Leadership Qualities: A List of 8 Traits You Need To Become a Great Leader
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Question: What do Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and even Che Guevara have in Common?
Well, other than the fact that they were all killed…oof.
Anyways, regardless of their ideals, goals, or the time period they lived in, they were all undeniably some of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen.
The world is full of people who seem to have an innate aura that surrounds them; an aura that makes them great leaders.
I mean, what would the Avengers be without Tony Stark and the Cap? What would the 96-98 Bulls have been without Jordan or Phil Jackson? Luckily, we’ll never have to know, because these great leaders were there to drive their teams to be the very best.
So what is it that makes a good leader? What is a leader? What leadership qualities can be identified and learned, or are they all something you have to be born with?
Loaded questions, I know. So first…
What Is Leadership?
A leader is someone who inspires people, be they few or many, to rally behind a cause, and pushes them to excel. They possess certain traits, certain leadership traits that make this rally possible.
Leadership, in turn, is simply putting those traits into action and being the driving force behind something, and inspiring others to drive that something further, with you.
Don’t feel like you were born with the stuff?
Don’t fret just yet! Science shows that many of these qualities of a leader can be learned.
As with many things in life, you can teach yourself these leadership skills and through practice and self-discipline, you can train yourself to be a great leader (and yes, I promise dying is not a prerequisite).
Let’s take a look at a few of the most important leadership qualities.
What Makes A Good Leader — Top 8 Leadership Qualities
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 leadership skills below.
If you’re a good, honest person already, chances are these will be a breeze. If, on the other hand, you’re like the dastardly villains in the old cartoons, well…just know you’ve got your work cut out for you, mmk?
“The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Well said, Mr. Eisenhower.
Of all of the traits I am about to list, This one is undoubtedly one of the foremost.
In fact even our United States Air Force values this as not just one of, but the first of its three core values: Integrity First.
Integrity means that you not only HAVE a moral compass, but that you guide yourself by it.
It means that you don’t falter when no one is watching, or when confronted about it in groups.
Why would a person of sound integrity have to worry about being confronted on their moral compass?
Let’s not forget, while integrity is a paramount trait of a leader, integrity in and of itself is morally grey. Bear in mind that not all great leaders of the world have been on the right side of history. Great does not always mean good.
Let’s take Che Guevara for example.
A stunning leader. A guerilla fighter that could create passion and embolden the people that fought alongside him, not for him.
A person whose opinions could sway the likes of Fidel Castro. The man was the leader of an entire revolution.
He was also a brutal Marxist dictator that was reported to have imprisoned and murdered Blacks and gays soooo….
As dark as it is, hero or villain, Che embodies the philosophy of integrity.
He never faltered in his goals and never contradicted his beliefs, going so far as to tell the man sent to kill him: “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, you are only going to kill a man.”
With this being said, be weary of the leaders you admire and look up to. As someone can be a GREAT leader, but NOT a great person.
Who wants to follow someone with a pride complex?
Don’t get me wrong, pride is not always bad and plenty of great leaders were prideful, but there is a reason this trait does not make this list.
Through force of energy, a prideful leader can sway many, but these tend to be more follow-minded individuals. A truly great leader is humble, eliciting genuine affection from those that follow.
When the people you lead genuinely like you, they work harder. Your goals become their goals because they can identify with your ideals and they don’t feel cowed or lesser than you.
Humility is a great trait for anyone, but it is more palpable when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.
George Saint Pierre, “GSP”, is an all-time great when it comes to the octagon of the UFC. It isn’t just his precision striking that makes him so beloved though.
For a man that could legitimately one-shot most of us into a long nap before we knew it was coming, GSP is notoriously humble.
Never really one for the crap talk, he almost always had gracious things to say of his opponent, win or lose.
Pride is great, right up until you fall or fail or lose, and I’m here to tell you that to believe that you’ll never fail is a Kanye West level of pride.
Don’t be a Kanye.
Okay, I know I just said that Kanye thing, so I figured now would be a good time to mention that confidence is still tantamount to an effective and great leader.
A great leader can make people do things that they never believed they could.
Think about it like this.
How well do you think the storming of Normandy would have gone if just before the boats hit the shores on D-day, the commanding officer looked to his Marines and said: “Uh…I don’t know about this, guys. Yeah, they got a lot of guns over there, I’m gonna chill here on second thought. I think a lot of y’all are gonna get messed up.”
I don’t know what was actually said, but you better believe it was something inspiring and full of confidence.
“Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will.” — Venus Williams
Whether it’s storming beaches 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.
When you speak forcefully and with confidence people are scientifically more likely to believe you and like you, hence more likely to follow you.
“You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.” — Sam Rayburn
A person can be a leader, a person can even be a good leader, but to be a truly great leader one explicitly needs this trait.
The ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, to know and understand the human emotive state is a skill that will bring a leader to the next level.
It may not be something that is as glaringly obvious as confidence, but it’s something we all notice. We instinctively as humans feel when someone truly relates to us.
This is why support groups are so effective.
