Leadership qualities all great leaders have

By Faye Wai

11 min read

Leadership qualities all great leaders have
Image by Jordan Yep

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!

What is leadership?

Leadership is all about guiding and inspiring others towards a common goal. It's not just about giving orders but also about building relationships and trust with those you lead. An effective leader has qualities such as empathy, integrity, strategic thinking, and good communication skills.

A good leader listens to their team, provides guidance and coaching, and encourages growth and development. They also lead by example, modeling the behavior and values they want to see in their team and organization.

Leadership requires a deep understanding of your team's needs and perspectives, as well as the larger context in which your organization operates. It also means being adaptable and willing to pivot when circumstances change.

It’s a complex and multifaceted concept that requires a combination of skills, qualities, and behaviors. Effective leaders are committed to building relationships, fostering growth, and creating a positive impact on those they lead.

20 qualities of a leader

1. Trustworthy

How to assess trust the Trust Equation

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.

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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 auses 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How to Develop Leadership Skills

A leaders guide to decision-making_ how to make better decisions V1.3

Becoming a great leader takes time, effort, and dedication. Developing leadership skills is a continuous process that requires self-reflection, learning, and practice. Here are some tips to help you develop your leadership skills:

  • Identify your strengths and areas for improvement: Take some time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Identify areas where you need to improve and set goals to work on them.
  • Learn from others: Observe and learn from successful leaders around you. Seek out mentors and ask for feedback from your colleagues.
  • Take on new challenges: Don't be afraid to take on new challenges and step out of your comfort zone. This will help you develop new skills and gain valuable experience.
  • Practice active listening: Good leaders listen actively and attentively to their team members. Practice active listening by paying attention to what others are saying, asking questions, and summarizing what you have heard.
  • Build trust: Trust is essential for effective leadership. Build trust with your team by being open, honest, and transparent.
  • Develop your communication skills: Good communication skills are essential for effective leadership. Practice clear and concise communication, and adapt your communication style to different situations and audiences.
  • Lead by example: Set an example for your team by modeling the behavior and values you want to see in others.

Remember that developing leadership skills is a continuous process. Keep learning, growing, and adapting to become the best leader you can be.


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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