25 Leadership Qualities: Essential Skills & Traits Great Leaders Have
What makes a great leader has little to do with leading the pack and more about steering the team towards a great goal by harnessing each member’s strength.
Almost all the time, leaders do not focus on instructing those around them. They guide. They share. They place themselves on equal footing with whoever chooses to follow.
What is leadership? Everyone is born with the unique, innate qualities that are the source of strength or skills. Leadership skills can be built, trained, and learned over time. Hone these qualities, and you can impact the lives around you.
What Defines A Great Leader?
All great leaders share a common set of leadership qualities that have led them to success.
Therefore, being a leader is not just a skill you learn the same way you learn to swing a sword, but also beliefs and values that stand at the pinnacle of a leader’s core perspective. This is not to say hard work does not matter. The characteristics of a leader include hard work but do not solely define what makes a good leader.
Humans are complex beings. An outstanding list of leadership qualities totaling to at least 100 is too much to bear in one article. As a result, I have narrowed it down to 25 qualities of a good leader.
Section 1: Character/Personality
Empathy is an underrated practice. It takes years to learn to understand your own emotions along with the emotions of others, your colleagues, employees, and customers.
It stands as one of the qualities of a great leader. It is also one of the most essential leadership skills and a fundamental principle in any business model. Yet, we neglect its benefits.
If you cannot understand your customers or what they want or need, you will fail in your goals. How can you provide value if you do not empathize?
Empathy serves to understand. It serves to solve problems with solutions developed with your customers in mind. As a leader, understanding the problems at hand and the struggle behind someone’s actions is the first step to becoming an effective leader.
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Perseverance. That sounds better does it not?
We think patience is sitting as the world moves along. We think it is waiting for something good to come along.
The qualities of an effective leader include waiting for the right opportunity. They do not swing their bat for every ball that comes their way. Patience is understanding success does not happen overnight. Patience is leaning towards the process – the journey – not the results.
When the boulders start to roll in twice their size, leadership calls an active commitment to push forward. It sounds insane just thinking about it. But that is what patience is. Midway, it becomes perseverance to strive ahead in the face of difficulty and obstruction.
Below is an image shared over Twitter (1) that puts authentic leadership into perspective.
There is a growing study on authentic leadership but I would like to say authenticity is not only what makes a good leader, but also as a great individual. Deception and manipulation are common issues in the workplace. Authority is easily abused and recklessly used at the expense of others.
Authenticity is not fake confidence but rather a genuine effort to be yourself.
What is leadership if you cannot be honest with yourself at the very least? Someone once told me, a good leader is someone who truly cares for the wellbeing of those under them. When you ask someone how their day is, you actually care about the answer.
Authentic leadership is being sensitive to the needs of others and are selfless with whoever they treat. If your employees do not feel they are genuinely cared for, how can you expect productivity and commitment to flourish in the workplace?
“A great leader is someone who does the right thing, even when it’s unpopular or extremely tough to do so. You have to find something to care deeply about in your business and in each individual that touches your business. Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” – Steve Farber
When faced with a decision to do what is right when it could cost you your job, would you risk the security of a steady income for doing what is right?
Integrity is a leadership ability that marks a true leader. When you are honest and firm with your values, beliefs, and ethics, that is what fosters trust and reliability. Integrity is rare. So rare that those who practice it are even rarer to find; however, one of the best words to describe a leader is integrity.
On how to be a leader at work, it comes from a strong will to do what is right even if it might cost you a fortune in the end. Great leaders know selfish means to achieve a goal is not worth the price.
Some people relate maturity to emotional intelligence. In this day and age, leaders who hold a strong EQ possess a rare and invaluable quality as a leader.
It’s not just about growing older and wiser, maturity is also being wise enough to put your ego aside and handle situations appropriately. Even if it means you’re right, maturity is knowing as a leader how you communicate is more important rather than try and dominate the person in front of you.
Section 2: Inspiration
6. Vision & Purpose
Simon Sinek encourages companies to always start with why. It is not enough to know what you want and how to achieve it. There is a cause much bigger than yourself to work towards.
Having a vision & purpose is what makes every great leader get up in the morning enthusiastic to live, breathe, and inspire those around them. Your vision goes further than your goals. Your purpose keeps you on the path to moving forward, even when the road is difficult.
We think leaders are served by the people under them; however, great leaders serve others so that they may be happy. When you set your life with a purpose and lead with a vision, effective leadership will come naturally as you strive forward.
Creativity is not reserved only for artists and it can be framed as thinking outside the box. Outside-the-box thinkers are ever so important in this competitive world today. Leadership skills like creativity call for standing out different, unique, and yet relevant to solving today’s problems.
