How long have you been a part of something that had a clear leader?
Maybe for you, it was sports, school, the workforce, or even just your parents.
Have you come across any leaders or mentors who have really wowed you?
Are YOU trying to be a good leader but not sure what makes a good leader?
We come across so many people calling themselves mentors, leaders, flag bearers, and whatnot, but they fail to leave an imprint as big as their (sometimes self-assigned) titles.
Maybe you know you’ve got leadership qualities, but you haven’t yet found a job that complements them.
Similarly, you might be in a leadership position but fail to do it justice since you’re lacking leadership qualities.
We’ve all heard the saying “he must be doing something right to be in that position.”
However, that “something” just never seems convincing enough for you to just accept your role and feel like a good leader. You find yourself always wondering WHY that guy is doing better than you. What’s the difference?
Often, regardless of your job title, possessing at least a small but solid set of leadership traits can be the key to opening up unforeseen but incredible opportunities.
In fact, many of the leadership traits I outline in this article have helped me to exceed a lot of the expectations I had for my own life.
Some people are leaders, and we feel drawn to being on their team to learn something and enjoy their company.
What might you learn from them? What makes them so successful? What is it that they have that make them a great leader that people sometimes blindly want to follow?
We’re going to get into all of that in this article and hopefully I can shed a little light on what it means to be a good leader and why being one can be so powerful.
What Is Leadership?
Leadership is precisely defined as “the action of leading a group or people or an organization,” or “the state or position of being a leader.”
Pretty straightforward, right?
But I kind of prefer this definition of leadership: “The art of motivating a group of people toward achieving a common goal.”
Dang, puts a whole new perspective on it, doesn’t it?
Instead of just saying it’s an action, it puts how to be a leader in terms of learning an artform, in a way. So in light of this, what is a leader? Someone who tells you what to do through actions or instructions, or someone who just inspires your soul, as a well-done piece of traditional art might do?
So… what does it take to learn that artform?
Well just like anything else in life, there is a recipe for it. A mixture of qualities that any person can train themselves in so they can become a more ideal leader.
Qualities Of A Leader
Not all leaders would endorse the exact same set of leadership qualities, like being a stern boss versus a “buddy boss,” but most would have some common leadership skills that everyone aiming to be a great leader should master.
Most natural leaders have a strong personality, that’s true, and while that may not be easily changed it’s possible to work on some of the soft skills that all great leaders possess.
Let’s dive into some of the must-have traits to become a remarkable leader.
1. Great Communication
Out of all the great leaders I have seen, the strongest trait most of them possess is strong communication.
I mean, all of us speak, talk, and communicate as well, sure.
But to be able to communicate an idea, convince a bunch of people, and impress them with your ideology is something that truly great leaders are uniquely capable of.
When a leader talks, people listen. It doesn’t just end there when they leave the auditorium or the workplace. Others have become his biggest endorsers, just based on their pure excitement.
2. Risk Takers
Great leaders are not fearful and they don’t fear the risk of losing when trying something new.
These are the people who believe in their vision.
They don’t just work on it alone but have the ability to convince and encourage others around them to work towards that vision as well.
Great ideas are not just your typical run of the mill.
They are unique and sometimes look highly likely to fail, but only a visionary can foresee its future.
People who can visualize the future and work on its realization, regardless of risk, become remarkable leaders. They have the courage and the strength to own their ideology and work towards its completion.
3. Ethical and Humble
Not every CEO is a leader. Some get to that point simply due to fate.
Trust me, I know from experience. Even as I propelled myself to a CEO role, I KNEW I had a lot of work to do in terms of becoming a better leader.
A powerful role does not make you a great leader. It just so happens most great leaders eventually obtain powerful roles.
With that being said, great leaders are extremely ethical and humble with people. These are the people we want as the CEOs of companies.
They have the ability to empathize with people.
Because without a team, there is no leader. A team consists of members who are human and have issues just like every normal person does. A good leader will be able to understand this.
A great leader also listens to their team and addresses issues. They try to resolve any issues as a high priority, making sure that they have a workplace every person can be comfortable in.
A true leader would treat the janitor the same way he treats his managing director. People are not afraid of them; they respect these leaders.
This a key, distinguishing feature of great leaders.
4. Unbreakable Resilience
If you want to be a great leader, you have to show persistence and resilience.
Especially in bad times, a great leader wouldn’t play the blame game. Rather, he would step up and try to solve the problem by providing means and guidance.
