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25 key leadership qualities you need to develop for success
Image by Jordan Yep

14 min read

25 key leadership qualities you need to develop for success

What leadership qualities do you need to be successful in the workplace? Turns out, a lot. Here are 25 qualities of a good leader that everyone should aspire to.

We often associate traditional leaders with masculine characters with qualities like toughness, decisiveness, and authority. But things have changed. The modern workplace demands different types of leadership qualities. This article aims to talk about the many qualities that make a good leader. 

Contents

What is leadership? 

Qualities of a leader

1. Trustworthy 

2. Articulates purpose and goals

3. Exemplifies the culture

4. Recognizes accomplishments 

5. Empathetic

6. Admits when they don't have the answers

7. Knowledgeable

8. Understands their people's expertise

9. Communicates effectively

10. Acts as a visionary

11. Demonstrates commitment

12. Big picture thinking

13. Encourages innovation 

14. Practices honesty

15. Masters active listening

16. Exudes self-confidence

17. Delegates well

18. Shows curiosity

19. Strong emotional intelligence

20. Empowers their employees

21. Willing to problem-solve

22. Supportive to teammates

23. Life-long learner

24. Spreads positivity

25. Ethical 

Develop your leadership skills

Conclusion 

 

What is leadership? 

The saying goes that employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers.

A recent Gallup poll suggests that it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them, and next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers.

So it follows that the better the manager, the more willing employees are to stick around and do great work. But what does a great leader look like? And how can they keep their teams motivated and enthusiastic?

There are endless qualities for a good leader—let's take a closer look now!

Qualities of a leader

 

1. Trustworthy

First and foremost, a good leader needs to be able to build trust in their people and throughout the organization. This is absolutely paramount. If your people don’t trust in your character or are skeptical about your vision, they’re not going to put in the effort needed to make it a reality. 

So how do you go about doing that? Building trust is all about being honest with your team members, whether it’s about expectations, outcomes, performance, or otherwise. With trust comes respect, which is integral to inspiring action among your team members.

 

2. Articulates purpose and goals

Building trust is about clearly articulating where you stand, and your reasons for taking that stance.

In the workplace, leaders are often communicating goals and objectives to their teams. But if goals are too abstract or begin to resemble orders rather than meaningful tasks or objectives, your people won’t feel invested enough to adopt them as their own. Instead, the unexplained goals seem more like targets that don’t really add up to much.

A good leader needs to break down these objectives by explaining what they mean for the team, the organization, and the business. Some will, of course, be more straightforward than others.

But one method of inspiring your team is to get them thinking about the bigger picture: the why. Why is it even a goal to begin with? Be as clear and open as possible about the why.

This not only inspires confidence and trust in the leader’s vision but also helps develop an atmosphere of transparency throughout the organization. Your teams will be privy to and have a stake in decisions made in board meetings, which gives them a sense of ownership and makes them feel like part of a cohesive whole.

 

3. Exemplifies the culture

Leaders need to support their people. But they need to keep in mind that they’re also cultural representatives of the whole organization.

What does this mean exactly? Leaders, especially C-suite executives, are relied on for guidance on how to act, how to behave, and whether or not they’re true to their espoused values.

In short, they’re the company’s culture champions, whether they’re aware of it or not. They’re on display for all to see, and how they act influences how employees view the company and their own role within it.

Effective leaders are self-aware enough to recognize and understand this, and they act accordingly. They live the company’s core values in their professional lives and contribute to a healthy company culture as best as they can.

 

recognition leadership quality

 

4. Recognizes accomplishments

One way of living and promoting organizational culture is to recognize and acknowledge your people’s accomplishments, both publicly and materially. Reward your employees and then put that on blast to the rest of the organization.

Promotions, lateral moves, team changes, restructures, employees taking on more responsibilities, doing exceptional work, etc.—make sure the whole organization knows when people are achieving goals and progressing in their careers.

This gives the rest of the company a chance to extend their own congratulations and something to aspire to in their roles. A good leader understands that good news for one employee is generally good news for the rest of their people, too.

 

5. Empathetic

This is among the most essential characteristics of a good leader. An empathetic leader is:

  • Knowledgeable about common causes of workplace stress
  • Accommodating and supportive of physical and mental health issues
  • Always available for tough discussions
  • Aware that an employee’s performance is contingent on several factors, some public and others private
  • Respectful of privacy and confidentiality
  • Exercises a zero-tolerance policy that immediately shuts down any gossip, bullying, racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism coming from their team, colleagues, and senior managers
  • Always ready to defend their team members
  • Aware that each team member is different, and evaluates performance subjectively

Being an empathetic leader promotes a culture of empathy and makes your people know that you value them to such an extent that you want to understand where they’re coming from.

