Leadership Qualities: 13 Traits for Highly Effective Leadership

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Leadership is something that some people fall into but truly influential and effective leaders seek out, practice, and dedicate their lives to exemplifying specific leadership qualities.

A good leader is confident, reliable, passionate about his work, and committed not just to others but also to their own self. But if you want to be a great leader, it goes beyond that.

In order to become a great leader, you need to cultivate all of the traits that make up a good leader’s personality. While having these qualities by default is a great advantage, you can also work towards developing them as part of your leadership journey.

Leadership, like any other skill in life, requires practice and dedication.

If you weren’t one of the lucky few that was born with most of these qualities, no worries. We will define some of the most important leadership qualities that can be identified and learned in this article.

What Is Leadership?

colored umbrella showing leadership qualities

A leader is someone who inspires people, be they few or many, and rallies, guides, or leads them behind a cause – and motivates them to achieve and excel in that journey.

A leader possesses certain leadership qualities, or leadership traits, that make this possible (and effective).

It’s these leadership qualities that bring about change and help an individual grow as a person. By simply putting those traits into action and being the driving force behind something, and inspiring others to do the same, you are a leader – whether you realize it or not.

Of course, in order to become an effective leader, you need to be more than just someone who’s good at rallying people behind something. You need to have certain leadership qualities that make others respect and admire your leadership.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most important leadership qualities.

What Are the Top 13 Leadership Qualities That Make a Good Leader?

If you’re looking to learn how to be a leader, or just wondering how you measure up AS a leader (maybe in your current job or for your dream job), you’ll want to brush up on the most essential leadership qualities below. 

If you’re a good, honest person already, chances are that a lot of these leadership skills may already come naturally or easier than you think. But even though some of them might seem obvious, I encourage you to take a deep dive of thought into each one of them.

There is a big difference between knowing what a leadership quality is and truly exemplifying it in your daily work. True leaders have the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to know and understand what areas they are lacking in and put in the work on their leadership development.

1. Integrity

integrity quote for leadership
Source: MindJournal

“The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

Of all of the good leadership traits we list in this article, this one is hands down one of the absolute most important qualities — in leadership and all other areas of business (and life).

Having integrity means that your actions align with your words.

Whether you’re leading a team at work or managing your own business, people will always look to you as an example of how things should be done. If they perceive that you lack integrity, they may not respect your leadership, and may even be turned off by it.

Integrity means that you not only HAVE a moral compass but that you guide yourself by it and don’t falter when people are not watching.

3 Quick Tips to Improve Your Integrity:

  1. Be honest, even when it might be easier or more convenient to lie.
  2. Admit when you make a mistake and be willing to learn from it.
  3. Don’t take shortcuts or the easy way out. Put in the work to do it right and in a way that you would want others to do.

2. Humility

To have humility simply means to be humble. Also see: opposite of pride.

from arrogance to humility
Source: QAspire

Most leaders don’t get where they are with their egos. They know to check them at the door.

Humility is a trait that can be hard to come by, but if you have this quality, it’s likely that others will naturally look up to and respect you. Ego is an instant turnoff for many people.

Humility means respecting the work of other team members or colleagues, giving them credit for their successes, and acknowledging mistakes without taking them as a personal slight against yourself.

It’s also about being open to feedback, and knowing when you can learn from others. A truly humble person recognizes that there is always room for improvement and growth, and will seek it out in any way possible.

3 Quick Tips to Practice Your Humility:

  1. Listen more than you talk.
  2. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong and learn from your mistakes instead of placing blame.
  3. Pay attention to how you treat others and be respectful, even with those that are under you in the workplace hierarchy.

3. Confidence

tips to build confidence
Source: Verywell / Shideh Ghandeharizah

“Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will.”

– Venus Williams

Whether it’s playing stadiums or public speaking, when you exude confidence that does not spill over into what people perceive as boastful or arrogant, it is proven that people are drawn to you.

It’s no secret that confidence is the secret sauce to success in many areas: dating, learning a foreign language, and also in business.

Confidence is one of the qualities of a good leader because, without it, you won’t be able to convince others that they can achieve success if they follow you.

Confidence is also crucial in managing awkward or difficult situations. If people are unsure of what you will do next or nervous about how you will react, it’s very difficult for them to reach their full potential. Being confident can keep everyone feeling grounded and secure in their work, and avoid any unnecessary conflicts or issues.

It also means not being overly critical of yourself or others. Strong leaders stay centered no matter what challenges arise and help you keep others grounded and focused as well.

A leadership style with a great focus on confidence will also inspire and instill a sense of security and confidence in others. The gift that keeps on giving.

3 Quick Tips to Help You Improve Your Confidence:

  1. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that no matter what happens, everything will be fine.
  2. Focus on your body language. Slouching or being too rigid can indicate anxiety while standing tall with good posture shows you’re confident in yourself and ready to face anything.
  3. Visualize yourself performing your best and achieving success.

4. Empathy

“You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.” — Sam Rayburn

The ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, and to know and understand the human emotive state is one of the leadership characteristics that will almost instantly make you a more likable leader (and human in general).

