Everyone will agree that leadership is an integral aspect of being a great boss. However, leadership isn't a quality on its own – instead, it's the sum of many parts, including integrity, confidence, and passion.
On this page, we'll be taking a long look at the 25 essential qualities of a successful leader. Some are natural, while others can be learned, and the more of them you can exhibit, the more effective you're likely to be as the leader of a team, regardless of its size.
However, before we look at how to be a successful leader, we need to first go over what leadership is precisely and why it matters so much.
Leadership is reasonably straightforward to define. According to Forbes, leadership is:
"A process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal."
So, a leader possesses the skills required to influence others and get the most out of them, with the ultimate aim of successfully achieving a specific goal. Therefore, as you might imagine, anyone moving into a management position, regardless of whether they're a shift manager or CEO, must have these skills to succeed.
However, leadership isn't something only required within the corporate management world. Politicians must be leaders, sportsmen and women must be leaders, and teachers must also be leaders. In fact, anyone looking to achieve something significant, from the election of a politician to the education of a child, must possess some leadership qualities.
Leadership is a characteristic that's highly sought after by businesses. Around 77% of companies state that leadership is lacking within their organisation. So, if they get the chance to hire a natural leader, they'll jump at the opportunity.
Speaking of natural leaders, only around 10% of people can be put into this pool. If you're not in that 10%, there's no need to be concerned, as a further 20% of people can develop and become influential leaders in their fields.
Leadership is crucial when attempting to get the best from workers. Only 33% of people report feeling engaged. Considering that companies with engaged workers are 22% more profitable on average, its importance is evident. And what is the primary way to achieve employee engagement? Effective leadership, that's what.
Another way in which outstanding leadership affects worker performance? Employees report that they'd work harder if they were recognised by their leaders. And another way? Employees will work harder for those they believe are great leaders. However, currently, only 48% of employees believe their superiors reach this standard.
As you can see, effective leadership is a vital way in which companies can boost performance and therefore enhance their bottom line. Therefore, anyone looking to move up the corporate ladder must embrace leadership and brush up on their skills.
To help you understand what makes a successful leader, we've outlined 25 important leadership characteristics below.
Integrity is the first entry on our list of the traits of a good leader. But what exactly is integrity? We'd define it as having strong morals and being unwavering in a moral stance. So, for example, a great leader might be unwilling to waver on product quality, workers' rights, or equality in the workplace.
High integrity is key to becoming a role model to those beneath you in the chain. If they see you have integrity, they'll trust you more and feel empowered to take on the same beliefs. When an entire team is aligned in their beliefs, they will naturally work better towards their goals.
Many of the worst leaders are those who refuse to embrace and adapt to change. True leaders realise that change is inevitable and even natural, and they first learn about the change and then use their skills to find new ways to tackle these new issues.
But what does this innovation look like? Well, it usually comes in the form of different approaches to problems. These different approaches might seem radical at first, but true leaders have the confidence to push ahead and make them work.
Honesty is paramount in leadership. Quite simply, if employees can rely on their boss to always be honest, they'll naturally put more trust in them – something that will then translate into a more effective and cohesive team.
Honesty can take several forms. Leaders must be able to honestly praise their employees when deserved, but they also can't shy away from being critical when required. Sometimes there's the temptation to tell a small white lie to smooth things over in the short term, but true leaders know that any lie will make things worse in the long term.
It's also vital to understand that an honest and open environment leads to a far less stressful workplace. Stress accounts for up to 80% of all workplace accidents, which can be tremendously expensive for companies. So, reducing employees' stress through good leadership skills should be a priority.
Many see a leader as someone confident in voicing their opinions, which is undoubtedly a trait they need. However, great leaders must also listen, not just to their superiors, but to everyone in an organisation, regardless of seniority.
Listening promotes several things. It makes employees feel engaged and valued. It ensures leaders are more sympathetic towards their workers. And perhaps most importantly, it allows ideas to come from the broadest range of people – great leaders recognise that they don't always have the solutions.
It's great having infinite ideas and innovations, but great leaders must also have the confidence to put their vision across and inspire others to follow them. A leader without self-confidence isn't much of a leader at all.
However, self-confidence doesn't have to come across as brash or arrogant. The best leaders manage to walk the fine line between confidence and these less desirable traits. What's more, self-confidence isn't just being able to put across a point – it's also accepting weaknesses and allowing others to help.
Most people see things in the same way. However, leaders don't and instead think outside of the box. They recognise how a business will develop and the problems that could arise. What's more, they have the vision to develop and implement solutions, even when others are opposed.
