Leadership Traits Every Leader Needs to Succeed
One of the most common misconceptions about leadership is that great leaders are just born with all the qualities they need to succeed in their chosen roles. And, of course, there are some leadership traits that some people do seem to possess from an early age - self-awareness and a positive personality, for example. At the same time, however, most leadership characteristics and skills can be learned and honed over time. But which leadership attributes are necessary for any successful leader?
In this post, we’ll examine the most important qualities any leader can possess and explore twelve key leadership traits that you can develop to help you to achieve your career goals. Even if you have no aspirations to take on a leadership role, these traits can be useful for career advancement.
What does it mean to be a leader?
Leadership may seem difficult to define, since there are so many different types of leaders. As a general rule, however, a leader can perhaps best be defined as someone who is able to articulate a clear vision, identify a strategy to achieve that vision, and inspire others to follow them as they move toward that goal. Some leaders are stronger in certain areas, of course, but the best leaders are proficient in all three of those important roles.
Of course, leaders do more than just develop visions, missions, and strategies, and motivate others to join their cause. They can also be an organization’s top coach and guide, while serving as a powerful influence on the overall culture of the company. Many can also perform managerial duties as well, though it is always important to remember that managers and leaders play very different roles within most companies.
Why are key leadership traits important?
The leadership traits commonly demonstrated by most successful leaders are vital components of their success. They are the key qualities that true leaders rely on to inspire other people to follow them in any business endeavor. These traits enable leaders to:
Inspire confidence in those who follow them. The more that people believe in a leader, the more they’re willing to commit to achieving that leader’s vision and goals.
Develop and strengthen collaborative efforts. Great leaders possess a variety of interpersonal skills that they use to create work environments that encourage teamwork, shared appreciation for each team member’s value, and a commitment to achieving the leader’s vision.
Drive continuing innovation. Leadership traits enable a good leader to take calculated risks that drive creativity and new innovation. Leaders are disruptive forces, continually challenging the status quo to drive improvements in every area of their business.
Ensure that their teams persevere, no matter the challenge. With the right leadership, companies and teams will have the resilience they need to overcome any obstacle. That perseverance helps to ensure that companies continue to move forward toward long-term goals, even in the face of short-term setbacks.
What are the 12 key leadership traits that all leaders need?
It has often been argued that the single most important trait that any leader can possess is vision. It’s easy to see why vision ranks so highly on any leadership traits list, since all great human endeavors began with someone’s vision. Truly visionary leaders are focused on the future and always seem to see the big picture and their organization’s place within it. That vision enables them to see where they want to be, the path they need to take to get there, and the team they need to build to complete that journey.
The ability to inspire others is one of the most powerful traits of good leadership. An inspirational leader knows how to craft powerful narratives and get their followers to buy into their ideas. Moreover, they understand how to maintain connections with their teams to ensure that those followers continue to be motivated to achieve their common goal. This requires a positive attitude, a deep understanding of human nature, and a commitment to building team relationships that are based on respect, trust, and shared values.
3. Interpersonal communication
The best leaders seem to be able to communicate with almost anybody. Of course, you do not have to be an extrovert who loves to interact with other people - but it sure helps. Still, even a natural introvert can develop powerful interpersonal skills if they’re willing to work at it. By practicing active listening and focusing on developing real relationships with those around you, it’s possible to build and refine the communication skills you’ll need to become an effective leader.
4. Strategic thinking
Strategic thinking is an absolute necessity for successful leadership, since a company without a strategy has little chance of success. A strategic thinker knows how to analyze their own business and identify its real strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and realistic prospects for success. They also understand what it takes to create plans that can overcome challenges and help them to reach their broader company goals.
Another trait that all effective leaders have in abundance is authenticity. We’ve all encountered leaders who we immediately recognize as genuine. They seem comfortable in their skin, know who they are, and demonstrate true self-confidence in their ideas and stated values. Fortunately, authenticity can be one of the easiest traits to cultivate. All you need to do is focus on being your true self, embracing the characteristics that have made you who you are.
The most effective leaders have high levels of self-awareness, which enables them to understand their own strengths and shortcomings. They work to recognize their own biases, so that they can make more effective decisions based on the information that is available to them. They regularly do self-assessments and work to make improvements in areas where they may be lacking. Just as important, they know how to seek the right feedback, and are not afraid to rely on other peoples’ expertise when necessary.