 

6. Admits when they don’t have all the answers

As a leader, your natural inclination is to, well, lead. You want to inspire your people to follow you and your vision.

But what’s often misunderstood about the leader-follower relationship is the idea that the leader possesses some innate knowledge about the best possible course of action at all times, and could never be wrong. And that the followers, your team, don’t.

Getting into this type of mindset is one of the worst mistakes an otherwise good leader can make. And reinforcing it only means you’ll eventually find yourself surrounded by yes-men and sycophants who are too afraid to voice dissent or steer you down the correct path.

A competent leader is self-aware about their strengths and weaknesses. And because of that, they encourage debate, open discussion, feedback and promote an atmosphere of professional disagreement. In short, a true leader is eager to be held accountable and readily admits when they’re wrong or have made a mistake.

 

knowledgeable - leadership qualities

7. Knowledgeable

That said, as a leader, you should be as up to date as possible on the trends, research, innovations, technology, and advancements in your field or area of expertise.

For example, if you’re a Marketing Manager, it benefits you, your team, and your company if you’re incredibly well-versed in what’s going on in the marketing world. You should be doing research constantly, listening to podcasts, brushing up on the competition, reading books and articles, attending and presenting at conferences, you name it.

Being an expert in your field doesn’t give you leeway to always be right, but it definitely makes you a valuable resource for your team. If they have a question, you’re there.

 

8. Understands their people’s expertise

Strong leaders are also self-assured and confident in their abilities. More importantly, though, they’re confident in the abilities of their team members. Delegating and empowering your team to succeed relies heavily on your confidence level in their work and expertise.

As a great leader, you're willing to defer to a team member’s expertise if you don’t know the answer to a question, eager to make room for other opinions, and always able to back down from an argument. A leader should strive for and exercise humility.

Once you build trust in your team's abilities, you won’t need to spend much time making sure they're meeting goals. A respectful leader avoids micromanaging like the plague.

 

9. Communicates effectively

Exceptional communicators are not super articulate word geniuses. Do they speak and write well? Yeah, sure. But more importantly, they recognize that their mode of communication depends on their audience.

A good leader communicates effectively by thinking about who they’re communicating with and adapting accordingly. An effective leader needs to be especially adept at communicating because their job is so dependent on inspiring people with their words and actions. Using your words effectively leads directly to better results.

 

visionary leadership quality10. Acts as a visionary

As a leader, your primary job is to ensure your team is on task and doing their best to achieve your vision. And that vision is what drives every single one of your actions. 

The best leaders are committed and passionate about their vision and are able to share that same passion with their teams. They strive to unleash their organization’s vision and what it could evolve to. Sometimes this quality comes so naturally that it’s almost effortless. For others, it requires more effort.

 

11. Demonstrates commitment

If you’re committed to your vision but it’s just not getting through to your people, then it may be time to spend some time emphasizing your commitment with your team. After all, they’re the ones that need to be convinced if you want to inspire action and make progress.

The best leaders are constantly reminding their people, through their words and actions, about their commitment and the goals in place to help achieve the vision. This is good for morale and absolutely crucial to sustaining the health of the organization.

 

12. Big-picture thinking

True leaders are strategic in making decisions and focus on the big picture. They’re familiar with the organization’s history, the people dynamics, as well as institutional knowledge. 

To achieve the same goals, they implement effective communication and align departments. When implementing new processes or solving problems, understanding how people behave is crucial. 

 

13. Encourages innovation

An innovative leader seeks out opportunities for teammates to develop their own ideas. They’re open to experimentation and all kinds of discussions, not afraid of taking risks or stand out from the crowd. 

In the highly competitive environment of today, your business needs creativity to stand out from the crowd. Leaders who nurture creativity can produce better and newer products, streamline processes, and attract more talent. 

Here are some ways to encourage creativity in the workplace: 

  • Maintain high forms of collaboration and sharing 
  • Offer employees a chance to tap into new skills through workshops and Lunch n Learns
  • Offer flexibility and ample time for ideas to mature
  • Be specific about the problem, not how to solve it

 

14. Practices honesty

Honesty is contagious. Be an exemplary force for trustworthiness and integrity, and your team will follow your lead. When a leader is vulnerable, this allows teammates to build connections and relate to them. A sense of loyalty within the group is also nurtured when a leader gives truthful updates without covering the bad news. 

 

active listening - leadership quality

15. Masters active listening

Active listening is a must-have quality and should be top of mind for any leader. 