Some of the most outstanding leaders in world history have been visionaries. Nelson Mandela envisioned a country without apartheid, while Henry Ford had the vision to predict future demand for cars. In fact, any revolutionary company, such as Tesla or Apple, was likely started by a visionary mind.
Without communication, a business is nothing – just a collection of individuals, each working to their own beats. A leader should have the ability to communicate not only what they need, but why they need it and how it can be done.
Communication comes in many forms, from speaking confidently in front of hundreds to simply giving someone a quick word of encouragement in passing. This point goes hand-in-hand with listening skills – communication isn't just a one-way street, and those looking to understand what makes a successful leader must realise this.
Delegation is a hugely important skill. Quite simply, even the best managers can't do everything themselves, and they realise that assigning jobs to the most suitable candidates is the most effective way to move forward.
But what makes someone a great delegator? They need to be trusting that employees can handle roles and understand that not everyone is strong at every job. What's more, they need to be able to inspire others to follow their vision. It's also important to know when not to delegate and complete the task personally, even if you don't want to.
Decisive leaders don't simply plough forward and make decisions without thought. Instead, they're continually assessing the playing field and using the piles of information they've gathered to inform their decisions and make these decisions at the perfect time.
A decisive leader will have plenty of self-confidence in pushing their plans and will also have the respect of their team – vital when trying to get everyone to come on board with a plan. What's more, the best leaders will have no fear of being decisive, prepared to accept responsibility if their plan doesn't go as envisioned.
Solving problems requires a person with the ability to think clearly and evaluate all options. However, most importantly, leaders understand that problems are best solved via teamwork and empower their teams to work together to develop the best possible solution.
Great leaders also understand that problem solving isn't something that happens instantly. Instead, they can work through ideas and progress them forward, constantly tweaking and modifying solutions until they solve the problem perfectly. Top leaders can also solve problems under pressure while juggling several other responsibilities.
Next up is the ability to be completely unbiased in approach. It's often tempting to prefer some staff members over others, and you'll naturally develop better connections with some. Still, it's vital to give everyone their chance to shine and to apportion praise or criticism when deserved, regardless of who is the target of this feedback.
Leaders should also be unbiased in other ways. For example, they need to be impartial towards their own ideas, willing to cut their losses and change tack if something isn't working. Leaders must also be unbiased towards the past, realising that the old ways aren't always the best.
They say that curiosity killed the cat, but an inquisitive nature is a highly desirable trait for a leader. The best leaders are always interested in finding new problems and solutions and aren't afraid to gather all relevant facts before making their decisions.
This naturally curious nature also makes the management of individuals easier. Leaders should show interest in their staff members, so they can understand concerns, appreciate ideas, and effectively solve problems.
Leadership can be challenging. Sometimes it's tough to get up and face the day, knowing that there are infinite problems to solve and hugely stressful situations to handle. However, the best leaders are self-motivated, approaching every challenge with enthusiasm and seeing the potential positives in every action.
Remaining self-motivated is often best achieved by having a firm eye on an overall goal, such as hitting specific sales targets or completing a task within an allotted time. A particular part of that challenge might be unpleasant, such as disciplining a worker, but top leaders realise it's an essential step towards achieving the end goal.
Humility is an often-undervalued quality of leaders. Some of the most influential leaders in world history, such as Gandhi, have exhibited immense humility, understanding their strengths and weaknesses and never allowing their hubris to get in the way of completing a job in the best possible way.
A humble leader is also generally a popular leader. We've all experienced arrogant, self-absorbed leadership before, and these traits cause resentment among workers, which will hugely affect productivity. So, remain grounded, and you'll have a much happier and more loyal workforce.
A caring nature is vital in leaders. This care should be for their staff members, the overall business, and themselves. You'll open up a more personable side by showing that you care, and people will be more likely to understand and respect your decisions.
'Caring leadership' is something of a buzzword at the moment, and it refers to not only caring for the success of a company but also for the wellbeing of employees. Caring for staff has proven benefits, including an increased ROI, and doesn't have to be expensive – a quiet word can be just as effective as a grand gesture.
Many people will choose the easy way out of a problem, but not true leaders. Instead, they'll have the self-discipline to pursue the correct path, regardless of how much work and stress that approach might lead to.