When we are going through something incredibly difficult, people may feel sympathy for you, and certainly that can be appreciated, but when someone has gone through something similar to you and they can truly empathize with you, you naturally feel it harder and more genuinely.
This holds true for leadership. Someone that has worked their way from where you are to where they are resonates deep within us.
The ability to truly understand and feel the way that words and actions make others feel is one way to foster a tight, loyal bond.
Just because it’s way down here, don’t underestimate the importance of communication in leadership!
How can someone lead without clear, concise goals or instructions?
All I’m saying is you can’t expect me to read your mind (yes, I’m talking to you fictional ex-boss)!
You can’t just give me some vague instruction and expect me to extrapolate that you somehow meant something else entirely! Or be mad that I didn’t do something to your ridiculously specific standards when you didn’t TELL ME THOSE STANDARDS!
This completely fictional boss figure is a perfect example of a bad leader.
Among many things that this fictional personality would be undoubtedly flawed with, the foremost of these would have to be a lack of communication. Good leaders can communicate well with the people that they are trying to lead.
This communication is not solely verbal.
We’ve all spoken with people who were clearly uninterested in what we were saying, even if it is something we personally deem important.
This demoralizes people and makes them feel unimportant or even angry. This person was non-verbally telling us that they don’t care, or we’re wasting their time.
This does not a good leader make.
“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” – Albert Einstein
The act of being a great leader is to forge a relationship with those you seek to lead.
This simple fact alone means that our mothers were right: No fibbing.
If trust is not built on some level between leader and follower, a working symbiosis can never be formed.
How can you trust someone who has shown themselves to be dishonest?
There must be an instinctual trust that a leader is leading properly, towards the overall goal.
If this does not exist progress is broken. 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.
Maybe tasks take longer.
Maybe someone deviated from the plan, believing a gut instinct over the suggestion of a leader that has earned their contempt, but was wrong and harmed the overall goal.
Many mistakes can stem from a lack of trust, therefore it is important for a great leader to be both honest and transparent.
This may come as a surprise to some, but things rarely go entirely to plan on a long enough scale.
The ability to improvise is that creative skill that allows one to roll with the punches.
If the first roadblock deters you and leaves you scratching your head, this is probably something you should work on if you want to be a successful and potent leader.
We work with what we got. –War Machine
He may be a fictional character of the Marvel Universe, but he sums it up pretty well.
A great leader can navigate the murky road ahead and find the path that leads to success.
The successful leader can take those moments when others say “No way” and turn it into “This way. Follow me.”
Improvisation is one way to garner the respect of those around you. A cool, calm head prevails with a plan. You work with what you got. Never underestimate the power of a combined group with one unified goal.
When displayed without ego and arrogance (AKA – not saying things like – I figured this out, why couldn’t you? Oh yeah, I’m great.) It reinforces people’s faith in you.
It validates that they were right in choosing to follow you, because make no mistake, you won’t force people to follow you, it’s always a choice.
8. The Ability to Delegate
Alright, alright, I already know what you’re going to say. “The ability to delegate” sounds a lot like “The ability to tell me what to do, so you don’t have to.”
Well, yes and no.
For starters, a great leader will always handle their share of the work to be done. Those who “lead from the rear” will never garner the same respect as those that actively work with and for the people they lead.
More to the point, a great leader has the ability to identify the strengths of the members of his team and utilize them in a way that maximizes the potential of every single member.
For example, a poor leader might bark orders, just throwing men at a task. In some cases they may even just say “Somebody do this! Somebody do that!” Tsk Tsk. Congratulations, you’ve taken several steps back in the pursuit of being a great leader.
Being a leader doesn’t mean the same as being the boss.
A great leader would have approached the same situation and begun to formulate a plan.
Because he knows his workers, he knows that Timothy has a background in a field that would make him specifically equipped to handle a certain task, and he delegates that task to him.
This has multiple effects. First, it makes it so that the task at hand is most efficiently handled.
It also gives Timothy a motivational boost. Knowing that he is well equipped, if not the best equipped to handle this specific task. It adds a level of pride that will reflect in his work.
Handled correctly, delegation of tasks not only increases morale and efficiency but will never feel like someone putting their work off on others.
Final Thoughts On Leadership Qualities
Being a leader, a true leader, means many things.
There are probably hundreds of traits that could make up a great leader.
Not all of them are necessary to be one, but these that I’ve mentioned are seen repeatedly. Over and over in history’s greatest leaders, whether they’re military, revolutionists, pacifists, or social rights activists these qualities have shone through.
Many other qualities have their own importance.
The list goes on.
While it may be impossible overall to sum up into simple words what makes a good leader, I feel like this quote by Douglas MacArthur does some justice:
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
Read that again: “but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
Be honest, be true to yourself and others, and be a vision for others to flock to. You’ll make a great leader, even if that’s all you master.
Hey! I'm Noah Riggs.
Noah is the founder of Busy Living Better and has built a life he loves, despite growing up poor. He shares exactly how he started his six-figure business, became financially stable, and lives his best life so that he can help you do the same. You can read more about how he did all of this before the age of 23!