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Last Updated on March 20, 2018

14 Powerful Leadership Traits (That All Great Leaders Have)

14 Powerful Leadership Traits (That All Great Leaders Have)

Being a leader of a company or organization is certainly a difficult and often frustrating position – but it can also be tremendously rewarding.

Whether you’re just starting out as a leader, or have been leading for a while, you’ll be sure to benefit from knowing the essential traits that all great leaders possess.

Effective and successful leaders transcend the title of ‘manager’ or ‘boss’. They’ve found a way to achieve the perfect combination of charisma, enthusiasm and self-assurance (with a healthy dose of luck and timing probably added to the mix).

It may seem like some people are gifted with leadership skills, but the truth is most leadership traits can be learned, adopted, and strengthened with time and practice.

As we delve into the list of traits of effective leaders, you will learn the behaviors and attitudes of a good leader.

The 14 most important leadership traits

Please read through the list of leadership qualities carefully. Take note of which of the traits you excel at – and which ones you need to work at.

Traits for better self-development

1. Vision and mission

Having a clear picture of what needs to be achieved is a crucial quality of good leadership.

This vision is often communicated in a mission statement, such as this one from Starbucks:

    How to develop vision? Spend time pinpointing what you need to achieve, and then plan the steps to get there. Here’s a complete guide on creating your own vision.

    2. Self-motivated

    It’s no coincidence that successful leaders have an abundance of self-motivation.

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    Without a decent level of self-motivation, you’ll struggle to become a strong and respected leader. However, if you don’t have a lot of self-motivation right now, don’t despair.

    One of the secrets is to have definite goals to keep you motivated at all times. Some people also choose to reward themselves every time they achieve a goal, and this is certainly a good way to keep yourself enthused and motivated. Learn how to set an ambitious yet achievable goal here.

    3. Optimism and positivity

    Positive energy is contagious. Great leaders are overflowing with this type of energy.

    Not only does a positive mindset make leaders easy to work with, but it also gives them a constant source of inspiration and ideas.

    Tap into this energy by aligning yourself with positive people and positive goals. Learn the habits of positive people here.

    4. Emotional stability

    In leadership positions, frustration and stress are daily occurrences. This is why leaders need to have strong and stable emotions. They can’t allow themselves to be easily knocked off track.

    If you’re prone to losing your emotional stability when stressed or frustrated, try some of these techniques: breath deeply and slowly for 30 seconds, go for a walk, drink some water (instead of tea or coffee), turn your focus onto something you can resolve. Find out more ways to control your emotions effectively here.

    5. Self-confidence

    Watch a presentation by any CEO and you’ll see that even if they’re not natural presenters – they make up for this by having powerful self-confidence.

    It’s not just CEOs who have self-confidence, any successful leader will have this trait in abundance. One reason for this, is that only a confident person can persuade others and gain their respect.

    Worried that you have low self-confidence? Try faking it. Psychologists often recommend that if you ‘act’ at being confident, you’ll start to look, sound and feel like you ARE confident. And in time… you will be. Learn more about boosting self-confidence from the confidence coach.

    6. Decisiveness

    Leaders are frequently called upon to make decisions (some leaders may have to make dozens of decisions every day). In fact, you could say that making decisions is one of the key things a leader must do.

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    Spend some time observing highly-successful leaders and you’ll see that they are quick to make decisions. They also enjoy making decisions, rather than stressing out like many non-leaders do when they’re asked to decide on something.

    Put yourself in the leadership bracket by developing your decision-making skills. Start with small decisions – and then work your way up to bigger and more difficult decisions. Once other people notice your decision-making prowess, they’ll automatically see you as leadership material. Check out the guide on how to make good decisions every time.

    7. Passion and enthusiasm

    Expressive. Active. Energetic. These are words best describe a passionate leader.

    Great leaders are lively, driven and are possessed with zeal and purpose. It’s this passion that helps them achieve big results. If you want to emulate their success, then you need to develop passion and enthusiasm for the work at hand, and the end goals.

    Take a look at this Passion Pyramid to find out how importance a leader’s passion is to the team:

      One way to do this is to find what motivates you, and keep your focus firmly on that. For example, i f you’re motivated by helping others, then make sure your role and company are both suited to realizing this. If you’re motivated by money, then put your focus on achieving bonuses and pay rises.

      Take a look at Leo Babauta’s guide on how to find your passion.

      8. Accountability and responsibility

      Exceptional leaders know that at all times they’ll need to take responsibility for tasks and their results. This includes things likes individual and team performance, as well as being accountable for when things go wrong.

      When negative things occur (and you can guarantee they will from time-to-time), a great leader will immediately step in and take responsibility. Initially, they’ll try to resolve the problem in as quick and smooth a way as possible. But if this is not feasible, they’ll be sure to say that the buck stops with them – and they take full responsibility for what has happened.

