Leaders and people of influence are a special breed of people. Great leaders are even more special, but not impossible to find if they possess certain qualities. Below are 18 leadership qualities that the best leaders have that sets them apart from the rest. Although we often look at different people as leaders, after looking over this list, it is usually the unsung heroes that are true leaders. (Check out my favorite Leadership Quotes.)
I once worked for a guy that was a background type of guy. He rarely was in the limelight and hated when he was. This man was great at remaining accountable to others, genuinely cared about his people, communicated to everyone, and was competent in the field. He knew when to make a decision, understood the power of delegation, and intentionally went out of his way to develop and empower others. Building a relationship based on trust before he would cast his vision, people would buy-in, all leadership qualities. He was a leader because of his influence but he did not abuse the power he had obtained.
As my former boss exhibited the majority of the qualities I am talking about, it is just as easy to look back over bosses who barely possessed just one of the qualities. Take a moment and reflect on people you have worked for and determine which qualities they had. Surprisingly, they often think they are super stars at the one place they need the most work. So here is the list.
The First 9 Leadership Qualities of the Best
Accountability is the important task of keeping people honest. As the old expression goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Not only remaining accountable to others, but intentionally making the decision to be accountable sets apart many people from “boss” to “leader”.
People want to see the real you. As a leader, you are your own brand. When we go shopping for clothes, people go where they trust. Leadership is similar, people have to see the real you as part of the trust building process that is required before true influence is gained. Without influence, you have a position.
In today’s world, emotional intelligence (EI) may be more important than intelligence or degrees. Being aware of situations, people, and your effects on others is crucial to success as a leader. Knowing that you need to stop and ask Kathy how she is may be the difference in her carrying around a heavy load all day thinking no one cares about her. Similarly, if you are not aware of how your actions are impacting your team, you may be costing yourself money in performance and efficiency.
Life is hard, being a leader is harder. There will be bumps in the road and ups and downs along the path for every leader. The difference in mediocre and great leaders often comes down to who can persevere. Perseverance is only possible through a commitment to a goal or objective and staying true to it.
I’ve found that a large portion of personal and professional issues lie within communication. Whether it is a lack of communicating with a spouse or a failure to have a discussion with a business prospect, communication can always be improved. Use available tools to communicate frequently, whether it is email or social media, but don’t forget that face to face communications cannot be replaced. Oh, and don’t forget to smile when talking.
If you want a quick way to lose the influence and trust of your team, make them think you’re incompetent. Without competence, people will not be attracted to you, rightfully so. Always strive to further yourself and remember that you must be sharpening yourself if you want to sharpen others.
Leadership is tough. When times get tough, the tough get going. Leaders are allowed to be fearful of things, but they must have the courage to take action in the face of fear. Be courageous and do what is right, even when its hard, your team is watching.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. As a leader, you make decisions non-stop. Some do not realize that the failure to decide, is a decision. Great leaders understand when it is time to make a decision quickly and when it is appropriate to wait.
Say it with me, “I cannot do everything by myself”. You can’t and that’s okay. Everyone needs help, leaders have the luxury to seek out people to delegate tasks to. Remember though, delegation is for the task only, the ultimate responsibility is always yours. Once you delegate, DON’T micro-manage.
The Final 9 Leadership Qualities
Part of development is delegating tasks to others. Use development as a way to do the things only you can do. Grow your Plan B, just in case you can’t work one day. Michael Hyatt, then CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, tells the story of when he fell down his stairs and broke his ankle. Things happen to people, you want to know you have developed your team to be capable of work without you. That’s how you know you’re successful.
Similar to Awareness, empathy is relating to others. With empathy, you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. An example of empathy is as a parent you can understand the hurt that losing a child would bring even if you haven’t experienced it.
The definition of empower is to give official authority to. Great leaders have no issues building up others and giving their authority away. Far too many weak leaders are too insecure to grant their authority to others, but this is what sets apart great leaders from the rest of the pack. You’ve got to give it away.
Just as influence requires trust, trust requires integrity. Leaders with integrity set the bar high with high moral standards. Honesty is tough to come by in today’s world, showing that your actions and behavior meet is a surefire way to build a strong foundation of trust.
Developing and shaping others requires that you yourself are continually growing and developing. Knowing what areas need improvement is a key part in self-knowledge. Read, ask questions, further your education and knowledge, just improve from yesterday.
Leadership is about serving others more than serving yourself. You are entrusted with influence over others, the key to leading them is to serve them for their best interests. A great book on this topic is The Go-Giver: A Little Story About A Powerful Business Idea (aff link). Be a serving leader, not a served leader.
We live in an era that makes it difficult to hide things as easy as just ten years ago. Politicians are a group of “leaders” that seem to have failed to learn this. If integrity isn’t important to you, maybe the fact that you will eventually get caught is important. Claiming you are transparent does little to further the cause, actions speak louder than words.
Trust is made with several components, including some included in this list. The importance of trust is that people rarely permit influence to people they do not have some trust in. Think of a mechanic, people typically are not trusting of a mechanic they do not know but allow someone that has been truthful to them in the past to guide their decisions, even on an expensive repair.
Leadership is all about casting a vision and carrying it out. Seeing where you want the organization to go from the 30,000 foot view. Communicating the vision is as important as creating it. Get others on board with creating the vision and you get more buy-in.
So there you have it, the 18 Leadership Qualities That The Best Leaders Have according to me. I’ve found each of these to be important to successful leaders who are in it for more than themselves. Take some time and reflect on the qualities listed and I’d love to hear your thoughts.