This brings me to what Seth Godin shared but can also be seen as one of the important leadership examples to use: the purple cow.
Take any ordinary day that you are driving down the road. To your left, you see a few cows slurping grass away. You probably would not care. It is boring. You have seen it a thousand times after all. Movies. Magazines. Real-life.
But say you saw a purple cow? You would stop and take a closer, longer look because you are fascinated it is a purple cow. This is the purple cow theory. It aims to create innovative, unique ideas & designs to cut out all the boring stuff advertising has shown over the past decade.
Effective leadership is the same. When a problem that appears unsolvable arises, creative solutions become popcorn demand. Safe, conventional paths do not always define the good characteristics of a leader.
Passion is not something you find. It is not sitting under a rock. No. Passion is the result of doing something you love; therefore, it is not found but built. Mel Robbins argues passion is another word for energy so the question to really ask yourself is, “What energizes you?”
When you bring excitement and a pocket full of positivity to the table, it becomes contagious. People are more likely to follow those they enjoy being around. If you bring constant criticism and negativity wherever you go, how do you think will this affect everyone else?
Empowerment is a quality that brings unity to the people. When you believe in your employees and trust them to face the challenges ahead, they can act autonomously.
Great leaders guide their employees to become their best selves by giving them space for them to discover, create, and solve problems in their own way. This kind of trust empowers employees and it also improves collaboration along with their ability to take their own lead in the best interest of the company.
You’re probably wondering: “What does being curious have anything to do with being a leader?”
Questions. Lots of questions. Questions that lead you to bring about innovation in the world. Asking questions opens your mind and prevents any leader from having tunnel vision as they grow.
It’s true when they say, leaders eat last. Ever wonder why? A great leader is never the first to speak. A great leader wants to hear everyone else’s opinions first before they give theirs. They ask questions that can help impact the entire decision-making process.
This is why curiosity is essential to effective leadership. It’s not just the manager or senior president’s perspective that matters. It’s everyone sitting in the room.
Section 3: Versatility, Assertiveness, & Agility
There is a word I keep reading often in relation to resilience: Antifragile. If resilience is how well you adapt to struggle, antifragile is to thrive in it. Instead of just bouncing back when life knocks you down, you gain from the disorder. You learn to become smarter, stronger, and better in the process.
Unlike resilience, which resists stress, antifragility allows you to get better and it is one of the best leadership qualities to have.
Leaders are faced with multiple scenarios that change every day. Some are heavier and more difficult than most. Great leaders learn to love eating dirt. They learn to love losing and embrace rejection. Once you have that, you become antifragile.
What makes a good leader is following through what you say even in times of distress.
Commitment in your work is to honor the promises you make for yourself and for those under your charge. You must lead by example. As their leader, your employees look up to and rely on you.
Showing your employees you are willing to put in extra hours to meet the company’s goals and mission inspires them to do the same. Leadership is not always about you. It is about leading those under your charge to their destination. If you cannot commit to the act of serving or to your employees alone, how can you expect them to do the same?
It is not about making the right decision, it is taking accountability when a decision goes south. Making a decision has nothing to do with authority and everything to do with how willing you are to risk making a decision. If it fails, good leaders take full credit.
Indecisiveness is ineffective for many reasons. One, it focuses on perfection rather than growth or progress. Two, constant debating for the best decision often leads to a decision where no one is satisfied. Three, indecisiveness resists failure rather than welcome it.
Experience plays a role in being decisive but even with little experience, it should not stop you from taking a stand when needed.
Courage has a lot to do with leadership. Leaders are frontliners. They lead the army to victory. Now, who is a leader who chooses to sit in the back? Or cowers behind his own troops?
Courageous leaders challenge criticism. They do not shy away from whoever may try and push them down. They go against the grain and it is because of that boldness motivation ensues and companies rise.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
15. Risk Management
No one can predict the future; hence the term manage. Important business decisions or decisions that weigh heavily on the company fall to leaders to make the final decision.
Risk management as a leadership quality is not controlling the outcome. It’s being able to evaluate as many outcomes and assess the risk involved with every choice made. Making the best choice possible might mean losing a few bucks but that’s part of the game of risk.
Learning to mitigate risk rather than try and prevent any loss from happening is an essential leadership quality that takes years of experience.
It’s all about seeing the bigger picture. Although an open mind allows your mind to broaden, resourcefulness is the ability to use what’s available. When faced with a problem, having the latest tech or hiring new employees isn’t the only card on the table.
You have to look at what you currently have. What can you use that’s currently at your disposal? Resourcefulness encourages an open-culture environment where solutions come to light through what each member has to offer.
Rather than spend an extra dime or nickel for every problem, leaders promote alternative solutions to work through a situation.
