Being a leader of a company or organization is certainly a difficult and often frustrating position – but it can also be tremendously rewarding.
Whether you’re just starting out as a leader, or have been leading for a while, you’ll be sure to benefit from knowing the essential traits that all great leaders possess.
Effective and successful leaders transcend the title of ‘manager’ or ‘boss’. They’ve found a way to achieve the perfect combination of charisma, enthusiasm and self-assurance (with a healthy dose of luck and timing probably added to the mix).
It may seem like some people are gifted with leadership skills, but the truth is most leadership traits can be learned, adopted, and strengthened with time and practice.
As we delve into the traits of effective leaders, you will learn more about how you can become one of them.
Are leaders born or made?
During the Cuban missile crisis, when the world faced a potential nuclear catastrophe. President Kennedy’ s leadership and sound judgement pulled us from the brink of an apocalypse.1 When hearing about such stories it’s easy to assume great leaders like Kennedy has something that most people lack, that great leadership is a quality that some people are born with, and others are not. But that isn’t the case. Everyone has the potential to be a great leader.
Take Elon Musk for example. He was born into a lower middle class family in South Africa, as a child he was bullied. Now he leads a multi billion dollar organisation, and may have just revolutionized space travel.2
As such I believe anyone can become a great leader, the difficulty is knowing how.
Fortunately, we’ve made this easy for you, as we’ve listed the essential leadership traits below.
The 14 most important leadership traits
Please read through them slowly, and take a note of which of the traits you excel at – and which ones you need to work at.
Traits for better self-development
1. Vision and mission
Having a clear picture of what needs to be achieved is a crucial quality of good leadership.
This vision is often communicated in a mission statement, such as this one from Starbucks:
How to develop vision? Spend time pinpointing what you need to achieve, and then plan the steps to get there. Here’s a complete guide on creating your own vision.
It’s no coincidence that successful leaders have an abundance of self-motivation.
Without a decent level of self-motivation, you’ll struggle to become a strong and respected leader. However, if you don’t have a lot of self-motivation right now, don’t despair.
One of the secrets is to have definite goals to keep you motivated at all times. Some people also choose to reward themselves every time they achieve a goal, and this is certainly a good way to keep yourself enthused and motivated. Learn how to set an ambitious yet achievable goal here.
3. Optimism and positivity
Positive energy is contagious. Great leaders are overflowing with this type of energy.
Not only does a positive mindset make leaders easy to work with, but it also gives them a constant source of inspiration and ideas.
Tap into this energy by aligning yourself with positive people and positive goals. Learn the habits of positive people here.
4. Emotional stability
In leadership positions, frustration and stress are daily occurrences. This is why leaders need to have strong and stable emotions. They can’t allow themselves to be easily knocked off track.
If you’re prone to losing your emotional stability when stressed or frustrated, try some of these techniques: breath deeply and slowly for 30 seconds, go for a walk, drink some water (instead of tea or coffee), turn your focus onto something you can resolve. Find out more ways to control your emotions effectively here.
Watch a presentation by any CEO and you’ll see that even if they’re not natural presenters – they make up for this by having powerful self-confidence.
It’s not just CEOs who have self-confidence, any successful leader will have this trait in abundance. One reason for this, is that only a confident person can persuade others and gain their respect.
Worried that you have low self-confidence? Try faking it. Psychologists often recommend that if you ‘act’ at being confident, you’ll start to look, sound and feel like you ARE confident. And in time… you will be. Learn more about boosting self-confidence from the confidence coach.
Leaders are frequently called upon to make decisions (some leaders may have to make dozens of decisions every day). In fact, you could say that making decisions is one of the key things a leader must do.
Spend some time observing highly-successful leaders and you’ll see that they are quick to make decisions. They also enjoy making decisions, rather than stressing out like many non-leaders do when they’re asked to decide on something.
Put yourself in the leadership bracket by developing your decision-making skills. Start with small decisions – and then work your way up to bigger and more difficult decisions. Once other people notice your decision-making prowess, they’ll automatically see you as leadership material. Check out the guide on how to make good decisions every time.
7. Passion and enthusiasm
Expressive. Active. Energetic. These are words best describe a passionate leader.
Great leaders are lively, driven and are possessed with zeal and purpose. It’s this passion that helps them achieve big results. If you want to emulate their success, then you need to develop passion and enthusiasm for the work at hand, and the end goals.
Take a look at this Passion Pyramid to find out how importance a leader’s passion is to the team:
One way to do this is to find what motivates you, and keep your focus firmly on that. For example, i f you’re motivated by helping others, then make sure your role and company are both suited to realizing this. If you’re motivated by money, then put your focus on achieving bonuses and pay rises.
