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Top leadership qualities of great leaders

Last updated

16 November 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

Leadership is not the same as management. Anyone can be a leader if they have the right qualities, whether or not they are a manager. Many managers do not actually possess leadership qualities!

Good leaders not only guide teams to make critical decisions but also help shape the company as a whole.

Let’s dive into the top leadership qualities of an exceptional leader.

What are leadership qualities?

Graham Weston, founder of the cloud-computing company Rackspace, said, "We all want to be valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission." As leaders, we have a role to play in ensuring we deliver on this promise.

A good leader is someone who helps create an inspiring vision of the future, delivers this vision, motivates others to engage with the vision, and then builds and coaches a team so that they can help achieve the vision. As a result, there are certain qualities often associated with a great leader. These traits are ones that every leader should strive for.

12 top leadership qualities

While numerous qualities can make a great leader, twelve essential traits are often associated with this role.

1. Integrity

A leader with integrity is trustworthy, reliable, and honest. People with integrity follow through on their promises and take responsibility for their mistakes. They do not hide them, make excuses, or blame others.

As a leader, it's crucial to possess integrity personally and for the organization. This trait is particularly vital for top-level executives responsible for steering the course of the organization and making significant decisions.

2. Delegation

Leaders are known for taking on a lot of work, often more than they can handle. As a result, they can become stressed and overwhelmed. That is why delegating is one of the more critical responsibilities of a leader.

Effective delegation can be challenging. The point of delegating is to free yourself up, not to get rid of work, but to:

  • Make better decisions

  • Help the organization grow

  • Provide autonomy

  • Facilitate teamwork

However, what sets apart a team leader from a great leader is that a great leader assigns the tasks to a high-performing member who will prioritize what needs to be done. It also allows the leader to look at everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to help identify what should be assigned to the team.

3. Communication

Great leaders can communicate in different ways and “paint the picture.” For instance, they can coach others and relay complicated information in an easy-to-digest manner while explaining in detail what is expected and how to get there. What's more, how well your leaders communicate within an organization directly affects the success of the corporation's business strategy.

A great leader can interact with others in an authentic way. This does not necessarily mean the leader has to be an extrovert or a people person. Rather, they can actively listen, build meaningful work relationships, and show empathy to other employees while conveying complex information clearly.

4. Self-awareness

One of the key traits of a great leader is to be self-aware, especially of your strengths and flaws. This can help you build a solid leadership style that reflects who you truly are and showcases your best work.

Remember, to be a good leader, you do not want to fit into another person's mold. Embrace the qualities that make you different. This will naturally transform into an authentic leadership style.

5. Gratitude

Leaders who show appreciation to others are not only more respected and influential but happier as well. In fact, gratitude is known to reduce depression and anxiety, help with sleep, and lead to higher self-esteem.

Yet, it is common for leaders to not thank their employees for a job well done. Some people often believe gratitude is a sign of vulnerability or weakness. However, it can be a sign of strength that leads to more robust organizations.

6. Learning agility

Learning agility is the ability to figure out what to do in situations where you may not know what to do. Consequently, if you are someone who can quickly grasp new information or succeed in unfamiliar situations, you may already possess learning agility.

Anyone can work on and improve their learning agility through practice, experience, and effort. Exceptional leaders are those who are always striving to learn and grow. This is what makes them successful. In business, things happen. How you deal with what happens is the art.

7. Influence

Influence is a vital leadership quality as it means others will follow and listen to you. This makes you effective as a leader and employees and managers seriously consider your opinion. 

Remember, influence is different from manipulation. Having influence means you present ideas authentically and transparently and that people trust you.

8. Empathy

Empathetic leadership creates a work culture that makes team members feel appreciated, heard, and understood. This results in greater trust, collaboration, and effective communication. 

When leaders show more empathetic behaviors towards other employees, these employees tend to view the leader as a better boss. This can improve workplace conditions, and create stronger relationships and a more positive work environment. Furthermore, empathetic leaders foster a culture of innovation and creativity, and make thoughtful and informed decisions.

9. Courage

In the professional world, courage is crucial as it empowers people to overcome obstacles and embrace uncertainty with conviction. Courageous leaders lead by example, make tough decisions, and act accordingly, even when the outcome is unknown.

Rather than letting conflicts or problems fester and grow, great leaders have the courage to take control of situations and move things in the right direction.

10. Respect

A leader who values respect is more likely to attract employees who prioritize the same mindset, which is crucial for the success of an organization. Respect is a mutual exchange, and it requires a respectful leader to establish a workplace culture based on mutual respect.

Treating individuals with respect can help ease conflict and tension in the workplace, create trust, and improve how effective decisions are. Fostering respect in the workplace simply starts with being an active listener and making an effort to understand other people's opinions.

