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20 Essential Leadership Qualities Of A Great Leader

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20 Essential Leadership Qualities Of A Great Leader

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”—John Maxwell

Whether it’s leading an organization, a team, or a family, leadership all starts with being able to lead yourself successfully first. When we can lead ourselves successfully, then we can have the influence that allows us to truly lead others. It’s always an “inside job” first.

After working with thousands of CEOs, executives, athletes, entrepreneurs, and business teams, I’ve compiled here a list of the essential leadership qualities that I have seen lead to consistent success.

1. Know Your “Why”

First on this list of key leadership qualities is knowing your “why”. Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, defines a leader’s “why” as “the purpose or cause—the single driving motivation for action.” Strong leaders know the “why” that inspires their personal performance and the actions of their team. The stronger the “why,” the better the motivation and performance.

2. See Time as Your Ally

Effective leaders look at time as an ally and friend, instead of as an enemy they are constantly fighting. In my book, The Time Cleanse, I introduce the concept of “Timefulness”—being fully present in the moment improving the quality, experience, and performance with your time.

Using mindfulness techniques like Timefulness will help leaders discover more ways to enter the flow state and use their time in the most effective ways possible. Time is every leader’s most valuable asset.

3. Have Grit

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Great leaders can sustain focus, energy, and effort to reach difficult goals in the face of failures and setbacks, all while remaining optimistic.

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Angela Duckworth, a noted researcher and the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, reveals that while talent and IQ are certainly success factors, what’s more, important is the sustained application of effort (perseverance and passion) over time. That takes Grit.

4. Have a Vision

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”—Jack Welch

Great leaders always have to have a crystal-clear vision. They can visualize the future in detail as well as communicate that vision with their team. When a team can see the vision of a leader clearly, they can accelerate success in every metric.

5. Be Self-Aware

Powerful leaders can self-reflect. Their personal reflection allows them to be aware of their impact on others and the organization. This constant reflection keeps them at the top of their game and keeps them from repeating mistakes.

“Leadership is the art and science of directing, motivating and inspiring individuals or groups in achieving a common goal.”—Steven Griffith

6. Don’t Take Things Personally

Day-to-day and in the heat of the battle, great leaders don’t take things personally. They have the ability to keep things in perspective and keep their eye on what’s most important in decisions and their actions. Instead of getting distracted or emotional, they get more focused on the task at hand.

7. Be Accountable

Effective leaders are 100% accountable for their actions. They also keep their team members accountable for their actions. They do what they say and say what they do. If you want respect, be 100% responsible for everything under your command.

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8. Communicate Effectively

Great communication is the key to great leadership. All communication is an exchange of energy and information. Effective leaders are precise and purpose-aligned in their words, voice, tone, and body language. They know what to say and how to say it no matter what the situation.

9. Be Emotionally and Mentally Strong

Quality leaders have the ability to consistently regulate thoughts and emotions to work for them rather than against them. Emotional and mental stability is a key component of leadership. Bad news doesn’t get them too down, and good news doesn’t get them too distracted.

10. Have a Growth Mindset

True leaders are constantly looking to grow the strengths and experience of themselves and their team. They have open minds and a natural curiosity for improvement. They want to know the latest innovations and ideas that will help them improve.

They continually ask this key question: “How can we get better today?”

11. Admit Mistakes

The greatest leaders know that when you’re pushing to the next level of performance, mistakes will happen and, in fact, are part of the process. When people in an organization know they are supported if a mistake happens, they will fully engage to be the best they can be. The ability for a leader to admit mistakes shows his personal accountability and humanness.

12. Have Empathy

Great leaders have the ability and flexibility to step into other people’s shoes and feel what others are feeling. Understanding their team and the problems they are facing is key to powerfully leading them. Empathy says, “I see you and feel what you’re feeling.”

“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.”—Oprah Winfrey

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13. Have Compassion for Others

Empathy may be a key to great leadership, but without compassion, it’s not complete. Compassion recognizes the suffering of others and then takes action to help. Leaders that consistently step in to help can become one of the greats. This builds true loyalty. Compassion is a superpower for leaders in today’s workplace.

14. Lead With Confidence

One of the most important keys to success in all areas of life is having the confidence to go for it—the belief that you can do it. Confidence is needed to go through both the high and lows that business and life will throw at us. It’s no different when it comes to great leadership.

Confident leadership is not about being fearless, it’s about going straight for what you desire in the face of fear and uncertainty. Great leadership is about knowing you can handle yourself in any situation, even if you don’t know it all.

15. Show Gratitude and Appreciation

Leaders that can acknowledge the big and small things their teams do are often the most successful. Research shows that showing gratitude for coworkers increases engagement, creates more positive integrations at work, and leads to better performance.[1]

16. Delegate Tasks

Delegation is crucial for maximizing productivity and overall team performance. Effective leaders know what activities provide their highest ROT (return on time) and can delegate to others the things they are more suited to do. They know who is best for getting specific things done and are motivated to delegate to them quickly and decisively.

17. Lead With Mindfulness

The more present you are, the higher your performance will be. Being present in every moment allows leaders to connect with their gifts and talents and get into the flow of productive work. It allows them to make mindful choices with their thoughts and actions, which gives their organization confidence in their leadership. When you’re 100% present, you can have 100% confidence in what you’re doing.

18. Be Self-Motivated

“The great leaders of business, industry, and finance, and the great artists, poets, musicians, and writers all became great because they developed the power of self-motivation.”—Napoleon Hill

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Powerful leaders know how to motivate themselves and are self-starters. Their motivation comes from within. They know what it takes to create momentum for themselves and their teams. Nothing can stop them because nothing can take away their internal fire.

19. Have Integrity

Authentic leaders know what their personal values are and stick to them in both big and small situations. They don’t let emotions or the pressure of work sway them. That attitude then sets the tone for the entire organization. Their colleagues know that they always keep their word and act with complete integrity.

John Wooden’s definition of integrity as “Purity of Intention” says it perfectly:

“Integrity in its simplest form is purity of intention. It’s keeping a clean conscience.”

20. Be a Good Cornerman

Last on this list of essential leadership qualities is being a good cornerman. One of the greatest qualities of top leaders is the most simple: they are in your corner no matter what. Win or lose, they stand by you. Knowing your leader is in your corner gives you the supreme confidence to give your all to your team or organization.

The greatest leaders make every person they lead confident that their leaders have their back. When your leader has your back, you can put yourself out there to do things you never expected and perform at a level you didn’t know was possible.

Bottom Line

Now that you read this list of essential leadership qualities, it’s time to put them into practice! Don’t worry if you don’t get everything right every time. Be self-aware and lead yourself to be the best you can be first.

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Leading yourself will allow you to mindfully lead other people, teams, and organizations to maximize their performance and results. Remember, leadership all starts with you!

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Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com


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Steven Griffith

Steven is an Executive Coach. He's been helping the world’s most successful people perfrom at their peack level.

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