7 traits of successful leaders who break barriers to create opportunity


Not long ago, one of my employees referred to me as a “bulldozer.” It didn’t sound great at first, but after listening to his reasoning, it became clear that he meant it as a compliment. Whether you’re a CEO or a president, a business development officer or an employee at any level, you’re going to have to get past major barriers to accomplish goals and create opportunity for your company. And to get past those barriers, you need a bulldozer. 

That said, it’s hard to encourage anyone to be a bulldozer because, simply put, it’s really hard to break through some barriers. It takes more than wearing a bulldozer badge to get yourself on the path to success; you’ve got to truly hone your skills to get past those hard-to-break-through barriers and build lasting trust. 

As I’ve studied those in my network, as well as partners, employees, and fellow company leaders who have the ability to knock down trust barriers, I’ve discovered some common traits. Here are the seven characteristics of people who expertly destroy trust barriers: 

1. They are confident in their abilities. 

This might age me a bit, but I compare this characteristic to “The Dukes of Hazzard.” If Bo and Luke were constantly thinking they couldn’t make a big jump in their car, I’m certain they would have crashed a lot more. You have to believe you can make the big jump, too. Now, I don’t mean you should be naive about it. You’ve got to put in the work to build your skills before you can believe they’ll take you to the goal you want to achieve. Once you put in the work, have confidence in your abilities. 

2. They don’t get embarrassed easily. 

I don’t know whether it’s just me getting older, but I hardly ever feel embarrassed anymore. And when I look at other people who are able to build strong business relationships, create opportunity, and dominate their industries, they’re typically fine with a little bit of awkwardness or discomfort, too. You have to be able to put yourself out there without worrying about how you might look to others, and don’t let yourself become distracted by embarrassment or dwell on mistakes

3. They value the relationship above all.
I’m sure you’ve known people who help you out and then immediately ask for something in return. I’ve run into my share of those contacts myself. But the people who get past my trust barriers (which are typically pretty strong) are the ones who help for the sake of being helpful. They value relationships and put the time into nurturing them; they’re not interested in short-term wins at the expense of a mutually helpful, long-term relationship. 

4. They brand themselves and build credibility around their companies. 

No matter how old you are or how far away from that middle school gymnasium you get, you can still feel like the kid picked last in dodgeball when your brand is weak and no one in your industry knows who you are. You’ll get passed up for opportunities the same way you got passed up for dodgeball. 

In my experience, if you aren’t making the kinds of connections you’re looking for, it’s because no one knows you or why they should trust you. So invest in your own brand to build familiarity with your audience and influence in your industry — that’s how people break down trust barriers. 

5. They don’t think what everybody else is thinking. 

Part of the reason people put up barriers is to keep out unoriginal and disingenuous people who haven’t earned their trust. So if you want to get around those barriers, you can’t just do what everyone else is already doing; you’ve got to think creatively. One of my friends who runs a print magazine was having trouble getting a university official to respond to a simple email, and I told him to customize one issue toward that person next time to grab his attention. Not everybody has the ability to personalize an issue of a known publication. It completely differentiated him.

6. They take risks. 

Some of the biggest opportunities often come as a result of the biggest risks. For example, a friend of mine flew across the country to GE’s office and waited six hours outside the office just to potentially get his foot in the door for a meeting. That kind of risk took guts, especially because the outcome wasn’t guaranteed to be successful. But he ended up getting his meeting. People who break barriers know that if you don’t take risks or put yourself out there, you’ll never know the full potential of what you’re capable of doing for yourself and your company. 

7. They have strong support. 

At a construction site, a bulldozer is just one part of the project. It still needs a crew of other machines to clean up and build on the site. Fortunately, I have a strong co-founder and a team with complementary operational strengths. Together, we’re able to push our company forward. Breaking through barriers isn’t the end result; it’s vital to create a support structure to help you accomplish your goals once you’ve cleared the path. Otherwise, you’re just creating a mess. 

Do you exhibit any of these characteristics? Take a hard look at yourself and the way you approach your business, and be honest with yourself. Truly, these seven traits are what set successful leaders apart from those who stay trapped behind trust barriers. 

  is the CEO of , a keynote speaker, and the author of “.” You can book John to speak . 

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