12 Essential Leadership Qualities
It goes without saying that a good leader must exhibit strong leadership qualities in order to be maximally effective in their role. While this sentiment may be an obvious one, it’s worth taking a closer look at some specific leadership qualities that have a significant impact.
Here are 12 essential leadership qualities that every leader should have;
Effective communication in a leader involves more than being adept in one-on-one interactions with employees. And while non-verbal cues can be useful, the ability to express yourself openly promotes the foundation of effective leadership: empathy.
People follow when they feel heard, thus making the skill of listening one of the largest facets of effective communication skills. This involves maintaining real eye contact while demonstrating authentic interest and care in the lives and stories of others. When a leader exhibits strong interest in their subordinates’ well-being, it allows the subordinate to feel respected.
Great leaders must be able to motivate, instruct, and discipline their team. They cannot accomplish this without effective communication skills. When a leader shows little interest in the lives of others, avoids eye contact, and refuses to contribute openly in interactions, team members begin to shut down, and may even perceive the leader as untrustworthy.
Integrity in a leader involves giving proper credit for accomplishments, acknowledging and taking responsibility for mistakes, and putting safety and quality above reputation. Simply put, it is the ability to do the right thing when no one is watching.
Success in a company is impossible without integrity engrained in the leadership system. A leader cannot expect honesty from their team members if they are not engaging in it themselves. An honest leader sticks to their word, lives by their core values, leads by example, and follows through on their promises. When a leader is committed to the value of integrity, it contributes tremendously to the trust that their team places in their leadership itself.
In short, integrity in a leader manifests itself when a leader is able to:
- Apologize and hold themselves accountable for mistakes where it is due
- Highlight the work of employees, and downplay their own contributions
- Give the benefit of the doubt when circumstances are unclear
- Show appreciation for the contribution of all team members, and stress the importance of each role that is involved
While integrity holds a leader to their ability to delegate responsibility and assign praise and blame fairly and accordingly, the quality of accountability refers to the leader’s ability to hold themselves accountable to the faults of the team.
A strong leader is unafraid to hold themselves accountable for the team’s results, whether good or bad, because they project confidence in their organizational leadership qualities, abilities and overall have faith in their team. Therefore, if something goes wrong, a good leader must be able to recognize their own contributions (or lack thereof) and take ownership.
A charismatic leader is often well-spoken, approachable, and typically friendly. These attributes can more readily cultivate a healthy sense of trust between a leader and the team members, which in turn promotes effective communication, problem-solving, and collaboration. While charisma is not a core competency, it can be a leadership quality that attracts and builds team member commitment.
When a leader exhibits open-mindedness and genuine interest in every individual employee’s professional motivations, struggles, and hopes, it forges a personal connection with the employee that only further contributes to the all-important sense of the trust that is crucial to effective leadership.
Empathy is not just playing nice with team members, it involves a true attempt at personal and emotional understanding. When a leader is in tune with the emotional needs of their team members, it enables them to:
- Make better organizational predictions
- Improve work environment and strategies better suited to the needs of their employees
- Improve negotiation and communication tactics, both internally and externally
- Increase organizational creativity
Empathy is among the most important of all leadership qualities, as it promotes a humane environment, one where team members and leaders alike can thrive. It is also the number one important aspect of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
An effective leader is confident enough to lead a team towards a vision that is carefully curated with the best interests of the team and the company in mind. When a leader exudes confidence in the potential outcome of the plan they have set in motion, it instills a sense of trust in the team environment that promotes effective collaboration and team efforts.
A leader who lacks confidence can be detrimental to a team’s ability to commit to a shared vision. If a team member does not believe that one’s own leader and owner of the plan believes wholeheartedly in the effectiveness of their decision, it can lead them to grow disheartened, thus decreasing the quality of their own contributions and quality of work.
A truly effective leader is deeply in tune with the essential characteristic of humility. They innately focus on problem-solving and team dynamics vs. ideas of self-promotion and reputation. A leader cannot effectively engage their team members if they are consumed with their own results and achievements.
When a leader exhibits humility and selflessness, balanced carefully with confidence in their vision and decisions, they become humane and relatable to their subordinates, allowing the team to function much more collaboratively.
Direct reports tend to exhibit the behavior of their managers, mirroring their reactions to given situations (speed of the leader, speed of the pack). Thus, an effective leader must always learn to lead by example. In order to cultivate the responses you desire from your subordinates, you must demonstrate what the desired behaviors look like. This translates to displaying a consistently positive outlook even during stressful situations and mishaps. This will discourage team members from feeling disheartened over minor failures.
A strong sense of vision and ability to articulate the path forward is an integral leadership quality that is a critical part of effective leadership. When conveying an image of the end goal for the team, a good leader must clearly establish clarity of direction, and exercise keen decisiveness when it comes to implementing the steps needed to be taken to realizing their vision.
Effective decision-making is equally critical to achieving goals as a team. When a leader can consistently reinforce and demonstrate confidence in the end-goal, it inspires and influences people to not only align themselves but it builds loyalty and ultimately shared success.
Delegating effectively is a skill that many new leaders struggle with during the transition from individual contributor (or subject matter expert) to a leader of people. Too often leaders are not supported in building their skill sets of leading others. Effective delegation in action (vs. micromanaging) allows for a leader to promote independent learning and growth of their people.
Great leaders are able to shape other’s thoughts and ideas, directing them towards the common goal, and after providing the tools that are necessary for the individual’s success, they then get out of the way. By establishing clear expectations, and outlining where the finish line is, this gives more autonomy to the employee, strengthening their trust in the direction of the leader.
It is important to note that an effective leader is not empowered to make decisions based solely on their status or position. The nature of risk-taking that is involved in delegation and bears this risk at the benefit of the company. They make the decisions, and thus take the risks, acknowledging that they will be held accountable first and foremost if the decision was not the correct one.
The nature of the relationship between decision-making a responsibility that an effective leader bears is intertwined with the importance of establishing true loyalty within a team environment.
An effective leader recognizes that true loyalty is not given, it is reciprocal. They thus can express the loyalty they expect from team members in tangible ways that mutually benefit the team and the leader. Again, leading by example.
Loyalty from team members can only be expected if the leader themselves shows loyalty to their team in return. This top-down loyalty manifests itself when a leader is able to ensure that all team members have the necessary training and resources to succeed in their role, and also when they are able to stand up for team members in situations of crisis or conflict.
Leadership and influence are not interchangeable. Simply possessing a title of leadership does not guarantee respect from employees. It must be earned, not given. In order to increase influence, an effective leader must:
- Clearly state what they want
- Connect with people emotionally, not just professionally
- Make all team members feel important and validated
- Work toward common goals and visions of success
- Ask for input and be willing to adapt their methods to suit the needs of their employees
- Cultivate real, strong, long-lasting relationships
- Have self-awareness and humility
Leaders Must Exhibit These Essential Leadership Qualities
While engaging and inspiring speeches can make leaders strong in moments of need, it is action that solidifies respect and trust in the workings of a high-performing team environment. Each of the leadership qualities mentioned above are essential to cultivating successful and highly contributing leaders of both people and process. Companies must recognize and encourage these necessary traits in emerging and existing leaders, in order to ensure a clear standard is set for not only effective leadership but for engaged and productive employees.