14 Essential Qualities of a Great Leader
A business leader may be defined by the work their company does or the goals it accomplishes, but their individual status as a great leader comes down to the characteristics they possess that set them apart from others.
Leading a successful organization requires that leaders are able to effectively handle any circumstances the business may encounter, but this isn’t the only quality that matters. Below, 14 members of Newsweek Expert Forum each share one characteristic that is critical in a great leader and how that trait influences their ability to effectively lead.
When a leader exhibits grit, you witness a person who is driven by passion and perseverance. These leaders tend to set goals and follow through. These behaviors set great examples for those around them and naturally leads to a significant level of respect for the leader. When you are respected, your exemplary behavior will encourage your team to trust you as a leader. – Cynthia Salarizadeh, House of Saka, Inc.
Great leaders know how to create safe spaces where their team members can share ideas and honest feedback. Collaborative environments are breeding grounds for productivity in the workplace. When team members feel heard and valued, they become vested. This can have a positive impact on the bottom line in so many ways. – Monique Caradine-Kitchens, OverFlow Enterprises LLC
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.
Putting It All Together: The Characteristics of a Good Leader
While successful leaders may exhibit these 10 leadership qualities to varying degrees, all good leaders leverage at least some of these characteristics. Together, they make up the backbone of strong leadership across organizations, industries, and continents. Without these qualities, true leadership is impossible.
If you fear that you lack some of these characteristics of a good leader, don’t panic — there are ways for you to improve on your leadership capabilities, including all 10 of these core traits. At CCL, we believe that leadership is a skill that can be developed and that leaders are molded through experience, continued study, and adaptation.
In other words, you can strengthen any of these 10 characteristics of a good leader if you’re open to growth and you put in the time and effort towards self-improvement. Similarly, organizations can help their people hone these leadership qualities through development and real-world experiences.
It’s also essential to realize that leadership is a social process. It’s less about a strong or charismatic individual, and more about a group of people working collectively to achieve results together. If you demonstrate several of the characteristics of a good leader but fail to grasp this, chances are you won’t get very far on your own. You may be well-liked and respected, but it will be challenging to accomplish team or organizational goals.
Also, leadership isn’t a destination — it’s something that you’ll have to work at regularly throughout your career, regardless of what level you reach in your organization.
That’s why at CCL, we say that leadership is a journey — different teams, projects, situations, and organizations will require you to apply these leadership characteristics in different ways throughout your career.