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Essential leadership qualities
13 qualities of a good leader you can develop starting today
Think of a few great leaders you either know personally or who are known by many. They may have very different leadership styles – from friendly and democratic to authoritative. Some may display stereotypical leadership qualities like being outspoken or organized, but great leaders can also be introverts, creative types and visionaries.
Don’t hold yourself back thinking that the potential for leadership is something you either have or don’t. Eliminate the belief that it’s something you’re born with. These limiting beliefs keep you from your full potential and exist only in your head. When you dig deeper into the qualities of a great leader, you’ll find that even vastly different leadership styles have many traits in common.
Whether you’re responsible for leading a Fortune 500 company or working to attain your personal goals, first determine what kind of leader you are. This is your foundation for developing the traits of a good leader – traits that are absolutely essential to your success. Leadership qualities will help you surmount obstacles, take risks and find ways to live joyfully and thrive even during the most challenging times.
What are leadership qualities?
Leadership qualities are traits that every great leader shares, from executives in the C-suite to the team leader on the sales floor. They’re not dependent on your job title, pay or role. They’re not dependent on your personality. They are a set of values and beliefs that anyone can adopt.
Your leadership style is unique to your set of skills, but leadership qualities are something all of the best leaders have in common. Understanding this and then working to cultivate your leadership qualities is the best way to become the leader you need to be to reach massive success. So what are the traits of a good leader? To answer this question, first consider what defines leadership.
A dictionary definition of leadership includes being in a position of governance or control over people or an organization. True leadership digs deeper into the nuances of what it means to be in charge. When you’re running a business you’re leading people, and that means you must develop people skills on top of your business know-how.
To be an effective leader, you must be able to consistently interact with your staff, colleagues and clients to achieve your goals. Great leaders don’t force collaboration – they invite it. As Apple’s Steve Jobs famously said, leadership is about inspiring people to accomplish what they thought they couldn’t do, whereas management is about persuading people to do what they never wanted to do.
13 fundamental leadership qualities
What are the qualities of a good leader? Leadership isn’t something people are born with – it’s a skill that can be cultivated over time. When you’re able to develop strong leadership attributes, you’re positioned to inspire your entire team. Here are 13 basic leadership qualities that everyone can refine in order to be a more productive leader.
True leaders are confident and know they can think – and act – outside the box to take their companies to the next level. They know that leadership qualities like openness, emotional agility and resourcefulness are often more important than being able to make a sale or wow a group of investors.
How does one display the confidence necessary to be a good leader? More than half of human communication comes from nonverbal cues. Know how to set the right tone as a leader by letting your confidence show. Confident leaders win over and inspire others because everyone else wants to embody confidence, too. Practice strong nonverbal communication by standing tall, making eye contact and learning to control your fidgeting. When you appear confident – even if you don’t feel confident – others will be more likely to follow your lead and believe in your authority.
Have you learned how to really focus in on what you want? Those who embody strong leadership qualities keep their eye on the prize. They are very organized and plan ahead while still remaining flexible enough to handle unexpected challenges. Like a grandmaster in a chess game, a good leader thinks out each strategy and understands how each action will affect the rest of any given scenario.
Distractions can be one of your biggest business saboteurs, but those who display strong leadership attributes don’t let them intrude. Focus is a key leadership quality because, as Tony always says, where focus goes, energy flows. Limit distractions by creating an environment that is conducive to focus.
For example, your office can have an open door policy between certain hours so your team can freely communicate, but make it known that you will not be as available during your “focus times.” This helps you get deeper into your work without having to deal with the many moving parts of your business.
Think of some of the world’s greatest leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr. Nelson Mandela. Mother Teresa. Each of them had very different leadership attributes, but they all had one thing in common: a powerful vision not only for their own lives, but for the world. They had an unstoppable belief in themselves and in their dreams.
This type of vision can only come from having a purpose that is so crystal-clear, others see it too. A purpose that gives your life meaning and leaves you feeling fulfilled. One that is so strong you inspire others to join you. Having a clear purpose allows you to not only achieve your goals, but to foster leadership among your staff as well.
Most leaders didn’t get where they are because they were born with innate leadership qualities. Becoming a leader doesn’t always come naturally. You must be willing to embrace a growth mindset, develop your skills, work on your weaknesses and challenge yourself daily. You must be willing to do your best and fail – then get back up and fail again.
This inner strength comes from realizing that life happens for you, not to you. Everything you experience can teach you something if you let it. Learn how to find the lesson in all of life’s events, take it to heart and get back out there. You’ll inspire others to do the same.
Many people believe that successful business and political leaders are inherently dishonest, but strong leaders treat others just as they expect to be treated – in an honest fashion. Being honest is not only one of the leadership qualities that will allow you to lead your business with integrity, but it’s the only real way to make strong connections with others. Whether you’re leading your business or your family, the truth is that every single person you interact with looks to your own honesty and code of ethics to set their own bar.
Make sure each member of your team or household knows what your culture and core expectations are, and show them how much you value honesty in your everyday interactions with others by setting a valuable example. Don’t sugarcoat information, but find a way to deliver honest comments and feedback in a direct and compassionate manner.
One of the top leadership qualities of truly great leaders is a sense of abundant positivity that energizes everyone in the room. It’s not that true leaders never have moments of frustration or disappointment, but that they’re able to take a positive approach to tackle challenging issues. Inspiring leaders know how to turn setbacks into successes and make a point to display optimistic leadership attributes on a daily basis.
