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Last Updated on July 5, 2022

What Makes a Good Leader: 15 Critical Leadership Qualities

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What Makes a Good Leader: 15 Critical Leadership Qualities

The word “leader” makes you think of people in charge or high-ranking people: your boss, politicians, presidents, CEOs…but what makes a good leader?

Leadership isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean they have gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.

Getting promoted to a managerial position doesn’t automatically turn you into a leader, either. In fact, leadership skills are something that anyone—regardless of position or seniority—can learn.

So what makes a good leader and what are the characteristics of a leader?

Good leadership is about acquiring and honing specific skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or in the workplace.

The following are some of the many characteristics great leaders exhibit.

What Makes a Good Leader?

Here’re 15 qualities you should master:

1. A Positive Attitude

Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude. This can be done by remaining positive when things go wrong and by creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere in the workplace.

Even some simple things like providing snacks or organizing a team happy hour can make a world of difference. An added perk is that team members are likely to work harder and do overtime when needed if they’re happy and appreciated.

Even in the worst situations, such as experiencing low team morale or team members having made a big mistake at work, a great leader stays positive and figures out ways to keep the team motivated to solve the problems.

Walt Disney had his share of hardships and challenges, and like any great leader, he managed to stay positive and find new opportunities. In 1928, Disney found that his film producer, Charles Mintz, wanted to reduce his payments for the Oswald series. Mintz threatened to cut ties entirely if Disney didn’t accept his terms, and Disney chose to part ways. But in leaving Oswald, Disney decided to create something new: the iconic Mickey Mouse[1].

The key is to break down huge challenges into smaller ones and find ways to tackle them one by one.

Think about the lessons you can learn from your mistake and jot them down because sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

2. Confidence

All great leaders have to exhibit an air of confidence if they’re going to succeed. Please don’t confuse this with self-satisfaction and arrogance. You want people to look up to you for inspiration, not so they can punch you in the face.

Confidence is one of the most important leadership qualities you must have because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well. As a result, morale and productivity will remain high, and the problem will be solved more quickly.

If you panic and give up, they will know immediately and things will simply go downhill from there. You can’t instantly become a very confident person, but all the small things you do every day will gradually make you more confident:

  • List 5 things you like about yourself every day (something different every day), and you’ll appreciate yourself more.
  • Work on your strengths and do your best to enhance them.

3. A Sense of Humor

When asking what qualities of a good leader are most appreciated by people, this is a popular answer. It is imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. And they will.

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Your team members are going to be looking to you for how to react in a seemingly dire situation. You need to be able to laugh things off because if staff morale goes down, so will productivity.

Establish this environment prior to any kind of meltdown by encouraging humor and personal discussions in the workplace.

As a president, Barack Obama exuded confidence and calm during stressful situations. But he was also known for his “dad jokes,”[2] his genuinely funny speeches at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and appearing on Zack Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns.[3] Obama’s sense of humor made him grounded, realistic, and honest, which no doubt helped during some tense moments in the White House.

Learn to laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, and when you do this, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

Be observant and learn from the jokes others make. You can also get a lot of inspiration from the internet.

4. Ability to Embrace Failure

No matter how hard you try to avoid it, failures will happen and that’s okay. You just need to know how to deal with them.

Great leaders take them in strides. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources. What they don’t do is fall apart and reveal to their team how worried they are, which leads to negative morale, fear, and binge drinking under desks.

Great leaders do, in fact, lead, even when they’re faced with setbacks. Get to the root cause of any problem so you can prevent it from happening again and learn from the mistake. By asking “why” 5 times (or more) on why something happened, you can find out the key factor that caused the problem and can find the best solution to tackle the problem.

You’ll also learn how to prevent this from happening again in the future after finding out a problem’s root cause.

5. Careful Listening and Feedback

This is far more complex than it actually sounds. Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. You may very well understand the cave of crazy that is your brain, but that doesn’t mean that you can adequately take the ideas out of it and explain them to someone else.

The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

The Dalai Lama, as a symbol of the unification of the state of Tibet, represents and practices Buddhist values. The Dalai Lama’s leadership is benevolent and aims toward truth and understanding, alongside the other Buddhist precepts. This is a great example for all leaders: If you want to give good directions to others, you have to get feedback to understand the situation properly.

Encourage communication between team members and establish an open door policy.

Practice not interrupting team members when they’re talking. Instead, summarize what they say and ask for feedback after you have talked about your ideas.

6. Knowing How and When to Delegate

By now, you may be wondering how to be a good leader when you’re doing too many things. This is where delegation comes into play.

No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. Even if you could, in a team environment that would be a terrible idea, anyway.

What makes a good leader is the realization that delegation does more than simply alleviate personal stress levels (although that’s obviously a nice perk). Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff. They want to feel appreciated and trusted.

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Although Steve Jobs was known for focusing on the smallest of details, he knew how to delegate. By finding, cultivating, and trusting capable team members, Jobs was able to make Apple run smoothly, even when he had to be absent for extended periods of time.

To know when and how to delegate work to team members, you have to be very familiar with each of them:

  • List out all of their strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.
  • Talk with your team members more to know about their passion and interests.

Take a look at this guide and learn more about delegation: How to Delegate Work Effectively (The Definitive Guide for Leaders)

7. Growth Mindset

Any good leader knows how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. The best can recognize those skills early on. Not only will development make work easier as they improve and grow, it will also foster morale. In addition, they may develop some skills that you don’t possess that will be beneficial to the workplace.

Knowing how to be a leader is no easy feat. Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

It’s important to spend time talking with other team members individually to understand them. Find out team members’ current challenges and try to give feedback and encouragement so they will grow and do better.

