genuine interest, and listened with earnest intent to understand. And it was a broad curiosity not only limited to things that may benefit them somehow.

This curiosity is what prohibits stagnation of the mind and keeps life, leadership, and relationships fresh, dynamic, and adaptable.

Curiosity can also result in more effective problem solving, creativity, and adaptability to changing conditions in a work environment.

“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.” — Samuel Johnson

#2. Comfort-Inspiring Reliability

My mom was the first leader in my life who personified this trait of absolute reliability. In the 26 years I knew her before she passed away, not once did she not do what she told me she’d do. Her word was more solid than gold. I learned a lot from that example because I…