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Cultivating an exceptional leader
13 of the best leadership qualities for any industry
There is no set list of qualities that make an effective leader. Great leaders are unique. Think of all of the leaders you know personally or leaders known worldwide – chances are, many of them have different leadership styles ranging from friendly and democratic to authoritative. Some may display stereotypical leadership qualities like being outspoken or organized, but great leaders can also be introverts, creatives and visionaries.
Don’t sabotage by thinking that leadership potential is something you’re born with. These limiting beliefs keep you from reaching your full potential and exist only in your head. When you dig deeper into the qualities of a good leader, you’ll find that even vastly different leadership styles have many common traits.
Whether you’re responsible for leading a Fortune 500 company or working to achieve your personal goals, first determine what kind of leader you are. This is the foundation for developing good leadership qualities, and your traits are essential to your success. Leadership qualities will help you surmount obstacles, take risks, find ways to live joyfully and thrive during the most challenging times.
What are leadership qualities?
Leadership qualities are traits, values and beliefs shared by every great leader. These traits are adoptable by anyone, from C-suite executives to sales floor team leaders – they are not dependent on your job title, pay, role, or personality.
Your leadership style is unique to your set of skills, but all of the best leaders have specific qualities in common. Understanding this and then working to cultivate your leadership skills is the best way to become an effective leader and reach massive success.
A dictionary definition of leadership includes being in a position of governance or control over people or an organization. However, 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, but leading and inspiring others with passion also requires excellent people skills.
To be an effective leader, you must also consistently interact with your staff, colleagues and clients to achieve goals. Great leaders don’t force collaboration – they invite it. As Apple’s Steve Jobs once 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 a birthright – 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 often 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.
Nonverbal cues account for over 50% of human communication. Know how to set the right tone as a leader by showing your confidence. 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 see your leadership qualities and believe in your authority.
Have you learned how to really focus on what you want? People with strong leadership qualities are prodigiously organized, keep their eye on the prize, plan ahead, and remain flexible enough to handle unexpected challenges. Like a chess grandmaster, a good leader thinks out each strategy and understands how each action will affect any given scenario.
Strong leaders don’t allow distractions to sway their focus. As Tony always says, where focus goes, energy flows. Limit distractions by creating an environment that is conducive to focus. For example, have specific open-door hours so your team can freely communicate, but make your “focus times” known so that you can work without interruption when needed.
Think of some of the world’s greatest leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa. Each had different leadership qualities, but they all had one thing in common: a powerful vision for their lives and the world and an unstoppable belief in themselves and their dreams.
This singular vision comes from having a clear and robust purpose that inspires others to join you, gives your life meaning and leaves you feeling fulfilled. Such an important purpose helps you to achieve your goals and foster leadership among your staff.
Most leaders weren’t born with innate leadership qualities. Leadership doesn’t always come naturally — you must be willing to embrace a growth mindset, develop your skills, work on weaknesses, and challenge yourself daily. Be prepared to do your best, fail, and then get back up and fail again.
The qualities of a good leader include resilience and the inner strength that comes from realizing that life happens for you, not to you. Remain receptive, and everything you experience can teach you something. Find the lessons in all life’s events and take them to heart; then get back out there and inspire others to do the same.
Many people believe that successful business and political leaders are inherently dishonest. However, people with strong leadership qualities treat others honestly, which is the only way to make strong connections and lead your business with integrity. Whether you’re leading a business or family, your honesty and code of ethics set the bar for everyone you interact with.
Make sure each member of your team or household knows your culture and core expectations, and show them how much you value honesty by setting a good example. Don’t sugarcoat information – take a direct and compassionate approach to deliver honest comments and feedback.
One of the best leadership qualities is radiating abundant positivity that energizes everyone in the room. Inspiring leaders know how to turn setbacks into successes and make it a point to display optimistic leadership attributes daily.
Substitute negative thought patterns for empowering beliefs that propel you forward. For example, seeing challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles is a vital leadership quality – positive thinking can become a powerful cognitive habit that allows you to reassure and elevate those around you.
Every leader has to make difficult decisions, and handling these well is one of the top leadership qualities. Decisive action is often the difference between folding under pressure and navigating a tough time or crisis. Making tough decisions doesn’t mean you’ll always be well-loved, but good judgment will earn you the respect of friends, family, and colleagues.
