Published on April 6, 2021

20 Essential Leadership Qualities Of A Great Leader

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.


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.


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


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


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.


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!

More Leadership Qualities

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via


More by this author

Steven Griffith

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

27 Strategies to Achieve Your Goals Fast 20 Essential Leadership Qualities Of A Great Leader How To Start Small And Make Your Goals Happen How to Be Determined and Achieve Your Goals How To Exude Confidence Effortlessly in 5 Easy Steps

Trending in Leadership

1 How To Lead And Manage a Remote Team 2 How To Boost Employee Motivation During Difficult Times 3 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 4 5 Values of an Effective Leader 5 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

Read Next


Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.


Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.


Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.


3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.


7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.


More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination


Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via

Read Next