There are so many people coming up with issues. A great leader will focus on finding the solution, not adding to the problem.
They are not afraid of bad times and come out as warriors in testing times.
5. Positive Attitude
A positive mindset and attitude are inherent leadership traits.
If you want to become a leader with great following and appreciation, try to be positive in all aspects of your life. Positivity enables you to give pleasant vibes.
This becomes magnetic for people around you. They will gather around you to feel that vibe.
Elon Musk, famous for his work in space science and electric cars, is tirelessly optimistic and resilient. He stays positive and is known for saying, “failure is an option here. If you’re not failing, you’re not innovating enough.”
A great leader doesn’t need a tangible motivator to work better.
These are the people who are self-motivated to achieve their personal goals which are mostly aligned with the organization’s objectives.
When you are working with someone who is always motivated to move forward and walk the extra mile for people, you automatically feel a bit more willing to reciprocate.
This in my opinion is one of the easiest self-taught techniques.
It’s not a mood; it’s a habit that can be developed and was one of the first traits I worked to develop on my journey to become a better leader.
You would never find a leader talking about typical ideas. They are always interested in something novel, unique, and futuristic.
Do you see yourself moved by new ideas or do you ever get hooked learning about new things? If not you may need to take more time for yourself.
It’s hard to be creative if you are always caught up with stressful work, and trying to meet deadlines.
Creativity needs space for thinking.
Bill Gates of Microsoft is famous for taking a break called “Think Week.” Staying in isolation and reading is all he does. Most of the great ideas he comes up with are from that vacation time.
So, if you are aspiring to be a great leader, start taking breaks, and utilize them for digging deep.
8. Problem Solver
Would a leader come up with an excuse or a solution? If you have ever worked with a great leader, you know that they always have a solution to every problem.
They are the problem-solvers, not the problem creators.
Interestingly, they are also adept at figuring out who they can trust to take the lead for them and who can come up with some feasible solutions in their place.
9. Honesty & Integrity
Great leaders are known for their honesty and integrity. If you are sincere with yourself, and the work you do, there is nothing that can hold you back.
Success is not earned overnight.
It’s a process of relentless working with high morals. Even if nobody is supervising you, do the right thing.
Work with complete honesty, and soon you will be noticed.
Great leaders don’t come from space. They are produced, developed, nurtured, and mentored. If you want to learn how to be a leader, start with making the right decisions.
10. Constant Learning
Learning is a constant state for a great leader. No leader ever thought that there is nothing left to be learned.
Even the richest and most sought-after leaders in the world don’t stop learning.
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, wears the same clothes daily to avoid the waste of time in deciding what to wear. He lives a simple life where he works and makes time to learn something new now and then.
If you are unable to be coached, your downfall or stagnation is pretty much guaranteed.
Great leaders are always up for learning something new. They love to teach people and be taught. In their opinion, learning is a never-ending phenomenon.
11. Decision Makers
Do you have the ability to make a decision? Leadership skills require you to make important decisions.
There are several possibilities for the outcome of your decision. Question is, are you afraid of the outcome? If you are, then you can never be a great leader.
One of the key ingredients in making a great leader is his ability to call the shots.
You have to make the decision and move forward confidently.
Some people look up to you. Fearing failure is not an option for a leader. What a leader must do is, take action and foresee the outcome.
You will be wrong sometimes. But through that experience, there will be solid learning, which later you can apply in other projects.
With leadership comes accountability.
If you are scared of taking ownership, you would never be held responsible, and therefore, never be able to build a reputation of accountability.
If you are aspiring to acquire leadership qualities, you must start taking responsibility and ownership. If there is a project at work for which you can volunteer, step up and grab the opportunity.
Don’t look at others to fill in for you when you have every capacity to do so. It is one of the greatest qualities of a leader that he never plays the blame game and takes responsibility for his actions.
It would help if you tried in order to succeed or fail. But if you are not trying, you will not learn.
Agility means swiftness, flexibility, and precision. These are rarely found in leadership traits.
Many people are decisive, positive, charismatic, and optimistic. However, to be accurate in precision and quick response takes another level of superiority.
Great leaders can take swift actions as the market changes. Even in the middle of a project, if they feel a need to change their plan, they would quickly get their team to act, and make the needed modifications.
They are not going to wait until the project finishes so they can introduce a change of plans. This quick response and market reading are a special skill only great leaders possess.
