C-TRAIL leadership: What the world needs now

Positive leadership can inspire workers to go above and beyond what is expected of them. Dr. Mark Goulston breaks down the characteristics that separate excellent leaders from the rest.
This is a photo of Mark Goulston, M.D.
Mark Goulston, M.D.

In my earlier WorkingNation blogs, I addressed skills and training and displaced, disheartened and depressed workers. In this one, I focus on CEOs and decision makers and the abilities they need, or the ones we need them to possess to lead us to success.

In another blog entitled Surviving automation: The seven attributes of lifelong employability, I made a compelling case for those positive attributes by first listing the opposites of them, the seven things that frustrate bosses. I then listed their polar opposites to describe the characteristics of the best employees.

Now let’s turn to the opposite end of the food chain from unemployed workers and switch our attention to attributes that would describe the best leaders to lead us into the future.

In keeping with the approach from that prior blog, here is a listing of six attributes of what the worst kinds of leaders evoke in others. In other words, when they trigger these responses in others, the last thing people want to do is follow them.

  • Doubt: Leaders who don’t have relevant experience and their judgment calls about strategy, people and crises are poor.
  • Distrust: Leaders who don’t do what they say they will do. Over time we view them to be more focused on a personal self-aggrandizing agenda over what’s good for the company, its people and even its customers and clients.
  • Disrespect:  Leaders don’t stand for anything and default regularly to a self-centered focus.
  • Embarrassment: Leaders who are either unaware or unconcerned about how they come across or offend others. This causes subordinates to try to explain away their mortifying behavior.
  • Dispiriting and Flat: Rather than lifting people up, these leaders leave them feeling deflated or flat.
  • Dislikable: Even if leaders possess the above, they’re difficult to like often because of whining, complaining or excuse-making behavior.

Feeling disheartened and even repulsed if the above describe any of your leaders? Okay, relief is on the way. That is because we need leaders to do the exact opposite of those attributes to make us useful and productive.

To make them easy to remember and keep them at the top of your mind, they fit the acronym: C-TRAIL.

  • Confidence: Leaders who are perceived as being able to get the job done by having a track record, vision, strategy and ability to attract and galvanize a team.
  • Trust: People trust that the leader will do what they say they will do and will not hurt anyone unnecessarily or on purpose in doing it.
  • Respect: Leaders who stand up for universally esteemed values.
  • Admiration: Leaders who stand up for those values and dare to stop others who violate them.
  • Inspiration: Leaders who lift people up and aim them toward a transcendent future beyond transactional results and profit producing a “rising tide that lifts all hopes.”
  • Likability: Leaders who put a smile on our face when we see them and a smile on their face when they look at us.

After reading the two lists, I am reminded of a keynote address I heard General Colin Powell deliver at a real estate convention in Dallas in 1995 when he was a possible candidate for the U.S. presidency.

Mark Goulston identified Colin Powell as the ideal vision of leadership.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2009. Photo – Shutterstock

It was amazing to watch Powell inspire rather than merely pump up the audience of highly transactional people. He did it with his stories of gratitude to his community, his family and his country. And he outlined how he repaid them and implored us to follow suit.

RELATED STORY: Why decision makers should care about the future of work

During the question and answer session, I remember that one man piped up with this question, “General Powell, I understand that your wife has been depressed and even been in a psychiatric hospital. Do you want to comment on that?”

Inappropriate was too kind a word for this off-the-wall question.

The audience and I listened intently, and I wondered how Powell would react. Would he be politically correct and say that he was glad the man asked the question to make the point that mental illness should be treated with the same kindness as a medical illness? Would he ignore the man or become hostile?

Or, would he bring back memories of candidate Edmund Muskie throwing away his presidential hopes 25 years earlier when his wife was similarly attacked, causing the Maine senator to cry?

He looked at the man and responded firmly: “Excuse me, sir, the person you love more than anyone is living in hell, and you don’t do whatever you can to get her out? Do you have a problem with that, sir?”

You could hear a pin drop. You felt Powell’s values and principles fuse into deeply felt conviction. Talk about leadership. He embodied all of the C-TRAIL attributes.

I said to myself at the time, “I would buy a used country from that guy.”

Join the Conversation: Which list of attributes do you think your leader aspires to? How does this affect your working life? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Dr. Mark Goulston is an award-winning business psychiatrist, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on Amazon. Catch up on Dr. Goulston’s previous articles here.

Connect with Dr. Goulston through FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn. His books are available on Amazon. Check out his videos on YouTube or take advantage of free resources available at