To be a great leader, you need to recognize the most common leadership traits and learn how you can develop those characteristics to fuel your own career advancement
Throughout history, mankind has always been fascinated by great leaders. Whether in business or geopolitics, inspirational men and women have helped to shape history and economies, seemingly by sheer force of will. And since those leaders have displayed so many different leadership styles, many people have assumed that their ability to lead is an innate quality that they've possessed since birth. The reality, however, is that great leaders may differ in style, but they all share certain leadership traits - qualities that you can cultivate to develop your own leadership abilities.
In this post, we'll explore fourteen leadership traits that all great leaders share in common, and discuss why they are so important for effective leadership. We'll also provide some useful tips that you can use to develop your own personal leadership traits and further your career.
What are leadership traits?
Great leadership traits are distinguishing qualities and characteristics that people demonstrate over time. Thus, leadership traits are those qualities and characteristics that are shared by effective leaders. It's also worth noting that these traits of effective leadership tend to be related to soft skills, since they involve personality characteristics and interpersonal skills. Leaders may possess hard technical skills as well, but those are generally not essential traits that they need to lead their teams and organizations.
Like skills, personality traits for leadership are characteristics that leaders learn and develop over the course of their lives. While there are courses and seminars that can be attended by those who wish to cultivate these traits, many effective leaders have simply developed these characteristics through trial, error and constant usage.
Fourteen powerful leadership traits that you should cultivate
Below are fourteen powerful leadership traits that are commonly found in most of the world's top business leaders. By understanding how these characteristics can empower your leadership, you can more effectively work to adopt them in your business life.
Great leaders are in control of themselves. That's why you see some of the most powerful men and women in the world seemingly at ease in almost any situation. They know what they want and are capable of managing their own goals and expectations. More importantly, they know how to manage their time and attention to ensure that their goals are reached. By cultivating this sense of self-control in your own life, you can more effectively pursue your objectives in a disciplined way that helps you to avoid undue stress.
Much has been written and said about that whole “vision” thing - and rightly so. The world's top leaders all have the well-cultivated ability to peer into the future and see what their organization will look like in five or ten years. No, they are not fortune-tellers. Instead, they possess a future-focused mindset that understands the need to know where they are going and how to get there. To develop your own visionary abilities, you need to learn how to manage change while still focusing on your long-term goals and ultimate vision of where you want to be at some point in the future.
3. Effective communication
Communication is an essential leadership trait, whether you're leading a small team in a corporate department or a multibillion dollar business enterprise. But communication is not just about talking; it's about knowing when you need to speak and when you should be listening. That type of communicator knows how to use active listening to gather information that can inform their communication strategy at every level. Most of us can benefit from efforts to hone our communication skills and improve our ability to convey information, plans, and expectations.
Successful leaders respect power and take responsibility for their use of authority. This commitment to holding themselves accountable extends to being responsible for their own shortcomings and failures. Good leaders also hold themselves to their own rules. This emphasis on accountability and responsibility enables the best leaders to serve as effective role models for their employees, which can be one of the most efficient ways to promote teamwork and a team-centric corporate culture.
Resilience is the ability to overcome setbacks and continue to move forward toward your goals. Resilient leaders have cultivated an inner strength that enables them to focus on overcoming their weaknesses, developing key skills, and continuing to grow as people and professionals. They understand that failures will occur, but know how to pick themselves up after each setback and learn from the experience. To learn more about how to develop your own resilience and apply it in your career, check out our great article, Use the Resilience Theory to Adapt Your Career.
Despite the entertainment media's habit of painting business leaders as dishonest cads, reality tells a very different story. For most great leaders, the goal is always to lead with integrity and truthfulness. Why? Because ultimately, every business transaction requires you to build connections with other people. That's true whether you're dealing with subordinates or an important business client; if you have no code of conduct or ethics, then your relationship may as well be built on quicksand.
To become a great leader, you need to focus on developing your integrity - doing what is right and true even when the alternative might provide short-term gain. That integrity is a trait that will serve you well throughout your career and help you to build and cultivate the business relationships that you need to be the best possible leader you can be.
In the end, leadership is always about making decisions. The best leaders are decisive and rarely second-guess their informed choices. When hard situations arise, there isn't usually time to agonize over the decision-making process. Instead, you need to learn to gather as much information as possible, efficiently consider the most reasonable responses to any given problem, and then commit to a decision. That decisiveness will be respected by others, even if you need to eventually modify your decision to correct any flaws in your strategy.
