14 Characteristics and Qualities of a Good Leader
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While hopefully you’re right in that these people in leadership positions are in fact good leaders, being an effective leader actually has nothing to do with a job title or a certain level of seniority.
Being a leader is more than just being a boss. You don’t automatically become a leader when you reach an executive status. One would hope that people who have worked their way up in a company are good leaders, but this is not a prerequisite.
You don’t have to have a specific number of people working under you in order to be a leader–having people work for you simply makes you a manager. Management and leadership are not the same thing–in fact, you don’t even have to have a job or have anyone answering to you on a regular basis in order to be a leader.
In this article, we will look at 14 characteristics and qualities of a good leader and steps you can take to build each of these characteristics. What are the commonalities among great leaders and what qualities does a leader have to have in order to be effective? As you’re being proactive in developing these personal characteristics, you will also be advancing your personal growth.
If you’re actively working on personal development, chances are that you have a growth mindset. This is important when it comes to gaining the qualities of a good leader because leadership skills are something that can be learned and not something that you are either born with or not born with. Through observation, experience, and practice, you can develop the characteristics and qualities that all good leaders share.
While I will mainly focus on leadership in a professional work environment throughout this article, keep in mind that these skills can be used universally throughout your life and aren’t restricted only to those who have a career.
What is leadership?
Though some people think leadership is about ordering people around, it’s really about being a source of empowerment for others so they can achieve success for themselves and for the organization. It’s also about being able to make decisions in favor of the bigger picture or the organization’s goals, rather than for your own gain.
Anyone can call themselves a leader. But to make an impact on your organization or your team, you need to learn a few essential leadership qualities. If you can start living out these characteristics, you’ll see your career grow and your team thrive.
It’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes, but good leaders work on their mental fitness continuously and push forward despite the hardship. In fact, they often take pleasure in overcoming obstacles through creative problem-solving.
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
4. A desire to learn
One of the most important leadership qualities is humility . Good leaders understand their strengths and work to improve their weaknesses. Self-awareness can also help a leader develop a leadership style that fits their personality.
Leaders have to make big decisions, and these decisions often come with big risks. It can scary being a leader because when you’re the one taking the risk, you’ll also probably shoulder the blame if things go wrong. But that’s just part of the gig.
Moreover, there are always people who disagree with the leader’s decisions. While it’s important to listen to other viewpoints, a leader can’t back down in the face of criticism or conflict. They need to have the self-confidence to brush off the people who doubt them and trust their intuition when they know they’re making the right choice.
Creativity is about seeking the best solution, even when it’s not the typical one, and thinking on your feet when situations change. Plus, a creative leader doesn’t try to be the lone genius. Instead, they tap into the innovative potential of their people.
When an idea or plan isn’t working out, creative leaders also look for new ways to use resources and bring their teams together to develop innovative new perspectives and approaches to the problems they’re trying to solve.
10. Communication skills
Great leadership is all about communication . If you don’t have good communication skills, none of the other leadership qualities or characteristics on this list mean anything. You won’t be able to get through to the people you’re supposed to lead, and that will have detrimental effects on your team and your organization.
Clarity is especially important. According to the Predictive Index People Management Study, out of managers rated “bad” by their employees, 58% don’t communicate clear expectations. This can be immensely frustrating and disheartening for the whole team.
11. Listening skills
This can be a hard quality for leaders to develop because it’s sometimes at odds with other good leadership qualities. Strong leaders are confident and full of exciting ideas, which makes many of them prone to dominating the conversation.
14. Strategic mindset
Leaders may be involved in tactics and operations to varying degrees. But they also need to know when to focus on strategy and entrust the small details to another member of the team.
15. An eye for talent
Part of leadership is choosing the right people for the job and then helping those people develop their own skills. A great leader can recognize and foster leadership traits even in the most junior members of the team.
Watch out for these negative leadership qualities
Sometimes the qualities of an excellent leader and a terrible one are surprisingly similar. If you want to evolve into a better leader yourself or help develop one on your team, you’ll need to pay close attention to certain traits.
Let’s say someone appears to have many essential leadership qualities. They’re confident, great at delegating, and wonderful at execution. But if you take a closer look, you might see that this person intimidates their direct reports into doing their work for them, and then takes all the credit. This individual is clearly not fit for leadership — at least not until they learn to overcome these negative behaviors.
But what about within yourself? Maybe you think you’re ready for a promotion, yet your colleagues keep getting opportunities that aren’t offered to you. That could mean it’s time for some self-reflection. You may unknowingly have some bad habits that are preventing you from stepping into your full potential.
The good news is that we’re here to help with a list of negative leadership characteristics to watch out for. If you see one of these dispositions or qualities in yourself or your employees, it may be time for some self-development and inner work.
