To become a great leader, you will need to develop qualities like wisdom, integrity, critical thinking, respect, and compassion.
Once it was believed you were either born with these traits or you weren’t (we called it the trait theory of leadership). Once, it was believed that “great men” were born, not made (Judge et al., 2009).
But today, it’s more commonly believed that great leaders – men and women – are forged through experience (Tremaine, 2016). Through their experiences, leaders develop the wisdom and tacit knowledge required to become truly great leaders. Below are some qualities we generally associate with those great leaders.
Leadership Qualities Examples
1. Vision: A leader has a clear sense of where they want to go, along with a robust action plan. This involves setting strategic objectives for the team and ensuring everyone understands the larger mission (e.g. like the CEO of a company plotting long-term growth strategies).
2. Decisiveness: Leaders have the responsibility of making difficult decisions. Once they have consulted their team and gathered all the key information, it is generally down to the leader to make the final decision.
3. Integrity: A leader displays integrity by being honest, ethical, and reliable. This establishes trust within the team and gains respect from the team members. This respect and trust will ensure the team members follow the leader through thick and thin.
4. Communication Skills: An effective leader knows how to communicate well. This quality involves expressing thoughts, plans, and expectations clearly and efficiently and altering your communication style for different audiences.
5. Empathy: This intrinsic quality enables a leader to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy promotes trust and loyalty, and encourages an open and honest work environment.
6. Resilience: Leaders who showcase resilience do not view failures as catastrophic but rather as opportunities for learning and growth. They bounce back from setbacks and inspire their team to do the same.
7. Problem-Solving Skills: Strong leaders are often marked by their ability to think critically and to efficiently solve problems. They can decompose complex issues and lead their team towards effective solutions.
8. Adaptability: Good leaders are able to alter their strategies as new information becomes available. They adapt to changing conditions and business climates, modifying their tactics and leading their teams to new directions as required.
9. Confidence: A good leader maintains confidence, not only in themselves but in their team as well. They exude a strong sense of self-assurance, demonstrating faith in their abilities and in the competencies of their team members.
10. Accountability: Leaders take responsibility for the outcomes of their actions and decisions. They own up to their mistakes and can admit when they are wrong. This trait encourages a sense of responsibility within the team.
11. Inspiring Others: Effective leaders have the ability to inspire those around them. They encourage team members to strive for greatness and aim for success, fostering a motivating, positive work environment.
12. Strategic Thinking: Successful leaders are proficient at thinking strategically. They can see the bigger picture, anticipate future challenges, and make plans to overcome them.
13. Emotional Intelligence: This allows a leader to manage their emotions and those of their team. They understand their feelings and assess their reactions, as well as recognize and interpret the emotions of others. This ability plays a significant role in decision-making and team relationships.
14. Delegation skills: Great leaders understand the importance of delegation. They acknowledge the skills and potentials of their team members and assign tasks accordingly. Proper delegation paves the way for efficient team performance.
15. Humility: A humble leader admits mistakes, seeks feedback, and shares credit. Recognizing that everyone has something to offer, they learn from all team members, regardless of rank.
16. Patience: A good leader exhibits patience, allowing room for errors and understanding that progress and development take time. Essentially, they provide a safe and supportive atmosphere for their team to learn and grow.
17. Active listening skills: Effective leaders listen more than they talk. They are open to new ideas and feedback, showing genuine interest in their team members’ perspectives. This encourages open communication within the team.
18. Courage: Courage in leadership involves the willingness to take risks and make hard decisions. Courageous leaders confront uncertainty with confidence, thereby instilling the same in their teams.
19. Focus: Leaders possess the ability to focus on key objectives and steer their team towards them. They maintain the team’s attention on the primary goals and mitigate distractions.
20. Creativity: Leaders encourage innovation and creativity. They nurture a culture where team members are encouraged to think outside the box and offer fresh ideas.
22. Positivity: Leaders maintain a positive attitude, even in challenging circumstances. By demonstrating optimism, they inspire their teams to stay motivated and to persevere through difficulties.
24. Approachability: Leaders need to be approachable to ease the process of communication. Team members should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns.
25. Ability to Teach: Good leaders are also good teachers. They employ their skills and knowledge to educate and prepare their team members for success.
Full List of Leadership Traits
- Communication skills
- Active listening
- Ethical behavior
- Critical thinking
- Time management
- Emotional intelligence
- Conflict resolution
- Strategic thinking
- Willingness to learn
- Emotional stability
- Feedback receptivity
- Cultural competence
- Constructive criticism
- Calm under pressure
- Continuous improvement mindset
- Work ethic
- Empathetic listening
- Realistic optimism
- Constructive feedback
- Respect for diversity
- Awareness of one’s limitations
Qualities of Different Types of Leaders
The traits you have as a leader often depend upon the type of leadership that you embrace (Nanjundeswaraswamy & Swamy, 2014). Some people are more democratic (they distribute power widely) while others are more transformational (they bring fresh and inspiring insights to the role).
Some key types of leaders that you could model include:
1. Charismatic Leaders
Charismatic leaders are followed and respected because of their personalities. They use their charisma to inspire their followers (Tremaine, 2016).
Charismatic leaders have an exceptional ability to champion a vision or idea. They communicate this vision with passion and conviction, captivating the attention of their followers.
These leaders are often enthusiastic, dominant, self-confident, and emotionally expressive. Their passion and certainty tend to secure their followers’ trust and commitment to the cause (Conger, 2015).