Section 4: Interpersonal
Communication is one of the many leadership traits aimed at one crucial point–clarity.
Language and words are used so often that we forget their impact on people or when we express ourselves. Using the appropriate words, simplifying your message, and actively listening are three key communication qualities of a good leader.
Why? Because communication is not just words. It is picking up the tone, non-verbal cues, body movement, facial expressions, eye contact, mood, etc. Leaders who are great communicators are also great listeners. They know when to respond and when to listen.
“A relationship without trust is like a car without gas. You can stay in it all you want, but it won’t go anywhere.” – Michael J. Herbert
Trust is vital for all relationships. Leadership is about creating meaningful relationships that allow more transparency and comfort between two people. Communication goes hand-in-hand with trust. If a person in need cannot fully express themselves safely, moving forward becomes difficult.
What makes a good leader reflects on how well those under your charge respond to you in times of need or during a crisis. If they cannot feel safe around you, how can you expect them to follow your lead?
19. Active Listening
Active listening is about how receptive you are.
It is easy to hear someone shout at you and the words that roll off their tongue, but listening involves taking part in actively understanding what someone is trying to say. Active listening uses all your senses to ‘listen.’ It requires concentration and to focus on whoever has the floor.
We do not just communicate with words. We use emotion to carry our words. Tone to describe our mood. Facial expressions to define emotion. And so on. What is leadership? Someone who can give their attention when needed, so they may engage fully and appropriately when it is their turn to speak.
20. Relationship/Social Skills
Building and improving your social skills might be one of the most effective leadership qualities to have today. These make you flexible and help you adapt easily in different situations and crowds.
Sharpening your social skills helps you build your connections with others at a far more progressive rate. Great leaders with great social skills align the way they communicate with others through their authenticity.
Don’t just build a network for the sake of expansion. Build a network because you want to genuinely connect with those around you.
Section 5: Leading through Change
Taking responsibility also takes guts. It is hard to admit when we are wrong. When we have committed a mistake. But it happens. Imperfections are a part of the natural process of growing up.
The characteristics of a good leader include facing fault when it happens. They set an example. Even though it seems leaders stand above others at a certain scale, planting their feet in the dirt when needed is part of how to be a good leader.
Leadership traits such as accountability carry the weight of both success and failure equally on its shoulders. Mistakes and failures are part of every road not just as a leader, but for any person.
What makes a great leader is to understand there is no such thing as a perfect leader or a perfect team. There is simply, growth.
Great leaders know they are equally prone to mistakes just like their subordinates. There are a fair number of leadership strengths and weaknesses. Humility is the act of accepting and understanding your flaws, the ability to apologize when needed, and the open-mindedness to learn even from a stranger in the room.
Leadership skills are not about being the smartest person in the room, but to answer the question, “what is a good leader?” is someone who does not regard himself as a master of their craft but rather as a student with much to learn ahead.
A great leader knows the value and importance of teamwork. They know that to be effective, they must ensure that morale remains high and that members are motivated to perform their best at all times.
While a leader is responsible for assigning tasks, they must also trust that team members have the skills and expertise to do their job. Entrusting people also make an impression that each member is capable and should be questioned or undermined.
You’re willing to do whatever it takes to become a great leader, right?
This also includes doing whatever it takes not to cross a line when you know it’s unethical or will intentionally hurt someone in the process. Being ethical is all about adhering to code. It’s staying true to your vision, purpose, and mission all the time.
Just like how doctors swear by their oath to protect the lives of their patients, it’s the same for you, me, and everyone else. Being ethical is to respect human life and treat those around you with integrity and fairness.
25. Believing in others
Last but not least, great leaders believe in others and make a conscious effort to empower people under their charge.
Empowerment is a form of encouragement. Believing in others goes further than that. It might even mean risking your career out of the belief in someone’s actions. Why is this a powerful leadership quality? Because having faith in those around you is what leads those around you to believe in themselves.
When you allow people to believe in their own capabilities, everyone contributes in meaningful ways. You allow people to grow, improve, and strive to become the best version of themselves.
How to Be a Leader?
While there are a great number of leadership qualities to carry, it is important to remember every leader is defined uniquely from the other.
Leadership attributes do not mean it is a competition or a race to the finish line. Remember it is hardly about you but rather those under your charge. If you really want to know what does leadership means, it is to be in the service of those around you.
You can build effective leadership skills with your own style or approach of leading those under you. Even if all great leaders share common leadership strengths, there is a clear distinction that sets you apart from the rest.
You can read more on how to be a great leader here (2).
I hope you enjoyed this article on leadership. For those of you on the road to discover more about yourself and learn how to become a better leader, do not let this leadership qualities list overwhelm you. Before spending too much time on how to be an effective leader, practice being a leader of your own life.