Why? Because it’s easy to forget that there are two parts to communication: talking and listening! 

When teammates know they’re heard at work, their employee experience is improved because they feel valued and understood. This builds trust and deepens relationships. With fewer of us seeing each other every day, leaders must read between the lines and be comfortable with silence. 

 

16. Exudes self-confidence

True leaders are sure of themselves and can defend their decisions. They understand their capabilities and step out of their comfort zones, knowing that the risks will bring them great rewards. Confident leaders bring about change. They’re able to make impactful decisions, solve conflicts, and take full responsibility for what they achieve. 

Although self-confidence is an critical leadership trait, over-confident individuals should be aware of the following negative consequences: 

  • Diminished trust
  • Damaged relationships from shutting down other voices
  • Arrogance when resisting feedback

17. Delegates well

Delegation is an essential leadership quality. Knowing your teammates well and delegating tasks according to those strengths will help maximize team performance. It’s also helpfulsuppo to understand the motives and goals of individuals to help them develop their skills and career paths. 

 

18. Shows curiosity  

Having a broad perspective comes from being open to learning from different sources and people. Leaders are often invested in the latest technologies, keeping inspiration fresh so they can implement them in their businesses. They’re resourceful, always ask questions, and challenge the thought processes of their collaborators. 

 

19. Strong emotional intelligence 

Leaders know that their people look up to them as role models. It’s why they’re often self-aware and understand other people’s perspectives. With strong social skills, successful leaders are able to build deep connections while evaluating and understanding their own emotions and biases. 

 

20. Empowers their employees

Empowerment is crucial for employee engagement and their long-term commitment. This means that leaders need to ensure that their teams are equipped with the right tools, guidance, and collaborators to do their job. 

Empowered employees also know that they can make the right calls and decisions in their areas of expertise. However, what some leaders forget is that true empowerment also provides people the necessary clarity and direction. 

 

21. Willing to problem-solve 

The modern leader has so much more to do than delegating tasks or managing a team! Any business will have to problem-solve on the fly, and that’s why the best business leaders can respond quickly, identify blind spots, and use data to spot patterns. They’re also able to use relationships and other sources to come up with creative solutions. 

 

22. Supportive to teammates

Providing enough support and guidance, such as training and tools, will help teams do better jobs. As a leader, your role is to remove blockers from workflows and provide clarifications when things are messy. 

However, employees appreciate it when leaders are passionate about their goals while understanding their limitations. Not only do they know what’s going on in people’s personal lives and grant flexibility, they coach employees to consider other problem-solving methods and provide resources.

life long learner leadership quality

23. Life-long learner

Great leaders are almost always interested in personal development. The best ones are always learning new things and keeping up with the latest trends or news within the industry. 

We talked about leaders being knowledgeable but admitting that they don’t necessarily have all the answers. But if you don’t know the answer off-hand, a great leader will make sure they find out as soon as possible. What makes a good leader is that they’re always in research mode as a means of assisting their team.

 

24. Spreads positivity

The most inspiring leaders can boost morale and motivate their employees when they’re feeling stuck. Of course, not everyone has a cheerful, always-happy leadership style. But setting an example is critical—when employees are inspired to evolve and improve continuously, not only do they do the best work, but their sense of fulfillment increases as well. 

 

25. Ethical

Nobody wants to work for someone who doesn’t respect others. The fastest way to erode trust and create personal conflict in your organization is having a toxic leader who lacks integrity. Since leaders make decisions on a daily basis, this impacts the wider organizational behavior and attitudes, as well as the reputation of your entire workforce. 

 

Develop your leadership skills

No leader demonstrates all 25 of these leadership characteristics. So how do you intentionally develop them? Here are some ways to observe and train up those essential skills: 

  • Take leadership initiative, even in external projects such as interest groups
  • Become self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses by analyzing them 
  • Follow the best leaders and listen to their learnings
  • Be helpful and resourceful for everyone
  • Evolve to become a self-starter
  • Network with leaders you admire and ask questions

 

Conclusion

There are so many ways to be an effective, inspiring leader in the modern workplace. It’ll take plenty of life scenarios, experiences, and working with different people to cultivate these specific leadership qualities. But perhaps the most important mindset you can have is to think of your people not as subordinates or followers, but as talented members of the same team. You’re there to support them, and they’re there to support your vision. A great leader recognizes this and a great team admires them for it.

What are the common attributes of great leaders you’ve worked with? Feel free to leave a comment below if I haven't covered your favorite leadership attribute!

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Faye Wai

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