If you need to correct a wrong decision, decisiveness is a better leadership quality than procrastination or letting others decide for you. An effective leader makes the right decision, not the easy decision.
8. Ability to inspire
We all bring natural gifts to our careers. Discovering your natural leadership qualities can inspire others to find their strengths. One of the secrets to wild success is honing your leadership vision and communicating it to others. Inspiration pushes people to plow through difficult times and achieve their goals. Many people define themselves through identity or, if it’s a business, their brand. Refocus and sharpen your identity to inspire those on your team.
9. Effective communication
Knowing your team’s communication style is a leadership quality that can strengthen your business. Great leaders know how to excite teams by communicating their goals and vision.
Don’t underestimate the power of words. The best leaders know that words transform emotions and lead to breakthroughs. Like many vital leadership qualities, constructive, effective communication often means closing your mouth and opening your ears. Show that you care about your employees’ contributions by engaging in Deep listening and asking thoughtful questions.
As a leader, you’re going to make mistakes. Blaming others, justifying your actions or ignoring errors will erode trust and discourage your team from being accountable for their mistakes. Great leaders take more than their share of the blame and a lesser share of the credit, creating an organizational culture of trust and humility. You can also hold your team accountable when you’re accountable, which will keep them striving for personal and business goals.
Influential leaders have a clear sense of purpose, take their teams in the right direction, and utilize strong leadership qualities to create a supportive sense of community. Becoming an empowering leader is about creating something better for the group and encouraging those around you to embrace their leadership qualities.
According to the U.S. Army, empathy is a critical quality of a good leader. As Forbes reports, the Army Field Manual on Leadership Development states emphatically and repeatedly that empathy is essential for strong leadership. The logic is straightforward: When you want to connect with someone, empathy lets you discern whether you got your message across. In addition, seeing another person’s perspective allows you to predict how your words will affect others.
Without empathy, you risk alienating customers, employees, colleagues or competitors. Moreover, cultivating empathy is the precursor to almost every other soft skill required for leadership, from self-awareness to critical thinking, which makes empathy one of the most essential leadership qualities.
Humility is an often misunderstood but critical leadership attribute. 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 you can embrace your weaknesses without losing confidence. From this place of self-respect, you’re receptive to others’ feedback and open to new ideas.
Humility also makes you approachable and receptive to genuine connections with other people. In addition, interacting with your team, customers and colleagues from a place of shared humanity can break down communication barriers.
Creativity is an underrated leadership quality, but it’s also one of the top qualities required of a good leader. Creativity and innovation are essential to finding your X factor and ensuring that you stand out from the competition.
Every great leader has different skills and personality traits that allow them to thrive. Whether they’re extroverts, introverts, collaborative, or authoritative, effective leaders work on developing certain leadership traits, which help them take decisive action, inspire others, and communicate a powerful vision.
Traits of successful executive leaders
You don’t need a corner office and a big paycheck to embody the qualities of a good leader. However, if you aspire to this role, you must develop certain traits to compete at the highest levels:
- Competitiveness. Climbing the ladder gets harder and harder the closer you get to the top, where 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 a higher tolerance, which allows them to crush the fear of failure and take smart, strategic risks others may not be willing to take.
- Financial literacy. It isn’t just CFOs and investment bankers who need financial literacy – any top executive must know how to read financial statements. You can’t fly a plane without reading the dials, and leading a company without understanding its finances is similarly impossible.
How leaders are made – not born
We often hear the phrase “leaders are born, not made,” but the truth is the opposite. Good leaders can absolutely be made, and good leadership qualities can be learned and developed over time. Good leaders can become exceptional through experience, study, adaptation and commitment. When you’re receptive to change and growth, it’s possible to develop vital leadership qualities.
It’s also important to understand that quality leaders engage in continuous self-improvement. The idea that good leadership qualities only need to be learned once is a myth. Exceptional leaders constantly learn, grow and adapt.
You can develop leadership qualities the same way as any other skill, especially if you find a mentor with a track record of achievement. Business coaching can also help with defining goals, tracking progress, and personal accountability. The most crucial step is to take action today.