What makes a great leader?
Is it position? Knowledge? Style?
None of the above.
The position doesn’t make a leader, and having knowledge doesn’t mean you can lead well. A leadership style without substance means nothing.
So, what makes a great leader?
Following good principles of leadership and having good leadership qualities. (And they generally intermingle – if you are on track for one, you generally are on track for both.)
No leader will be perfect in every quality, but the more you grow these qualities in you, the more effective you will be as a leader.
What are the leadership qualities you should have as a leader?
That’s what this article is about.
We will discuss 15 leadership qualities great leaders have.
Table of Contents
Great leaders are secure
Great leaders are secure in themselves. They don’t have to look to others to validate themselves or take actions to prove themselves.
Weak leaders are often the opposite. They are insecure and act on that insecurity. The actions they take are often to fill that gap.
They take credit to try to make themselves look good instead of giving it to the team.
They don’t hire A players or like it when individual team members do well because they think it makes them look bad.
They are focused on themselves and their position and on showing their power or authority versus focusing on the good of the team, the company, and the goals they are supposed to be chasing.
Secure and confident leaders don’t do that. They don’t try to make themselves look good. They take responsibility for mistakes and give credit for good results to their team.
They hire A players and encourage others to do well. They don’t fear others “outshining” them.
They are secure and confident in their identity and don’t have to try to “prove” it to anyone. They are focused on the good of the team, their company, and their goals and vision.
Great leaders are decisive
Great leaders make timely decisions. They listen, they analyze, they research, they do whatever they need to, and then they decide.
Sometimes leaders wait to decide because of fear or insecurity. They fear making a mistake. They fear the decision will be wrong. They fear looking bad.
So they delay. They dilly-dally. They “research” some more. And they don’t decide.
What they often don’t realize is that not deciding IS deciding – and it’s often a bad decision.
Do you have what you need to get the information you need to make a good decision? Then make the decision.
Don’t delay out of fear or insecurity. You will rarely (if ever) have 100% certainty. What you have are probabilities. Sometimes you will be right. Sometimes you will be wrong.
That’s okay. That’s part of learning – and at least you acted.
Great leaders are big-picture minded
Great leaders focus on the big picture and guide the day-to-day based on the big picture.
It can sometimes be easy to get caught up in the urgent fires and tasks and the everyday, day-to-day stuff you must do.
The problem is, when you are stuck in the day-to-day, it’s hard to see the big picture. It’s hard to make sure what you and your team are doing is taking you toward your goals and purpose.
As a leader, you must take time to step back and look at the big picture. How does everything fit into it? Is what you and your team doing effective and moving you toward where you want to go?
Great leaders are good listeners
Great leaders listen well.
They know they don’t know everything. They know their way may not be the best way. They know others often have better ideas than they do or that others can build on ideas to make them better.
They also know feedback and disagreement are good because it helps them grow, and it also helps them see potential pitfalls in plans.
Great leaders know that those on the frontline often have the best information – and it is wise to listen to them.
Good leaders know that when people feel heard or feel like they’ve been able to give their input and feel listened to, they are more likely to be committed and motivated.
As a leader, you need to be a great listener.Don’t be so arrogant that you think you have all the answers. You don’t. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
Surround yourself with people who will disagree with you and give you feedback and share ideas that may be different than your own.
The better you listen, the better decisions you will make, the more productive you and your team will be, and the greater your effectiveness as a leader will be.
When you listen, it also shows your people that you care.
Great leaders are strong communicators
Great leaders understand the importance of communication. The better they communicate with their team and employees, the greater their trust and productivity will be.
When employees feel their leadership is hiding things, their morale and productivity will diminish.
If tasks and projects and expectations are not communicated clearly, there is a lot of wasted time and frustration due to that lack of clarity (projects and tasks being redone, etc.).
When leaders communicate clearly and constantly, employees feel “in the know” and are more likely to trust their leaders.
When tasks are communicated clearly, so much time and money are saved and misunderstandings lessen.
Be a leader who communicates well. Communicate constantly, clearly, and concisely.
Don’t try to sound smart or fill what you say with fluff. Just communicate well, and your team and employees will appreciate it. Your team’s productivity will go up, and it will help grow morale.
Great leaders take ownership
Great leaders take responsibility for all they do and their team’s actions as well.
They don’t make excuses or pass blame: they take ownership.
As a leader, you are ultimately responsible for all that your team does. Even when you get others’ input or have a vote for a decision, as the leader, you are still responsible.
If something goes wrong, you should always look to yourself first: Were expectations clear? Did you provide needed training? Did you put the wrong person on the job? Did you provide the resources and help they needed?
Did you set them up for failure? Did you hire the wrong person?
Many pass blame because they are afraid it will make them look bad. The opposite is actually true. When you blame, you look weak. When you take responsibility then work toward making things right – that is what makes you look strong.Great leaders don’t make excuses or pass the blame: they take ownership. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
Great leaders are team players
Great leaders not only help and support their team, but they work as a team with other leaders.