Leaders also need to have the self-discipline to see projects through to the end. It can be easy to lose focus when supervising a project spanning months or even years, but the best leaders always have the end goal in mind and know exactly what it takes to reach it.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise and regulate your own emotions, as well as understand how your emotions affect others. The best leaders don't allow their emotions to take hold and instead take a more rational approach to challenges.
The best leaders can also distance personal emotions from the job at hand. Trouble at home, for example, can be hugely distracting, but those with high amounts of emotional intelligence can compartmentalise concerns and focus on their job. However, it's also essential to have the self-awareness to know when you need help – even top leaders have periods of weakness.
Passion is a genuine enthusiasm for a particular subject, and the best leaders are passionate about their jobs. After all, if a leader isn't passionate about their job, how can they expect their staff members to develop a passion for their roles?
However, an important point to make here is that passion can sometimes cloud judgment and lead to knee-jerk actions. Leaders must know precisely where to draw this line, remaining passionate but also retaining the ability to remain unbiased and make rational decisions not clouded by emotion.
Leadership comes with many challenges, which could wear down the average person, but not the best leaders. They can ride the punches and not allow things to dampen their enthusiasm and commitment to the job. Many thrive on these challenges, using them as fuel to power their way towards their goal.
Resilience is also essential when dealing with a constantly changing world. Resilient leaders will overcome any difficulties that might arise and bounce back from any setbacks they experience along the way. They'll do all this while remaining emotionally stable and composed, setting an example to all other staff.
'The buck stops here' is one of the most famous phrases in leadership, and it's also entirely true. As the person in charge, you're responsible for everything that happens below you, both good and bad. A truly great leader will know this and be prepared to be held accountable for all actions.
However, those beneath you must still also be accountable for their responsibilities. As a leader, you must understand how each team member is accountable and hold them to account whenever issues arise.
Another vital addition to our list of good leader skills is the ability to be supportive. This can come in many ways, from supporting a staff member through a demanding and draining project to putting an arm around the shoulder of someone going through a difficult time.
Being supportive and caring should be in everyone's nature, regardless of whether they hold a managerial position. However, being there for someone will foster some kind of bond, and a bond between manager and staff member can be a powerful thing, encouraging loyalty and inspiring trust.
Next up as we list down the personal characteristics of a successful leader is being tech-savvy. 99% of modern businesses now rely on technology, and the tech being used is being improved constantly. Therefore, any manager looking to be effective must have the ability to pick up the use of new technology quickly.
As a leader, not being able to get to grips with a new piece of kit isn't a great image to portray. Not only will staff members lose respect for your ability, but they'll also reason that if you can't do it, they won't be able to either. So, lead from the front, master the tech, and spend time passing your knowledge on to your team.
The ability to be empathetic towards others is vital in life, but particularly in leadership. Quite simply, you can't expect to lead someone effectively if you're unable to understand things from their point of view. Why are they failing at a task? Do they need extra help? Are there external influences affecting their performance?
A leader won't just put themselves in the shoes of a staff member but will also take proactive steps to improve that person's life. For example, a staff member might be struggling with a job. The leader works out that they're not computer literate and offers them education, thus improving the staff member and retaining a potentially vital cog in the machine.
Being a quick learner is one of the many essential qualities of a good leader. We've already said how leaders must be able to adapt to new technology, but this point goes a step further. Being a quick learner doesn't just mean grasping new tech but also quickly understanding a staff member's motivations or adapting a working practice to fit a new goal.
Failing to learn quickly on the job won't just expose a weakness but could make you a less valuable member of the team. What's more, how are you expected to lead if you're unable to do something another team member, potentially several pay grades below you, can do easily?
Finally, any effective leader must exude authority. For some, this trait is natural – they have a calm, authoritative manner that immediately controls a room and demands respect. However, it can also be learnt, through refining leadership skills, adjusting mannerisms, and increasing confidence.
Authority is also far easier if you're an expert in a field, meaning every leader should make it their business to understand precisely how each role beneath them works. This is why many of the most influential leaders make their way through the ranks of a company, learning how to do several roles as they progress.
As you can see, there are many desirable qualities of a successful leader, some of which are simple and others which must be learned over many years. However, there's good news: you don't need to master every point. Instead, identify your strengths and build your leadership style around them.
For example, if you know you're naturally empathetic, build your leadership style around a deep connection with your team. If instead you're a person who learns quickly, become familiar with several roles, allowing you to talk confidently about them and lead by example. There are many ways to lead – you just need to find the one that suits you.
Have you enjoyed reading this article about how to be a successful leader? Or perhaps you've got something to add to the discussion? If so, we'd love to hear from you!