- Lack of vision: Inadequate leaders can do a lot of the same things good leaders do. But the leader’s decisions need to have a purpose, such as driving the team closer to the business’s strategic goals. If there doesn’t seem to be a clear, easy-to-communicate vision behind what employees are asked to do, they’ll quickly lose trust in their boss.
- Inability to produce results: It’s simple. No leader succeeds at everything all the time, but the excellent ones will have something to show for their efforts.
- Uninspiring: If an individual can’t uplift, motivate, or inspire others, they’ll need to learn how before they can be a good leader. That’s because leadership isn’t something you do by yourself — it’s about the people you lead.
- Overconfidence: A good leader is dauntless — they can confidently take on challenges. But poor leaders can have a lot of confidence and take risks, too. If they’re cocky, presumptuous, or arrogant, they have a lot to learn before becoming a leader.
- Apathy: Too many people come to their jobs without feeling a sense of investment or ownership in their work. This can cause them to produce sloppy work and even have negative relationships with coworkers. This trait will be a major obstacle to anyone who wants to be a great leader.
THE QUALITIES AND TRAITS OF LEADERS
A good leader has to show commitment. Fulfilling your vision won’t happen overnight and you need to be able to convince everyone else that you won’t disappear when things get tough. If you make a promise, you need to keep it. You can’t just preach about achieving A, B and C, but you need to show that you are actually going to do it.
Commitment matters for two reasons. First, when you show commitment you help build trust. The team and anyone involved with the project will be able to trust your word. Trust will keep work morale up and help you achieve objectives faster since people don’t need to second-guess what your objectives are.
But furthermore, the second aspect of commitment is about setting an example. As mentioned throughout the article, leadership is about setting an example and if you show commitment to your word, your subordinates will be inspired to stick to their promises. Using your own example of hard work, you will ensure the people around you feel motivated to do the same thing.
Passion should be at the heart of everything you do. It doesn’t matter whether you are a leader of a multibillion company or a lumberjack, without passion, you won’t achieve success. You can understand its importance when you view it as the fuel for your truck. If you don’t have enough fuel, i.e. passion, you will eventually run out of steam and your journey will be cut short. But if you make sure your tank is full, you can continue driving.
Furthermore, passion helps in leadership because it can motivate other people. Consider a person is doing a job simply for the sake of doing it. They might show up every morning and finish the tasks as told, but there is no burn within them. On the other hand, you have someone who is always excited to start a project, who talks about the tasks and comes up with new ideas and suggestions.
Passion can, of course, seem depleted at times. Just like adding fuel to your car, you need to occasionally rekindle your passion. The Muse suggested these six ways of finding your passion in a blog post:
- Adopt the right approach to seeking passion – Don’t assume finding your passion will be impossible, but be inspired by the opportunities you have in front of you.
- Identify your ‘peak moments’ – Examine your experiences and find the moments that stand out.
- Find the connection – Your passions might sometimes seem different from each other, but try to identify the connections linking your interests together.
- Differentiate a hobby from a career – In the world of business, you naturally need to find a profitable angle for your passion. While you shouldn’t ever do something for the sake of making money, you do want to ensure your passion can sustain the kind of lifestyle you want.
- Don’t be afraid of the resistance – Your inner voice will try to come up with all sorts of reasons you shouldn’t follow your heart. Resist the fear.
- Explore your comfort zone – Passion requires you to take the plunge and to step outside of the comfort zone.
In the previous section, we discussed about the importance of empathy. Another similar trait, which leaders need to have, is honesty. A strong leader is able to treat people with respect and care, while staying honest. Leadership is not about wiping things under the carpet. If there is a problem, a great leader is able to identify it, talk about it and find solutions to it. A leader doesn’t add a sugar coating on things, but they use their communication skills to ensure people are aware of the issues.
Honesty also means openness about the processes and the implementation of the vision. The leader should always be as informative and open about the tasks ahead as possible with the subordinates. The more information the subordinates have, the better they are able to conduct their work as well. If the vision and the objectives are shrouded in mystery, it can be difficult for the subordinates to fully commit to the job.
A great leader is confident. He or she doesn’t second-guess whether they are up to the job; but the person knows his or her strengths and how to use them in order to implement the vision. If they are hesitant or seem to have a lack of trust in their own abilities, subordinates wouldn’t feel comfortable following their lead.
When things are going wrong, people often start looking around them for comfort and support. A leader is the person who stands out in these times because they show composure that relaxes other people. If a ship is sinking, you look at the captain and you want him to give you orders calmly on what to do, not run around yelling, “we’ll all die”.