They aren’t about “their” department, they are about the good of the company and the company’s goals and purpose.
They are there to help other leaders and departments succeed because they all have the same goal and purpose they are pursuing. They are one, working together for the same vision.
Don’t build a silo around yourself or your team. It’s not about you, your team, or your department. It’s about the company and its goals and purpose.
See the other departments as teammates all working together for the same goal. If it means you sacrificing for the good of the team as a whole, be willing to do that.
Great leaders are trustworthy
If you want to be a great leader, you must be a leader that people can trust.
When you sacrifice your integrity and character, when you act unethically, it may benefit you temporarily, but in the long run, it will cost you – and cost you big.
If your team cannot trust you, why will they follow you?
Be a person your team can trust. Keep your word. Do what is right, even when it hurts.Be a person of integrity and strong character. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
Great leaders are competent
Great leaders are competent, at least to an extent, in what they do.
If you are inept, never get things done, never make decisions, and so on, you will not do well as a leader.
You must be competent, at least to a point, to be effective. The reason I say “to a point” is because of what Simon Sinek explains in the video below (and in his book The Infinite Game):
It’s much better to be a leader whom everyone trusts and who has a medium level (or even a low level) of competence versus high competence and is untrustworthy.
A person who is high competence but with low trust is a toxic person.
Also, if you are a new leader or in a new position, it can take time to build that competence. That’s okay. Just keep being humble, listen well, and follow good principles of leadership, and you should do fine.
Great leaders are other-focused
Some leaders focus on themselves. They are about their career, their goals, and them looking good.
Great leaders don’t do that.
They focus on the purpose and goals of their team and company, and they focus on their team. They serve their team.
The point of leadership is to lead people to the accomplishment of a goal. To do that, you need to empower your team to do so.
Great leaders open doors, find and provide resources, and make the connections they need to help their team succeed. They are focused on their team and their purpose, not themselves.
Great leaders have strong emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is one of the most important qualities that leaders can have.
Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
While we all may be at different levels for each of these, all of them are important to developing into a great leader.
If you aren’t self-aware of your emotions, you may be lashing out or expressing yourself in negative ways without realizing it.
If you recognize it, but can’t manage your emotions, you are going to have a hard time leading or doing many jobs. If you aren’t motivated, it’s going to be hard to motivate others.
If you don’t have empathy toward others, it will be hard to relate to and build trust and understand them. You will have conflict and misunderstanding that you wouldn’t otherwise.
If you don’t have social skills, it’s going to be harder working with and leading people.Emotional intelligence is an important part of your leadership growth. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
Great leaders show humility
Great leaders show humility.
They aren’t arrogant and don’t think they are above or know better than everyone else. They are humble, think of others, and know they don’t know everything.
In fact, Jim Collins in Good to Great said that one of the two main qualities of great leaders is humility.Be a person of humility. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
Listen to others. Look at the needs of others. Realize that you don’t know everything.
Realize that the credit is not yours alone – be a person who gives it away. Be a person who is not about themselves, but about others.
Great leaders are driven
The second quality Jim Collins mentioned in his book Good to Great was well. When I think of the definition of will he presents, I think of drive.
Great leaders are driven. They are focused on their goals, and on their purpose, and they are driven to make it happen.
They love their people and work with them. They build great cultures. But all of it is geared and driven toward their purpose and goal.
Be a person of the drive. Know your purpose, know your goals and make them happen. Work toward them. Let their ongoing accomplishment be your drive.
Work with your team to make it happen.
Great leaders are teachable and desire to grow
Great leaders are teachable. They listen when others give feedback. They look at their mistakes to see how they can do better.
They see mistakes as part of the process of learning and of success. They are constant learners.
Listen to feedback, even if you don’t disagree with it. Look for truths that could be in it. Embrace your failures and mistakes and learn from them. See them as part of the process.
Always be learning. Read books, and articles, watch videos, listen to podcasts, or whatever works best for you. Just be learning.
Great leaders embrace innovation
It’s not that these leaders are always incredibly innovative themselves.
While they may be at times, it’s more the fact they are encouraging and wanting innovation from themselves AND their team.
Their team doesn’t fear trying new things or making mistakes or taking risks – because they are encouraged to do so and rewarded for it as well.
Great leaders know that for them to get better, they must constantly be innovating. There will be failures and mistakes – that’s part of it. But the rewards are worth it.
Be a person who embraces innovation.Create an environment and culture where your team feels empowered to innovate and try new things. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
Final Thoughts on 15 Leadership Qualities Every Leader Should Embrace
As you went through this list of leadership qualities, you may have realized that you aren’t perfect in every aspect.
What is important is that you recognize the areas that you need to grow on and work on them.
If you are “deficient” in one area, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad leader, but it means that as you grow in those areas, you will get even better.
Now to you: What leadership qualities do you need to work on? Do you feel like we missed any? Let us know in the comments below.