Leaders strive to disrupt the status quo, and that requires a certain level of creativity. Creative leaders are always open to new perspectives and ideas, because they recognize that everything in life can be improved. A great leader will listen to feedback, take suggestions, and adopt better ideas as their own if those ideas can make things better. This creative trait enables them to continually drive innovation, expanding their company’s horizons by opening the door to new possibilities.
Adaptability is the key to surviving in the business world and that’s especially true for leaders. Change is a constant thing, with new processes, products, and services forcing companies and industries to continually evolve. Great leaders are able to adapt quickly because they can peer through the uncertainty that accompanies any change and quickly identify the opportunities that change can bring. They also have the ability to inspire their entire team to respond to change with the same positive attitude.
Bad leaders always seem unreliable and unaccountable. Good leaders, on the other hand, are always dependable and bear their responsibility in a way that earns others’ respect. Effective leaders can be recognized by their ability to tirelessly work toward their goals and their willingness to accept accountability when things go wrong. They can be counted on to provide the support that their teams need, while always ensuring that those team members share in the credit for success.
As the old saying goes, patience is a virtue. It also happens to be a critical trait of leadership. Success almost never happens overnight and that means that leaders need to have the patience to take a long-term approach in their vision. When they develop strategies, they need to have the patience to wait for those plans to come to fruition. That patience can help them to overcome the urge to panic when challenges arise and enable them to see every short-term success as a critical step on the path to realizing their long-term goals.
The ability to take risks may be among the most important leadership traits any great leader can possess. Of course, truly effective leaders don’t take risks without considering the potential consequences. Naturally, they work to evaluate potential outcomes and identify challenges that could disrupt their plans. But make no mistake, they do take risks. Without that willingness to take a risk, no great enterprise would ever be launched. Great leaders know how to assess every situation and find a way to navigate risk in a positive way.
12. The ability to empower others
Great leaders are also adept at helping others to reach their full potential. They know how to find and recruit talented individuals whose skills and experience can strengthen their teams. These leaders understand the importance of delegation and focus on training and empowering their employees to enable them to pursue their vision. The best leaders are able to essentially replicate themselves in others, expanding their reach and effectiveness across their entire organization.
Tips to help you to develop your own leadership traits
As noted above, leadership traits can be developed, improved, and refined - if you’re willing to work toward that goal. Even if you already possess some of these characteristics, there’s a good chance that you could benefit from further development in one or more areas. The following tips can help you to get started with those improvements and enable you to become the leader that you want to be.
Pick a leadership style
There are many different styles of leadership, each with its own pros and cons. They range from the top-down autocratic style to the hands-off laissez-faire approach. Each style prioritizes different leadership traits, and your own personality and characteristics can help you to determine which one is right for you. Are you more comfortable in a coaching role, or are you a big picture visionary kind of leader? Do you prefer a bureaucratic, rules-based approach or more of a democratic way of doing things?
Check out our post, Tips You Can Use to Choose the Right Leadership Style for You, to learn more about each style and see which one might fit your needs.
Focus on communication
All good leaders need to have powerful communication skills. Work on improving your ability to convey information in a clear and concise manner - both verbally and in written communication. You might even want to take a class on communication or business writing if necessary.
Commit to learning
Be a life-long learner. The best leaders never stop improving their skills or expanding their perspectives. It’s how they continue to be innovative throughout their lives and drive success for their companies and employees. Figure out which talents you need to improve or which new abilities you want to add to your skill set, and then create a strategy to get that education or training.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibility
Most of the great leaders in history have had their strongest leadership traits forged in fire. They have - either through conscious decision or chance - been given responsibilities that required them to learn how to lead. If you really want to expand your ability to lead, ask your company for more responsibility. Take on a leadership role in a new project or volunteer for extra duties. Ask to be the person who delivers a client presentation. In short, take on small leadership roles to build the skills you’ll need to become a true leader.
Reach for the stars
Effective leaders have characteristics that enable them to successfully lead others to success. While some of those characteristics may seem to be innate, most of them can be improved if you know how. By working to develop and hone these leadership traits, you can improve your ability to inspire and lead others and enjoy even greater career success.
Want to make sure that your resume effectively conveys your leadership traits? Get a free resume review from our resume experts today.
Ken Chase, Freelance Writer
During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.