10 Qualities of a Leader (Advanced Version for Leaders Who Aim High)



Whether you’re trying to start your own business, manage a team of employees or just run an effective neighborhood meeting, you understand the challenges of leadership on a personal level. You’re expected to have the answers to every question, you’re responsible for inspiring and motivating people (no matter how unmotivated they started), and worst of all, there’s no one above you to turn to for advice or direction—it all has to come from you.

There’s no blueprint for how to become a successful leader, and there’s evidence on both sides of the argument for whether great leaders are born or made.[1] You can’t expect to naturally be an effective leader, nor can you ever expect to become a perfect leader. But if you study the qualities of a leader from examples of the past and scientific evidence, you can steer your behavior, your habits and your outlook in a more favorable direction.

So let’s take a look—what does it take to become a great leader?

1. Hold firm convictions to inspire followers and radiate confidence.

Holding firm convictions means you’ll be almost stubborn in your adherence to your values, beliefs and vision for the future. That doesn’t mean you ignore people when they disagree with you (in fact, as you’ll see, flexibility is important), but it does mean you have significant integrity, and you’re likely to stay true to your values, no matter what happens.

Research shows a high correlation between uncertainty and stress;[2] if your employees aren’t sure what you’re going to think about a new idea, or if they feel like you change your positions too frequently, they may not be able to focus on their jobs or be as productive as they could. They might also have less respect for you as a leader.

There’s a famous anecdote about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs that demonstrates his ruthless convictions.[3] when introducing a prototype of the iPhone, a friend criticized the touch keyboard, stating that users would strongly prefer traditional keyboards on their phones. Jobs’s response was “they’ll get used to it.” He’d already made up his mind, and was sure this was the correct path forward.

How to get started

To get started with this one, think carefully about which values and visions matter most to you. Then, frame them in your mind as unbreakable.

2. Use emotional intelligence (EQ) to improve both client and employee relationships.

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is your ability to understand both your own emotions and the emotions of others.[4] It gives you more control over your own emotional states, meaning you’re less influenced by raw feelings and it allows you to handle interpersonal relationships with your employees with more empathy.

One study within a Fortune 400 insurance company found that individuals with high emotional intelligence received more merit increases, held higher company ranks and got better ratings from both peers and superiors.[5] This is attributable to EQ’s many benefits. These employees have better control over their own emotions and behaviors, work better with other people and are able to quickly resolve conflicts before they get out of hand.

How to get started

Getting started may prove difficult here. While some people naturally have high emotional intelligence, others take years to fully develop it.

If you’re just getting started, spend time paying attention to what other people are feeling and ask yourself why they’re feeling it. Regular periods of introspection will also help. Here you can find 7 Practical Ways To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

3. Master the art of communication to operate more efficiently (and boost morale).

Communication unfolds in many ways during your tenure as a leader. You’ll be leading in-person meetings, holding phone calls with clients and sending emails regularly. You’ll also be a part of heavy conversations, whether it’s breaking bad news to a client or firing an employee. Learning to communicate effectively is crucial to your success.

Ask any leader what the most valuable skills for success are, and they’ll likely list communication skills among them. Billionaire and serial entrepreneur Richard Branson, for example, has called communication “the most important skill any leader can possess.”[6]

Communication not only makes processes run smoother (thanks to efficient transmission of instructions and details), but also allows you to convey mood and urgency through your tone. Accordingly, it has objective and subjective impacts on your audience.

How to get started

Email is the easiest place to gain mastery here since you’ll have time to think through your sentences and use email productivity hacks to get even better.

Pay attention to your purpose, wording, and tone, and experiment until you find the right combination.

When speaking, try to speak slower and think through your sentences carefully. You’ll appear more confident and buy time to find exactly the right words for any situation.

4. Always favor action over inaction to preserve your team’s momentum.

Great leaders typically have the mentality that action is favorable to inaction. If you’re facing a problem, procrastinating is the worst thing you can do. Instead, commit to moving forward however you can, even if that means making a temporary “duct tape fix,” or even making a mistake.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman is quoted as once saying,

“Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.”

This is the man who dropped the atomic bomb—an action that’s been criticized for ending thousands of innocent lives, but also praised for possibly preventing even further casualties worldwide. It was a risky and heavy decision, but one that kept things moving forward.

How to get started

When you’re facing a problem or a decision point, think carefully about your options, and start leaning away from options that don’t require action (i.e., “let’s wait a month,” or “let’s keep things the way they are for a while.”)

This article about making decisions can help you: 5 Tips for Lightning-Fast Decision Making

5. Be diplomatic to encourage new ideas and thorough discussion.

As important as it is to stay true to your convictions, it’s a terrible idea to lead through dictatorship. Instead, be diplomatic and encourage your employees to bring their ideas to the table—even if they outright contradict your own. Open discussions and listen to every idea that comes across your desk.

Many companies have made it a general policy to encourage ideas from their employees from the ground up. Google, for example, for a period of many years, gave its employees 20 percent of their working hours to work on any kind of projects they wanted to.[7]

And according to Dan Glaser of Marsh and McLennan Companies,[8]

“We have found that innovative ideas bubble up when you tap into an element of dissent.”

The research here indicates that companies that not only allow, but encourage and take advantage of disagreement, stand to benefit greatly.

How to get started

You can encourage this behavior by giving every employee time to express their ideas, whether it’s in meetings or a private setting. When you disagree, don’t cut down the idea; make a case for why yours is stronger and thank the employee for voicing their opinion.