14. Great Listener
People tend to think of leaders as the ones who do a lot of the talking. But a great leader is a great listener as well.
If you are not listening to people, you will never understand their problems, let alone be able to help give them a solution.
People love to talk about themselves. Let them talk, and they will like you and appreciate that you listened.
When aspiring to be a great leader, one of the biggest challenges is to hold back your own thoughts and resolve to do more listening.
Similarly, don’t listen to hit back; rather, the intention should be that you are listening to understand the issue so you can be of help.
You won’t find a successful company that has made its mark without a vision and mission.
Every global company is aspiring to achieve a position or goal for its stakeholders. The vision of a company is as influential as its leader.
While looking at leadership qualities, vision is a huge one. You wouldn’t find a great leader without an impressive vision for the company he is leading.
As John C. Maxwell rightly puts it, “people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”
So clearly, you need to be visionary, far-sighted, and convincing to become a great leader.
Does influence make a good leader?
If you think that I could be an introvert and still beloved by the people, you are not entirely wrong. Influence doesn’t always come to people who are extroverts and fun. It has to be earned with your humbleness, smart work, promptness, and humility.
Today you help someone in his time of need, and tomorrow your favor will be returned. In many parts of the world, businesses are run on public relations.
They say if you are influential enough, you can even become a president. It’s not as simple as it may sound. Influence doesn’t come overnight. But great leaders are always influential.
If you think that there are a bunch of important people you know who have the power to make things move, and they would gladly do it for you, you are on the right track. Influence comes with power and position.
There are so many ways through which you can earn influence.
- Connect with people, not just know them
- Show your emotional support not just verbal
- Actions speak louder than words, if you can help someone, please do
- Ask for other people’s input and advise
- Be professional
- Be self-aware
- Show your vulnerability and your charisma
- Build real relationships, not just professional
In many countries, if you want to know someone personally, you invite them to dinner, but in some other parts of the world, you invite them for drinks. Choose your invitation wisely.
Look around and see what other people are doing to develop and nurture their relationships.
A true leader is never timid. He is always bold, surefooted, and assertive.
His confidence oozes out of every inch of his body when he is speaking. One of the most important qualities of a leader is confidence.
Even if he is trying to convince you to go left when you have already decided to go right, he will say it with such affirmation that you will change your mind. That is how a great leader works.
If you are looking shabby, unsure, mumbling, and confused, you can’t even act like a leader.
What is the first instinct when you are talking to a great leader? In your heart, you trust them.
That is one of the foremost instincts you have when you are talking to someone you consider a great leader.
This is also one of the rarest qualities these days in leaders (see comment above about not enough honest CEOs these days).
Especially in these dynamic times, it has become so difficult to trust the leaders who are always trying to be politically correct and wouldn’t speak their actual mind.
Jack Ma, one of China’s richest men and founder of Alibaba said during his interview with CNBC in 2013 when Alibaba went public, “Today what we got is not money. What we got is the trust of the people.”
You have to find a leader you can trust. If you want to be that person, then start your journey by being honest.
It will enable people to trust you for what you say. Trust is also earned like many other leadership qualities. It isn’t inherited.
So, if you want people to trust you unconditionally, be fair in your dealings and always do the rightful thing. This continuous process will earn you the endless trust of people.
19. Emotional intelligence
One of the most important qualities of a leader isn’t just being empathetic. It isn’t just being a charismatic, sharp, confident, and idealist individual.
But more than anything, it is being a real human that is capable of showing emotions and compassion.
When we look at leaders who are sharp but poor with communication, we begin to build resentment.
If you looked at favorite leaders around you, they would be the ones with a high emotional quotient and who truly care for the people they deal with.
You don’t want to communicate your issues with a person who would selfishly refuse help. Rather, you would find someone who would sincerely listen to your issue, and if nothing else then at least console you.
Building emotional connections with people around you are one of the major unique qualities of leaders.
Final Thoughts On Leadership Qualities
As you can tell, true, born leadership is a unique and rare talent.
However, there are a few qualities that you can learn from your teachers, mentors, and associates that you look up to.
There is always going to be a shining star you admire. Look at what qualities they possess that have led you to become their follower.
Try to engage with them as much as you can, and learn from them. Each person is known by the company he or she keeps.
Stay in the company of a great leader, and they will naturally mentor you to become one in turn.
Remember to pay that knowledge forward, and you’ll find you’ve become a true leader yourself.