If you want to be a better leader, you need to understand the needs and desires of those that you are leading. This will allow you to better tailor your messages and leadership style to them.

Empathy will help you be more flexible in your approach and work with people where they’re currently at and not where you expect them to be.

As the Harvard Business Review states, “An ideal organization should have workers at every level reporting to someone whose dominion is small enough to enable him to know as human beings those who report to him.”

While this isn’t always possible in every organization, it’s a good reminder to practice empathy whenever possible and to instill it in those that follow you so that they can then instill it in others beneath them.

3 Quick Tips to Help You Demonstrate Empathy:

  1. Take time to listen and really understand people’s needs.
  2. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. How would you feel or react if you were in their situation?
  3. Try not to pre-judge others based on their gender, race, class, sexual orientation, etc.

5. Communication

Effective communication is key to any successful relationship, whether it’s personal or professional. If you’re married or have a long-time partner, you certainly know this already.

As a leader, it’s vital that you are able to have good communication skills with your team, your clients, and anyone else you may need to interact with.

If people don’t understand what you’re trying to say, or if they feel like they can’t approach you with questions or concerns, it will be very difficult for them to succeed.

Communication goes both ways, and as a leader, it’s important to have the emotional intelligence to be open to feedback and willing to listen to others.

There are many different types of communication, and it’s important to be familiar with as many of them as possible. Some basic methods of communication include:

  • verbal communication,
  • nonverbal communication,
  • visual communication,
  • and writing/electronic communication.

Each has its own set of rules and best practices, so it’s important to be aware of them all and use the ones that will work best in each situation.

types of communication chart
Source: Indeed Career Guide

Good leaders are good communicators!

3 Quick Tips to Help You for More Effective Communication:

  1. Be clear and concise in your communication, and try to avoid jargon or overly complex language.
  2. Pay attention to body language and nonverbal cues, as they can often convey more meaning than words alone.
  3. Practice active listening by giving others your full attention when they are speaking and asking clarifying questions when necessary.

6. Honesty

This is another one of the leadership qualities that applies to pretty much every area of your life. If trust is not built on some level between leader and follower, a working symbiosis can never be formed.

Without trust, people will not be willing to follow you and believe in what you are asking and trying to achieve.

The best leaders, in order to gain the trust of their followers, are honest about their thoughts, intentions, and goals – even when they are risky, potentially conflicting, etc.

There must be an instinctual trust that a leader is leading properly, toward the overall goal. Otherwise, progress is stalled.

People stop to question every decision, even going so far as to outright disregard or disobey directives. Even if the end goal is accomplished, efficiency is lost. 

Tasks can take longer. People deviate from the plan, believing a gut instinct over the suggestion of a leader that they don’t fully trust.

3 Quick Tips to Practice More Honesty:

  1. Always be upfront, direct, and transparent with your team, clients, and colleagues.
  2. Don’t try to hide your mistakes or shortcomings. Instead, acknowledge them and work to fix them.
  3. Be open to feedback from others, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear.

7. Improvisation

I’ll bet that this is one of the leadership qualities on this list that you probably didn’t expect.

While it’s certainly important to have a clear vision and plan for where you want to take your team or project, great leaders are also able to be flexible and adapt as conditions change.

This may mean changing your strategy in response to feedback from others or being willing to pivot when unexpected challenges arise.

Even the best leaders face roadblocks along the way, some seemingly insurmountable, and being able to improvise and make quick, effective decisions can make all the difference.

This is one leadership quality that will engage your critical thinking skills and your ability to think on your feet and make adjustments as needed.

3 Quick Tips to improve your ability to improvise:

  1. Practice thinking on your feet by doing things like taking public speaking classes or participating in team brainstorming sessions.
  2. Have a positive attitude, get out of your comfort zone, and try new things to keep yourself open to new ideas and approaches.
  3. Be self-aware, stay calm under pressure, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

8. The Ability to Delegate

It probably won’t come as a surprise that one of the key leadership skills for success is the ability to delegate.

While it can be tempting to want to take on every task and project yourself, especially when you think you can do it better — being able to effectively delegate tasks and responsibilities will free up your time for more important tasks.

In order to do this, you need to be able to trust the people that you’ve put in charge and give them their own room to grow and succeed.

Great leaders are able to take a step back, allow others to lead, and still hold themselves accountable for the overall success.

how to delegate effectively infographic
Source: DirJournal

One of the best ways to practice delegation leadership skills is to empower your team members or employees by allowing them to have some control and ownership of their own work.

More to the point, great leaders have the ability to identify the strengths of the members of their team and utilize them in a way that maximizes the potential of every single member.

For example, if you’re leading a team of sales professionals, it might make sense for you to delegate the tasks of strategy and planning to someone with strong analytical skills.

Or if you have someone on your team who has excellent people skills, perhaps their talents would be better suited to working one on one with customers or clients.

Whatever your team’s individual strengths may be, good leaders are able to recognize them and put them to use.