The “safer” it is to voice a dissenting opinion, the more your employees will be willing to do it. Some more tips to help you make your team feel safe here.

6. Remain humble and admit your mistakes to discourage resentment or intimidation.

Not all of your strategies and decisions are going to work out. Learning to admit your mistakes and note the flaws in your thinking can actually be a strength. If you pretend you’re perfect or refuse to admit to your mistakes, one of two things will happen: your employees will become resentful of you, believing you to be narcissistic or delusional or they’ll be intimidated by you, thinking that mistakes are unacceptable.

At least one study has found that CEOs who demonstrate humility tend to perform better than their counterparts.[9] When a CEO is approachable, fallible and humble about their status, employees are more appreciative. Workplaces tend to be calmer and more unified, and leaders earn more respect.

How to get started

Humility is hard to teach but you can embody its core principles. If you make a mistake, admit it and laugh it off, and don’t be afraid to let down your guard in front of your employees. You’re human too. In fact, showing vulnerability actually proves your strength.

7. Use patience to stabilize your emotions and make more logical and long-term decisions.

Stabilize your emotions when making decisions, and steer those decisions toward the most logical long-term approach. The most effective marketing strategies, for example, take months to years of time for development, but if you’re hasty and emotional in your decision-making, you might opt for a short-term strategy that yields rewards quickly, but has no distant future.

Jeff Bezos is one powerful anecdotal example here, almost every decision he makes as CEO is done with the future in mind.[10]Amazon is one of the most powerful and respected companies in the world, yet it doesn’t make much of a profit. Its excess revenue is constantly funneled back into the company to help it grow into new markets and investigate new opportunities for expansion.

How to get started

Before making a decision or choosing a path forward, remove yourself from the situation. Pretend you’re an unbiased onlooker and think about how you’d advise a stranger in this same situation. Then, imagine the consequences not just a week from now, but a month, a year and a decade from now.

8. Stay organized to set a good example for your employees.

Leaders are busy, so small levels of organization may seem like an unnecessary waste of time. However, staying organized is important not just for your own productivity, but also for your employees—who will be looking to you as an example.

This idea is illustrated by the fact that 75 percent of office workers believe that a disorganized office is a sign of deeper problems within a company.[11] If your desk is cluttered with papers, or if they can see your email inbox has 2,000 unread messages, they may believe something is wrong with the company—or with your approach as a leader. They may also have an excuse to be disorganized in their own roles, which can lead to even more productivity problems.

How to get started

Start paying closer attention to how you organize yourself and try to consistently present a clean, tidy image—even if things are more chaotic beneath the surface. Keep track of your own productivity and schedule 15 minutes a day to keeping your work and belongings organized.

9. Empower your employees to become leaders in their own realms.

You may be the head honcho of the organization but your business will run far smoother if you allow the people beneath you to be leaders of their own domains. Empower them to make their own decisions, discipline and reward their own underlings, and communicate how they see fit. This will take some of the pressure off you, improve the morale of the people you’ve inspired, and add more diverse opinions and approaches to your company culture.

Several amazing leaders have taken this approach. Elon Musk, for example, recently wrote an email to his staff about the importance of employee empowerment.[12] In it, he describes managers, in general, as a “bad idea.” In his view, every person within the company should take ownership of their own responsibilities and be empowered to make decisions and take risks as any leader would.

Former President Ronald Reagan, as another example, is quoted as saying,

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”

It’s a policy many presidents have taken to heart.

How to get started

It’s hard to introduce this idea to a workplace that’s been without it, but you can start by telling your managers and employees how much you trust them. Delegate decisions to them and don’t micromanage.

Set expectations in meetings and in individual employee reviews that you trust your employees to make their own decisions. When they start moving forward, making their own decisions, reward them for their independence and confidence to encourage the behavior even further.

This guide can help you to know how to delegate works for the best: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

10. Be decisive to demonstrate your authority.

Finally, exercise decisiveness to prove and radiate your authority. Leaders are primarily decision makers, which means you’ll be held accountable for the outcomes of those decisions, however they come.

Great leaders aren’t afraid to face the consequences, especially during periods of uncertainty. Instead, they make decisions quickly based on all the evidence they can gather, and hold firm to those decisions. This not only makes you appear more authoritative, it encourages more decisiveness and resolve within your employees as well.

Successful leaders are shown to be more decisive than their less successful counterparts.[13] This could be due to any number of secondary effects. For example, it could be that decisive leaders are better decision-makers overall, thinking through problems more comprehensively. It could also be that decisive leaders are more confident and inspire more from their underlings.

How to get started

Despite the advantages here, you still shouldn’t rush your decisions. Gather as much information as you can in a situation and pull the trigger as soon as you think it’s appropriate.

Delaying a decision or presenting yourself as “on the fence” can weaken your position. Changing your mind on a decision after it’s already been made (like allowing an employee to convince you not to fire him/her) will compromise your projected authority.

Making decisions under pressure is hard, some tips here maybe able to help: How to Make Decisions Under Pressure

Understand leaders to become a great leader

There are many different styles of leadership to consider, so naturally, these qualities of a leader may transform as you come into your own approach. But, how you use them isn’t nearly as important as understanding them and learning from them.

The better you know and understand the leaders who have come before you, the more tools you’ll have to shape your own style of leadership and become successful in any application you choose.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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