Great leaders also possess the ability to inspire others. However, that trait is not just an externally focused characteristic, but an internal one as well. That inspiration is born from within and used by each leader for the type of self-inspiration needed to foster their drive and commitment to success. These people are focused on their goals and self-motivated in a way that enables them to push toward success even when all the odds are against them.
That is also why inspiration may just be the most critical leadership trait of all. If you can develop your capacity for self-motivation, you will possess the one characteristic that will enable you to continue toward your goals until you find the success you seek. That same self-inspiration will also translate into an ability to inspire others, as your team is driven to follow your lead.
If you were to compare all of the great business leaders in the world, you would find that nearly all of them share a talent for adapting to changing circumstances. That makes sense, if you think about it. The world is in a constant state of transition, with evolving technology and changing paradigms. Strong leaders understand that they need to continually adapt to changing circumstances if they want to meet their goals. By cultivating your own ability to adapt, you can ensure that you have this critical leadership trait too.
While there was a time when business leaders seemed to be conservative in their approach to change, today's leaders are usually on the cutting edge of societal advancement. Of course, they have no other choice if they want their companies to be innovative and competitive. Without creativity, these leaders would watch their companies be overtaken by any of the many new startups that seek to challenge them each day. You should foster your own creativity, to ensure that you can keep pace with this ongoing evolution in business too.
The ability to put yourself in another person's shoes is vital for effective leadership. That's because empathy is one of the keys to developing interpersonal relationships. An empathetic leader can not only understand what you're thinking and feeling, but can convey that understanding to you in a way that inspires you to follow their lead. When you develop your own empathy, you'll find that it's easier to predict how other people will respond to your actions and words.
Strong leadership requires focus. Are you capable of giving your goals your complete attention and ignoring distractions and outside influences that seek to divert you toward unproductive endeavors? If so, then you may already have the focus you need to become a great leader. Leadership-level focus requires something more, however: an ability to use that focus to strategize and analyze how every action will impact your broader plan.
13. Commitment to people
Great leaders are also focused on people. They understand that every human endeavor is ultimately about other human beings. To lead, you must be resolutely committed to your team and to the customers you want to serve. You must focus on clients, vendors, suppliers, and other stakeholders who have an interest in your business success. That commitment can help to ensure that your leadership decisions are always based on doing what's best for the people impacted by your choices.
14. Problem solving
At its core, business is all about solving problems. When you develop a product or create innovative services, you do so because you believe that you have a solution that can solve somebody's problem. Great leadership requires a commitment to problem solving and a willingness to take risks in pursuit of effective solutions. Note that your own problem-solving skills can be helpful, but are less important than your dedication to ensuring that your company is a problem-solving enterprise.
Tips to help you cultivate your own leadership traits
If you want to be an effective leader and join the ranks of the world's great business leaders, you will need to work to cultivate your personal leadership traits. The following tips can help you to get started down that path:
Focus on expanding your knowledge
Make a commitment to lifelong learning to ensure that you're continually adding new skills to your skill set and developing these critical traits of good leadership. Start by writing down your goals and the areas you would like to improve. Then seek out seminars, online courses, or mentors who can help you in those areas.
Work on your communication
All great leaders have to be able to effectively communicate, so that's a great area to start your improvements. Work on active listening and practice your verbal and written communication skills. If necessary, you may even want to take a class or two to help you in these efforts.
Develop a positive attitude
Positive thinking is the key to self-control and inspiration. Practice positivity to ensure that you're always looking for the silver lining in every dark cloud. Over time, this will also help you to develop greater resilience.
Seek out more responsibility at work
It's never too early to ask for more responsibility in your current job. Every journey has to start somewhere, so why not begin with your current role? Explain your developmental goals to your supervisor and see if they can find additional responsibilities that will help you to expand your capabilities.
Showcase your leadership potential on your resume
One of the best ways to become a great leader is to emulate the leadership traits of those who have already achieved that status. Our tips will help you to get started on your own journey to leadership greatness.
While you're here, be sure to get your free resume review. Our resume professionals can help you to make sure that your resume is properly conveying your leadership traits to any potential employer.