3 Quick Tips to improve your ability to dELEGATE:

  1. Set clear expectations for your team members, and communicate these standards clearly.
  2. Resist the urge to micromanage, and trust that your team can get the job done.
  3. Provide meaningful feedback on a regular basis and take an active role in helping each member

9. Creativity

Effective leaders must also be creative.

Being creative doesn’t mean coming up with every revolutionary idea on your own, but rather being able to think outside the box and challenge conventional wisdom when necessary.

It also means that you need to be open-minded and open to new ideas and approaches, even if they don’t fit with what you were originally planning.

Creativity is one of the more important leadership skills because it can help you find innovative solutions to the problems that inevitably arise throughout your work.

Whether it’s adapting to a new market or changing customer needs, a creative leader is the one who can help their team navigate this change and succeed.

3 Quick Tips to improve your ability to Creativity:

  1. Take some time to brainstorm and explore new ideas on your own.
  2. Engage in activities that force you to think outside the box, such as a puzzle or creative writing exercise.
  3. Seek out feedback from others and consider other perspectives when making decisions.

10. Courage

courage leadership quote

Courage is also another one of the top leadership qualities of great leaders.

Leadership can be a tough and stressful job, and you will undoubtedly face many challenges and difficult decisions along the way. It takes courage to make these tough calls, and stand by your beliefs even when things get tough.

Courage also means being willing to take risks and push the boundaries, even if it’s scary or intimidating.

No matter what challenges you face, having courage will help you preserve your integrity and move forward with confidence and conviction.

3 Quick Tips to Have More Courage:

  1. Remember that failure is a part of success, and that you can learn from even your biggest setbacks.
  2. Set small goals and take incremental steps towards bigger goals, instead of trying to tackle everything at once.
  3. Surround yourself with a strong and supportive team who can help you through the tough times.

In short, good leaders need to be able to identify, delegate, and utilize their team’s strengths, think creatively and courageously in order to adapt to change, and always keep their team’s best interests in mind.

11. Balance

In addition to the leadership qualities mentioned above, it is also important for good leaders to maintain balance in their work and personal life.

This means setting boundaries for yourself and your team, taking time to rest and recharge when needed, and prioritizing your health and well-being.

A balanced leader is able to manage stress and adversity, prioritize responsibilities, and be a positive role model for the people they lead.

3 Quick Tips to Improve your Balance:

  1. Establish clear boundaries with your team and set expectations around when you are available to be contacted.
  2. Prioritize your health by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep each night.
  3. Find a healthy work/life balance that works for you, and make room for the things that matter most, both at work and outside of it.

If you want to be a great leader, then you need to strive for balance in all aspects of your life.

12. Time Management

tips for time management
Source: VeryWell

Time management is another crucial skill for great leaders.

Good time management means being able to prioritize and organize your tasks effectively, delegating work as needed, and making sure you’re not wasting time on unnecessary or unproductive activities.

This also means being able to set goals and deadlines, monitor progress along the way, and make any necessary adjustments along the way.

3 Quick Tips to Improve your Time-Management Skills:

  1. Practice effective planning by identifying your top priorities and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  2. Set clear deadlines for yourself and your team, so that everyone knows what they need to accomplish and what their expectations are.
  3. Utilize project management tools like calendars, task managers, and checklists to make sure you’re staying on track throughout the day.

13. Clarity

clarity leadership skill quote
Source: rEvolution / The Gibson Edge

Good leaders have clarity in their vision, goals, and expectations.

Essentially, this means having clarity in most of the great leadership qualities that we’ve already mentioned:

  • the ability to communicate effectively with your team,
  • making sure that everyone understands what their roles and responsibilities are,
  • and setting clear objectives for them to achieve.

Clarity also requires you to be decisive and take action when needed, rather than waffling and over-analyzing.

At the same time, it is important to maintain flexibility in your thinking and adapt quickly to changes or setbacks as they arise.

3 Quick Tips to Improve your Clarity as a Leader:

  1. Prioritize organizational clarity by setting clear goals and standards, and holding yourself and others accountable to those expectations.
  2. Allow room for mistakes or setbacks so that you can learn from them and improve moving forward.
  3. Stay focused on the big picture, prioritize your long-term goals over short-term wins, and always keep your team’s best interests in mind.

Best Books on Leadership

Before we wrap this up, I wanted to share some of the top books on leadership that will help you develop better leadership skills:

  1. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  2. Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  4. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  5. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
  6. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
  7. The 5 Levels of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

Related: 50 Best Business Books of All Time

Final Thoughts On Leadership Qualities

Being a leader, and an effective leader at that means many things. There are probably hundreds of leadership qualities that could help make you a better leader.

Some other good leadership qualities include:

  • Patience.
  • Determination.
  • Self-starting drive.
  • Positivity.
  • Graciousness.

Not all leadership qualities are completely essential and some are obviously more important than others. But over and over in history’s greatest leaders, whether they’re military, revolutionists, pacifists, or social rights activists a number of qualities have shone through. 

We tried to include most of the top qualities in this article. While it may be impossible overall, to sum up into simple words what makes a good leader, I feel like this quote sums it up nicely:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

– John Quincy Adamns