Choose empowering beliefs that will propel you forward, not negative thought patterns that will weigh you down. Seeing challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles is one of the most important qualities of a good leader. When you practice positive thinking, it becomes a powerful cognitive habit and allows you to reassure and elevate those around you.
Every single person in a leadership role of any kind sometimes has to make difficult decisions. How you handle these decisions is one of the top leadership qualities. The ability to be decisive can mean the difference between getting through a tough time or crisis and folding under pressure. Making these kinds of calls doesn’t always mean you will be well-loved, but when you use good judgment to make decisions, it will earn you the respect of others.
Even if you make a wrong decision and need to correct it, showing decisiveness during tough times is a better leadership quality than waiting around for something to happen or letting others make the decision for you. An effective leader is one who makes the decision that is right, not the decision that is easy.
8. Ability to inspire
We all bring natural gifts to our careers. Discovering your natural leadership qualities is an excellent way to inspire others to also find their own strengths. One of the secrets to wild success is honing your leadership vision and communicating it to others. Inspiration is what pushes people to plow through difficult times and to work on achieving their goals even when times are undemanding. You define yourself with your identity – or in business, your brand. Refocus and sharpen your identity often so you will inspire those on your team.
9. Effective communication
Knowing your team’s, and your own, communication styles is one of the qualities of a good leader that will strengthen your business the most. Leaders don’t just communicate information to their team, they also know how to communicate goals and their vision to get their team excited.
Don’t underestimate the power of words. The best leaders know that words transform emotions and lead to breakthroughs. Like many important leadership qualities, being an effective communicator is often more about what you don’t do than what you do. Constructive communication often means closing your mouth and opening your ears. Deep listening and asking thoughtful questions shows that you care about your employees’ contributions.
As a leader, you’re going to make mistakes. Blaming others, justifying your actions or pretending like mistakes never happened erodes trust among your team and will discourage them from being accountable for their own mistakes. Great leaders take more than their share of blame and less than their share of credit, which creates an organizational culture of trust and humility. When you’re accountable, you can also hold your team accountable for their actions, ultimately creating a sense of responsibility that will keep them continually striving for their personal – and your business’ – goals.
Powerful leaders have a clear sense of purpose and are able to take their teams in the right direction.
Additionally, as they lead their group, they utilize strong leadership qualities to create a supportive sense of community for all who are involved. Becoming an empowering leader is about not only creating something that’s better for the group, but encouraging those around you to embrace their strong leadership attributes as well.
What are the qualities of a good leader – and is empathy one of them? According to the U.S. Army, it is. As Forbes reports, the Army Field Manual on Leadership Development states emphatically and repeatedly that empathy is essential for strong leadership. As surprising as this may seem, the logic is straightforward. When you want to connect with someone, having empathy allows you to discern whether you’ve gotten your message across. When you’re able to see another person’s perspective, you’re able to predict the effect your words and actions will have on them.
Without empathy, the reverse happens and you risk alienating the very people you’re attempting to create connections with, whether they’re your customers, employees, colleagues or competitors. Cultivating empathy is the precursor to almost every other soft skill required for leadership, from self-awareness to critical thinking.
Humility is one of the oft-misunderstood leadership attributes that’s actually critical for heading any type of team. As the Huffington Post reports, humility is one of the top leadership qualities, but it doesn’t mean being a doormat. Humility shapes your character so that you’re able to embrace your own weaknesses without losing confidence. From this place of self-respect, you’re receptive to others’ feedback, which opens you up to new ideas and solutions.
Humility also softens you to genuine connections with other people because it makes you approachable. You’re able to interact with your team, customers and colleagues from a place of shared humanity, which breaks down communication barriers.
Creativity is one of the most underrated leadership attributes. Yet especially in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing market, it’s actually one of the top leadership qualities at successful businesses. That’s because creativity and innovation go hand in hand. Both are essential to finding your X factor and ensuring that you stand out from the competition.
Every great leader has a different mix of skills and personality traits that allow them to thrive in this role. Some are extroverts, some are introverts. Some are collaborative and others are authoritative. They have all worked on developing certain traits of a good leader. These traits allow them to take decisive action, inspire others and communicate a powerful vision. You can too.
Traits of successful executive leaders
You don’t have to be a top executive with a corner office and a big paycheck to embody the qualities of a good leader. But if you do aspire to this role, you’re going to need to develop a few traits that will help you compete at the highest levels.
- Competitiveness. Climbing the ladder gets harder and harder the closer you get to the top. You’ll be surrounded by others with similar talent and drive. Do you have the competitive spark that will allow you to stay energetic and focused on your goals?
- Risk-taking. Everyone has different risk tolerance levels – but executives tend to have higher tolerance than others. This allows them to crush any fear of failure and take smart, strategic risks that others may not be willing to take.
- Financial literacy. It isn’t just CFOs and investment bankers who need financial literacy – any top executive will need to know how to read financial statements. You wouldn’t fly a plane without reading the dials, and you can’t lead a company without understanding its finances.
These skills can be developed like any other – especially if you are able to find a mentor who has achieved what you want. Business coaching can also help you define your goals, track your progress and hold you accountable. The most important step is that you take action today.