8. Responsibility

When asking what makes a good leader, the importance of this trait cannot be undermined.

Great leaders know that when it comes to their company, work place or whatever situation they’re in, they need to take personal responsibility for failure. How can they expect employees to hold themselves accountable if they themselves don’t?

The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity. Always ask yourself what you can do better or what you should change.

Take responsibility and think about what you can do better to prevent this from happening next time.

9. A Desire to Learn

It’s safe to say that all great leaders will have to enter uncharted waters at some point during their careers. Because of this, they have to be able to trust their intuition and draw on past experiences to guide them.

Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take action promptly.

You can either recall what you’ve learned from your memories or search your notes (ideally, a software that you can access anywhere with things well-organized).

Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, has mostly made the right calls. But in dealing with huge amounts of money, Buffett has also made several multi-million (and sometimes multi-billion) dollar mistakes. He has stated that buying the company Berkshire Hathaway was his biggest mistake[4]. From that poor choice, he realized that it was unwise to pursue “improvements” and “expansions” in the existing textile industry. Despite mistakes like this, Buffett has invested wisely, and it shows.

To effectively learn from the past, write down lessons you’ve learned from any mistakes you’ve made. Have all the lessons well organized, and when similar things happen again in the future, take these lessons as references.

10. Willingness to Understand Human Nature

The study of human nature may begin with yourself, but true leaders aspire to understand others in equal measure.

A strong leader is aware that leading others requires a willingness on the part of those who follow; it requires ‘buy in’ to what the leader is working to accomplish. For this reason, a good leader will speak from the heart and speak to the emotions of others through their passion and beliefs.

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By acting and behaving with integrity at all times, and by speaking and leading from a passionate set of values and beliefs, they appeal to and inspire passion and action in others.

11. Knowing One’s Purpose

Great leaders understand that desired changes in behavior and actions will naturally occur in others when they feel inspired and passionate about something. And so, true leaders share their own passion for their beliefs or cause with others.

Having a strong, clear vision and passion for their cause means truly understanding the ‘why’ behind what they do. Whether in business, sales, politics, or family relationships, knowing and sharing the passion of a clearly defined ‘why’ is critical.

Once a leader is clear on his or her ‘why’, the how (behavior, and actions) and what (desired end result) evolve and flow naturally, without the need for coercion or force.

12. Perseverance

Another quiet and often hidden quality of truly great leaders is perseverance.

Creating change, bringing innovation to the market, sparking progress, and leading others in times of adversity requires a commitment to one’s beliefs and ideas that are not easily shaken by the inevitable challenges and obstacles that arise.

Tenacity – following through when all you want to do is quit – requires a strength of character that many do not take the time to cultivate in themselves. That is what makes a good leader.

Great leaders understand the importance of staying on course, of having the grit and determination to push forward when many would turn back.

13. 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.

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.

14. Empathy

The best leaders understand the feelings 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.

15. Inspire 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.

The Bottom Line

Now that you know what makes a good leader, you’re one step closer to becoming one. Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader, too.

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Make small changes to your habits when you work with your team, wherever that may be. Most of us aren’t presidents or CEOs, but we all work with other people, and our actions always impact others. This gives every person the chance to develop leadership skills and to stand out from the crowd.

TL;DR

Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

What Makes a Good Leader: 15 Critical Leadership Qualities

Good leadership is about acquiring and honing specific skills. Leadership skills enable you to be a role model for a team in any environment. With great leadership qualities, successful leaders come in all shapes and sizes: in the home, at school, or in the workplace.

Great leaders know that they won’t have a happy and motivated team unless they themselves exhibit a positive attitude.

Confidence is one of the most important leadership qualities you must have because people will be looking to you on how to behave, particularly if things aren’t going 100% right. If you remain calm and poised, team members are far more likely to as well.

It is imperative for any kind of leader to have a sense of humor, particularly when things go wrong. Learn to laugh at yourself. Confident people laugh about their own silly mistakes, and when you do this, others will also trust you more because you’re willing to share your experiences.

Great leaders take failure in stride. They remain calm and logically think through the situation and utilize their resources.

Good communication skills are essential for a great leader. The best leaders need to be able to communicate clearly with the people around them. They also need to be able to interpret other people properly and not take what they say personally.

No matter how much you might want to, you can’t actually do everything yourself. What makes a good leader is the realization that delegation does more than simply alleviate personal stress levels. Delegating to others shows that you have confidence in their abilities, which subsequently results in higher morale in the workplace, as well as loyalty from your staff.

Good leaders know how important it is to develop the skills of those around them. Great leaders share their knowledge with the team and give them the opportunity to achieve. This is how leaders gain their respect and loyalty.

The best leaders don’t make excuses; they take the blame and then work out how to fix the problem as soon as possible. This proves that they’re trustworthy and possess integrity.

Great leaders know that there’s always something to learn from everything they have experienced before. They are able to connect the present challenges with the lessons learned in the past to make decisions and take action promptly.

A strong leader is aware that leading others requires a willingness on the part of those who follow; it requires ‘buy in’ to what the leader is working to accomplish.

Natural leaders understand that desired changes in behavior and actions will naturally occur in others when they feel inspired and passionate about something. And so, they share their own passion for their beliefs or cause with others.

Great leaders understand the importance of perseverance and tenacity, of having the grit and determination to push forward when many would turn back.

Highly-successful leaders are often quick to make decisions.

The best leaders understand the feelings of their team members, customers, and associates. They know when to praise, and when to discuss problems.

A leader must be creative and also help to foster creativity and innovation throughout their team.

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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