Moreover, their persuasive communication style can significantly influence the thinking and behavior of their teams. Ultimately, charismatic leaders have the potential to promote innovation and drive their followers towards exceptional performance.
Charismatic Leader Qualities: Exceptional communication skills, self-confidence, assertiveness, emotional expressiveness, adaptability, visionary thinking, passion, persuasive ability.
See More: Charismatic Leadership Examples
2. Transformational Leaders
While there is overlap, charismatic leaders and transformational leaders are not identically the same (Anderson, 2017).
Charismatic leaders rely primarily on their charm and personality to captivate their followers. Their ability to inspire and motivate often comes from their assertiveness, confidence, and personal allure (Bass & Riggio, 2005).
On the other hand, transformational leaders go beyond personal allure.
Transformational leaders seek to instill profound change within their followers and the organization. These leaders emphasize intrinsic motivation and followers’ growth. Their focus is on transforming the team and getting the most out of them.
They focus on empowering their team, fostering innovation, and promoting a shared vision.
Transformational Leader Qualities: Inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, visionary thinking, integrity, empathy, adaptability, influence.
See More: Transformational Leadership Examples
3. Democratic Leaders
Democratic leaders, also known as participative leaders, prioritize the participation of all team members in the decision-making process.
They are characterized by their commitment to open and frequent communication, garnering different perspectives and ideas before finalizing decisions (Foels et al., 2000).
These leaders foster a collaborative working environment where each member’s input is highly valued.
Their leadership style encourages creativity, innovation, and commitment among team members.
Democratic leaders often excel in situations that require consensus-building and collaboration. Importantly, such leaders balance their ultimate decision-making authority with their team members’ active participation, ensuring that everyone feels heard and involved.
Democratic Leader Qualities: Collaborative decision-making, open communication, active listening, fairness, respect for team input, patience, flexibility, empowerment.
See More: Democratic Leadership Examples
4. Servant Leaders
Servant leaders embody a leadership approach that prioritizes the needs of the team above their own (Peterson et al., 2017).
These leaders are primarily driven by the desire to serve others and contribute to their well-being and development (Tremaine, 2016). Their focus is on empowering and uplifting those who they manage, fostering a strong sense of community within their teams.
Servant leaders often listen attentively to their team members’ concerns and are empathetic and supportive in their responses.
They lead by example, demonstrating humility, authenticity, and a strong moral compass. Ultimately, servant leadership tends to enhance team collaboration, employee morale, and overall organizational performance.
Servant Leader Qualities: Empathy, humility, selflessness, commitment to growth of individuals, focus on community building, listening skills, stewardship, authenticity.
See More: Servant Leadership Examples
5. Coaching Leaders
Coaching leaders are primarily concerned with the development and growth of their team members.
Their leadership approach focuses on identifying and nurturing the individual strengths of each team member, providing regular feedback and guidance to foster their professional growth (Amanchukwu, Stanley & Ololube, 2015).
Coaching leaders are skilled in motivational and goal-setting techniques, striving to help their team embrace new skills and competencies.
These leaders often serve as mentors, investing time and effort in building strong, trusting relationships with their team members. They view challenges as learning opportunities and encourage their team to do the same. Ultimately, coaching leaders aim to build a culture of continuous learning and improvement.
Coaching Leader Qualities: Developing others, patience, goal-oriented, motivational, approachable, observant, feedback-driven, communicative.
See More: Coaching Style of Leadership Examples
The qualities that you develop as a leader will take time. Maintain a growth mindset, look at failures as learning opportunities, and continue to learn about leadership concepts. You can’t become an amazing leader unless you go through the hard yards of experiencing failure, experiencing bad bosses, experiencing good bosses, and reflecting on your own strengths and weaknesses, to emerge with the leadership traits that will serve you, your team, and your organizations the best.
Amanchukwu, R. N., Stanley, G. J., & Ololube, N. P. (2015). A review of leadership theories, principles and styles and their relevance to educational management. Management, 5(1), 6-14.
Anderson, M. (2017). Transformational leadership in education: A review of existing literature. International Social Science Review, 93(1), 1-13. doi: https://www.jstor.org/stable/90012919
Bass, B.M., & Riggio, R.E. (2005). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). Psychology Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781410617095
Conger, J. (2015). Charismatic leadership. Wiley encyclopedia of management, 1-2. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118785317.weom110122
Foels, R., Driskell, J. E., Mullen, B., & Salas, E. (2000). The effects of democratic leadership on group member satisfaction: An integration. Small Group Research, 31(6), 676–701. https://doi.org/10.1177/104649640003100603
Judge, T. A., Piccolo, R. F., & Kosalka, T. (2009). The bright and dark sides of leader traits: A review and theoretical extension of the leader trait paradigm. The leadership quarterly, 20(6), 855-875. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2009.09.004
Nanjundeswaraswamy, T. S., & Swamy, D. R. (2014). Leadership styles. Advances in management, 7(2), 57.
Peterson, S. J., Benjamin M. Galvin, B.M., & Lange, D. (2012). CEO servant leadership: Exploring executive characteristics and firm performance. Personnel Psychology 65(3), 565–596. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2012.01253.x
Tremaine, R. L. (2016). The high flying leadership qualities: what matters the most?. Defense Acquisition Research Journal: A Publication of the Defense Acquisition University, 23(2).
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]