Whether running your own business or leading teams in an office setting, the best leaders require a strong set of leadership qualities to help positively interact with their employees, team members, and clients.
Behavioral theories suggest that leadership skills aren’t ingrained and can be taught – people can obtain leadership qualities through teaching and learning these skills over time.
The most important qualities of a good leader include integrity, accountability, empathy, humility, resilience, vision, influence, and positivity.
“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”
— Steve Jobs
Let’s get started.
What Are the Leadership Qualities that Make a Great Leader?
Irrespective of how you define the word leadership, you can’t deny that certain individuals can greatly impact the lives of others based on their experience and insights.
While we’re all living different timelines on the journey of life, we look to leaders for guidance and advice.
While some leaders seem like they were naturally born that way, leadership skills can be learned. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t led before. There are certain characteristics, traits, and skills that ultimately build the most effective leaders.
Learn these and you can change the lives of others.
Here are the most important leadership qualities and skills to look for in a great leader.
If you’re in a leadership role, good communication skills are absolutely crucial. Using language to perform one-to-one communication is really all that we have as human beings.
Yes, there are non-verbal cues, but being able to express yourself openly and build empathy with other people is the foundation of effective leadership.
And what is the #1 most important part of communication?
Right up there with empathy, the only way to get people to follow you is to make them feel heard.
One of my favorite quotes from Dale Carnegie from How to Win Friend and Influence People is, “talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.”
This is 100% true. The more you make real eye contact and show sincere interest in the lives of others, the more people will be magnetically drawn to you and passionately speak about their lives. They’ll become inspired, feel heard, and begin to know, like, and trust you.
Alternatively, when you show no interest, lack eye contact, and pretend not to care about personal stories that other people tell, they will automatically shut down, stop sharing as much, and feel self-conscious about their own interests.
Communication is the #1 most important quality of being a great leader.
C.S. Lewis said:
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
Without integrity, no real success if possible. You can’t expect your followers to be honest when you lack integrity yourself. An honest leader succeeds when they stick to their word, live by their core values, lead by example, and follow-through.
Integrity is the cornerstone of all other leadership qualities.
There are many things to look for in people with integrity, including:
- Apologizing for mistakes
- Highlighting the work of their employees and downplaying their own contributions
- Giving the benefit of the doubt when circumstances are unclear
- Being appreciative of people’s time
For accountability, an effective leader needs to follow the advice of Arnold Glasow when he said,
“A good leader takes little more than his share of the blame and little less than his share of the credit.”
A strong leader is accountable for the team’s results, good or bad. They hold themselves and their employees accountable for their actions, which creates a sense of responsibility among the team.
They give credit where credit is due, and take responsibility for blame when necessary. Being accountable and leading by example is one of the quickest ways a leader can build trust with their team.
A true leader has enough open-mindedness to understand their followers’ motivations, hopes, dreams, and problems so that they can forge a deep personal connection with them.
Empathy is understanding.
Empathy isn’t just being a nice person.
It’s a mindset that enables leaders to:
- Make better predictions
- Improve work strategies
- Inspire loyalty among their teams
- Better their negotiation tactics
- Increase creativity
Understanding where people are coming from helps facilitate a more human environment where team members are more productive and leaders thrive.
For example, if an employee is consistently 15 minutes late, good leaders won’t impute blame on them right away and even better leaders will solve the why questions. Why are they late?
Maybe they’re dealing with a personal struggle at home, health issues, or car troubles. Real leaders are empathetic with their teams and deeply understand their motivations.
After all, what’s more important to human communication than understanding others?
When it comes to leadership, it can be tempting to become enamored with a new title or status.
However, great leadership styles focus on problem-solving and team dynamics much more than self-promotion. A great leader will never be effective if they’re more concerned with themselves than with the well-being of their team. As Thomas Merton said,
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”
Being humble and vulnerable with their team members will make a leader much more relatable and effective.
The true grit of a leader is not how they perform during good times, but how they roll up their sleeves and produce when times get difficult.
Great leaders with positive attitudes lead by example and rally their team no matter the circumstances. It’s this inherent positivity that helps react to situations with a calm, collected manner and focus on solutions rather than on problems.
Resilience is a leadership trait that comes with experience.
Jack Welch said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
Additionally, John C. Maxwell stated, “people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”
A company’s vision only goes as far as a leader’s influence over others. A great leader clearly sets the organizational direction and exercises keen decisiveness. Decision-making is key to new ideas, ensuring team members know the bottom line, and understand the goals and the mission in front of them.
True leaders inspire loyalty, enthusiasm, and commitment, help remind everyone of the big picture and challenge people to outdo themselves.
Sharing this vision and compelling others to act is a secret trait of successful leaders.
Some leaders believe that when they attain a certain level of leadership status, respect will automatically be given to them. This is not the case.
Leadership and influence are not interchangeable and respect has to be earned, not given.
Here are some things that leaders can do to increase their influence:
- Clearly state what they want
- Connect with people emotionally
- Make others feel important
- Be vulnerable and charismatic
- Work toward commonly shared goals
- Ask for suggestions and input
- Build real, lasting relationships
- Act professionally on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn
- Have self-awareness
Leaders inspire their team not based on their own goals or outcomes, but on their exhibited behavior, life outlook, and attitude in any given situation.
It’s often said that employees and direct reports exhibit the behavior of their managers – and good leaders need to lead by example at all times while mirroring how they want their team to act.
This comes down to positivity. Even the calmest workplaces can get stressful at times – it’s more important how leaders react to this stress with a positive outlook rather than get flustered and place blame.
A difficult transition for many leaders is shifting from doing to leading.
Many new leaders are accustomed to doing all the work themselves and struggle to let others handle responsibilities on their own. Great leaders must elevate their team – they must be more essential and less involved.
This requires leaders to shape others’ thoughts and ideas toward a common goal. They give their team everything they need to be successful and get out of the way, not directing their path, but setting clear expectations and explaining where the finish line is.
They aren’t scared of their subordinates’ successes and don’t feel threatened by them. One of the most important leadership qualities of good leadership is delegating tasks and elevating their team. Through this delegation and elevation teams shine, as they are able to contribute in the most meaningful way.
To be an effective leader, you need to roll up your sleeves and take charge. This includes being confident enough to lead, knowing that your plans and vision are not only viable for the team but the absolute best decision possible.
If you lack confidence in a leadership role, people will spot that quickly. “Make it ’til you make it,” they say about confidence – and that is 100% true. The more that you believe in yourself, the more you’ll be able to manage any stressful situation.
True leaders are the ones that don’t just talk about problems but come up with their own solutions fearlessly.
What Leadership Skills Make a Good Leader?
While motivation and inspiration can make leaders strong people managers, it’s the action that ultimately drives the respect and trust needed to be effective. I hope you enjoyed this list of leadership skills, traits, and characteristics that helped define strong leadership.
You can also read my thoughts on human nature for a shot of personal development.
Were there any leadership qualities not included on this list? Let me know in the comments.