      To develop your leadership skills, you must never shy away from responsibility or accountability. If you prefer to sweep mistakes under the carpet, then you’re demonstrating non-leadership traits. Try owning up to issues and finding solutions to them. By doing this, you’ll immediately gain people’s respect.

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      Find out some tips on how to be a more responsible person here.

      9. Focus

      Distractions are everywhere. And it takes major focus to stay committed to tasks and goals. The best leaders understand this, and therefore, they’re always looking at ways to boost their team’s focus.

      One way leaders do this, is to keep their team intensely focused on the bigger picture. This might entail allocating specific time for tasks and eliminating any non-essential work.

      If you’re easily knocked off track, you’ll need to spend some time boosting your focus. Try planning your day, week, month and year to help ensure that you don’t fall behind with achieving your goals. Check out the 7 strategies of staying super focus recommended by a productivity coach.

      10. Ever-learning

      Leaders know that to be successful they need to continually update their skills and knowledge. They deliberately learn all they can about their profession and industry, so they’ll able to make confident and assured decisions.

      Why is ever learning so important? I’ll leave it to you to find out the reason here: If I Am Living a Good Life, Why Should I Bother Learning New Stuff?

      Imagine a CEO of a solar power company. His company may have amazing solar panels, but when it comes to discussing business with potential buyers, if the CEO or his sales team show a lack of understanding about the solar industry and future trends, etc., they’ll be unlikely to win any business.

      It’s exactly the same for you. If you’re a team leader at an electronics store, you should make sure you fully understand all the products that you offer. But go beyond just that, and read about upcoming products and trends that might change what customers are interesting in buying in the future.

      Traits for Effective Communication

      11. Empathy

      The best leaders understand the feeling of their team members, customers and associates. They know when to praise, and when to discuss problems (usually in private).

      Without empathy, leaders will be seen as cold, harsh and lacking understanding. They’re also likely to be regarded as untrustworthy.

      One way to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’ is to have regular informal discussions with your colleagues. When you do this, you’ll quickly learn their fears and desires. And when you understand why they have these – you’ll be in a position to express empathy. You can also learn to be more sensitive to others’ needs by taking up these communication skills.

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      12. Persuasive and influential

      Communications are at the heart of all transactions. Whether it’s pitching for a sale or resolving a customer complaint, how you communicate will determine the outcome.

      Charismatic leaders such as Richard Branson (Virgin) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) are confident and persuasive communicators. They know how to win over audiences and leave a lasting impressing in people’s minds.

      There’re some common barriers that you’ll have to overcome in order to communicate effectively:

      How to learn effective communication? You could join the world-renowned U.S. nonprofit Toastmasters International. They’ve been training people in the art of public speaking since 1924, and members have included Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, and Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy.

      If you don’t have time to join a club, then practice your communications skills at home. You can do this in front of a mirror, or even better, video yourself presenting, and then ask some friends and family members for feedback. You’ll be amazed at what they pick up on.

      Traits for ensuring an engaging team

      13. Team building

      If you put a bunch of random people together, you may have a loose definition of a team. In reality, a real team has purpose, drive – and a leader lighting the way.

      If you’ve worked in different teams and with different managers, you’ll no doubt have come to this conclusion:

      Managers who treat their team members like children are unpopular with the team. Conversely, managers who treat their team members like adults, are respected and well-liked by the team.

      The days of disciplinarian managers are passed. Nowadays, successful team leaders know how to inspire and motivate their team, while keeping a harmonious atmosphere between all team members.

      14. Fostering creativity

      Solutions to problems are rarely black and white. Often it takes a leader who can ‘think outside the box’ to come up with answers. In other words, a leader must be creative, and also help to foster creativity and innovation throughout their team.

      Creativity is not only associated with pursuits such as arts, literature and music, running a team can be just as creative. There will be times every day when you need to come up with ideas and give guidelines for your team to come up with theirs to solve problems.

      Leadership is an amazing experience that will take you on roads you’ve never traveled before. Begin now to build your skills and experience, pick out the traits that you currently lack – and then work on developing those. It will take tons of practice and time before becoming an effective leader but eventually you will join the ranks of great leaders.

      Featured photo credit: unsplash via unsplash.com

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

      Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

      There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

      How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

      Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

      Why is multitasking a myth?

      The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

      Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

      You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

      Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

      We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

      Your brain on multi-tasking

      Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

      When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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      But I can juggle multiple tasks!

      You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

      For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

      Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

      Why multitasking is failing you

      Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

      Multitasking wastes your time.

      You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

      In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

      It makes you dumber.

      A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

      You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

      This is an emotional response.

      There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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      Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

      It’ll wear you out.

      When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

      We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

      How to stop multitasking and work productively

      Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

      In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

      Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

      1. Consciously change gears

      Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

      As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

      This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

      2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

      Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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      Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

      This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

      3. Set aside distractions

      Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

      If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

      Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

      Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

      4. Take care of yourself

      We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

      Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

      In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

      5. Take a break

      People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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      Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

      6. Make technology your ally

      Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

      Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

      The key to productivity: Focus

      Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

      Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

      If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

      How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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