Take a look at Leo Babauta’s guide on how to find your passion.
8. Accountability and responsibility
Exceptional leaders know that at all times they’ll need to take responsibility for tasks and their results. This includes things likes individual and team performance, as well as being accountable for when things go wrong.
When negative things occur (and you can guarantee they will from time-to-time), a great leader will immediately step in and take responsibility. Initially, they’ll try to resolve the problem in as quick and smooth a way as possible. But if this is not feasible, they’ll be sure to say that the buck stops with them – and they take full responsibility for what has happened.
To develop your leadership skills, you must never shy away from responsibility or accountability. If you prefer to sweep mistakes under the carpet, then you’re demonstrating non-leadership traits. Try owning up to issues and finding solutions to them. By doing this, you’ll immediately gain people’s respect.
Find out some tips on how to be a more responsible person here.
Distractions are everywhere. And it takes major focus to stay committed to tasks and goals. The best leaders understand this, and therefore, they’re always looking at ways to boost their team’s focus.
One way leaders do this, is to keep their team intensely focused on the bigger picture. This might entail allocating specific time for tasks and eliminating any non-essential work.
If you’re easily knocked off track, you’ll need to spend some time boosting your focus. Try planning your day, week, month and year to help ensure that you don’t fall behind with achieving your goals. Check out the 7 strategies of staying super focus recommended by a productivity coach.
Leaders know that to be successful they need to continually update their skills and knowledge. They deliberately learn all they can about their profession and industry, so they’ll able to make confident and assured decisions.
Why is ever learning so important? I’ll leave it to you to find out the reason here: If I Am Living a Good Life, Why Should I Bother Learning New Stuff?
Imagine a CEO of a solar power company. His company may have amazing solar panels, but when it comes to discussing business with potential buyers, if the CEO or his sales team show a lack of understanding about the solar industry and future trends, etc., they’ll be unlikely to win any business.
It’s exactly the same for you. If you’re a team leader at an electronics store, you should make sure you fully understand all the products that you offer. But go beyond just that, and read about upcoming products and trends that might change what customers are interesting in buying in the future.
Traits for Effective Communication
The best leaders understand the feeling of their team members, customers and associates. They know when to praise, and when to discuss problems (usually in private).
Without empathy, leaders will be seen as cold, harsh and lacking understanding. They’re also likely to be regarded as untrustworthy.
One way to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’ is to have regular informal discussions with your colleagues. When you do this, you’ll quickly learn their fears and desires. And when you understand why they have these – you’ll be in a position to express empathy. You can also learn to be more sensitive to others’ needs by taking up these communication skills.
12. Persuasive and influential
Communications are at the heart of all transactions. Whether it’s pitching for a sale or resolving a customer complaint, how you communicate will determine the outcome.
Charismatic leaders such as Richard Branson (Virgin) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) are confident and persuasive communicators. They know how to win over audiences and leave a lasting impressing in people’s minds.
There’re some common barriers that you’ll have to overcome in order to communicate effectively:
How to learn effective communication? You could join the world-renowned U.S. nonprofit Toastmasters International. They’ve been training people in the art of public speaking since 1924, and members have included Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, and Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy.
If you don’t have time to join a club, then practice your communications skills at home. You can do this in front of a mirror, or even better, video yourself presenting, and then ask some friends and family members for feedback. You’ll be amazed at what they pick up on.
Traits for ensuring an engaging team
13. Team building
If you put a bunch of random people together, you may have a loose definition of a team. In reality, a real team has purpose, drive – and a leader lighting the way.
If you’ve worked in different teams and with different managers, you’ll no doubt have come to this conclusion:
Managers who treat their team members like children are unpopular with the team. Conversely, managers who treat their team members like adults, are respected and well-liked by the team.
The days of disciplinarian managers are passed. Nowadays, successful team leaders know how to inspire and motivate their team, while keeping a harmonious atmosphere between all team members.
14. Fostering creativity
Solutions to problems are rarely black and white. Often it takes a leader who can ‘think outside the box’ to come up with answers. In other words, a leader must be creative, and also help to foster creativity and innovation throughout their team.
Creativity is not only associated with pursuits such as arts, literature and music, running a team can be just as creative. There will be times every day when you need to come up with ideas and give guidelines for your team to come up with theirs to solve problems.
Leadership is an amazing experience that will take you on roads you’ve never traveled before. Begin now to build your skills and experience, pick out the traits that you currently lack – and then work on developing those. It will take tons of practice and time before becoming an effective leader but eventually you will join the ranks of great leaders.