Active listening involves fully focusing on and engaging with the speaker, not just hearing their words but also understanding their message, feelings, and perspective. It requires giving your full attention, asking clarifying questions, and providing feedback to demonstrate your understanding. Active listening promotes effective and meaningful communication.

11. Responsible and dependable

Being responsible and dependable are crucial qualities for any leader. Exhibiting these specific traits in your work and displaying them in your interactions with your team members can bring numerous benefits in the workplace.

Being known as responsible and dependable can allow other workers to feel confident that you will:

  • Fulfill your responsibilities

  • Support them during challenging times

  • Help them to achieve group and personal objectives

12. Patience

Patience is an indispensable trait of a great leader. An effective leader understands the importance of taking a long-term perspective, whether of a strategy, situation, or goal.

The ability to withstand obstacles and continue moving forward without becoming discouraged or overwhelmed is crucial, regardless of whether the task at hand is a minor project or a significant corporate vision.

Benefits of having great leadership qualities

A great leader helps guide an organization. These leaders are known to provide a vision and direction for their colleagues while inspiring and motivating them to achieve the company's goals. They also create a welcoming environment that is great for promoting communication and collaboration among the other employees.

In short, if you want an organization that can achieve its goals, outstanding leadership and strong management are critical.

Great leadership is also known to result in the following benefits:

How to develop the qualities of a good leader

Although some people naturally gravitate toward leadership positions, anyone can develop the skill set of a great leader. If you’re willing to put in the work, your ability to grow into an exceptional leader is yours for the taking.

How to become a good leader

The key to becoming a good leader is looking for any opportunity to take on responsibility. These tasks can be as small as coaching a sports team, helping your family run their business, volunteering for a local charity, or even covering for your boss while they are out.

While these actions are relatively easy, they are ways to step into a leadership role as you continue to learn and develop.

Identify your leadership style

One of the first things to do when developing your qualities as a leader is to identify your leadership style. This will help you recognize your strengths and weaknesses and understand how others perceive your decision-making in the workplace.

Becoming more familiar with your leadership style can help you understand the influence you have on others and how they see you as their leader. Look into what type of leader you want to be. Who in the organization do you want to be like? What approach or style do they offer that you want to emulate?

Define areas of strength and areas for improvement

Due to their roles, most leaders may not receive the feedback they need to better develop their leadership skills and improve as a leader. However, if they take the time to define areas of strength and areas of improvement, it can help them immensely in their role.

More importantly, continuous improvement is a key area for all leaders. This mindset involves a systematic approach to making incremental improvements in yourself.

Ways to obtain this information include:

  • Asking for feedback from people you work with, especially asking them to provide you with details regarding how you lead and what they enjoy about working with you.

  • Trying self-reflection exercises and then reviewing these notes every month to see how you change over time.

  • Figuring out what motivates your team members and creating a vision that can work for everyone.

  • Encouraging other employees to teach you how to be more assertive in areas where they excel.

  • Providing feedback to others that is clear, specific, and constructive.

Find a mentor or coach

Finding a mentor is a great way to develop the qualities of a great leader. Look for mentors who are empathetic, honest, creative, and authentic. You want to find someone who is not only caring but invested in your professional growth. Some ways you can find these mentors and build your leadership skills are:

  • Explore your personal network

  • Start conversations with those around you about development and growth

  • Look for people who have similar tasks to yours and understand your role and position

Coaches are another great option. Coaching offers a huge amount of self-reflection and may develop your longer-term skills better than through mentorship. Coaching also helps people learn more about themselves and how to take on a leadership role.

Be patient

Remember, developing into a great leader takes time. It is a journey, not a destination. As a result, it is something you will have to work on regularly throughout your career, regardless of the level you at are within an organization.

By staying patient and continuously applying the leadership characteristics to the different roles you take on, you will learn and grow and, over time, become the leader you always wanted to be.

Learn about who you are

To learn more about your leadership style, consider completing the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator test: This test provides you with further information regarding your psychological preferences in how you perceive the world and make decisions.

What is the best leadership style?

Leadership style describes how a leader manages, directs, and motivates others. Understanding your leadership style can help you offer improved guidance and feedback to others, giving them insight into your decision-making processes and strategies.

There are various types of leadership styles, but the democratic leadership style is often regarded as one of the most effective styles as it encourages everyone within an organization or group to participate in the process. Not only is everyone given the opportunity to share opinions, but they also know that you, as the leader, will listen to them. This encourages employees, workers, and others within a company to be engaged because they know their feedback matters.

Yet, while this leadership style is often a recommended approach, there are many other styles that may suit you better. These include the transformational leadership style, which helps inspire and motivate others without micromanaging, or the servant leadership style, which is based on the idea that leaders prioritize serving the greater good.

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