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What Makes A Good Leader (10 Essential Traits)

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In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing and technology-driven business environment, good leadership isn’t just important…. It’s necessary. But what makes a good leader?

As a leadership coach to high-achievers, I’ve learned that effective leaders share some common qualities. Today, we’re covering the 10 essential leadership traits that are exhibited by effective leaders.

The good news is that leadership is a skill that can be developed. Recognize which characteristics aren’t your strong points and strengthen them to stop wondering what makes a good leader and instead become a good (even great) leader yourself.

Before moving on, be sure to download my FREE step-by-step guide of 8 proven mindset and stress management strategies. These science-backed strategies will help you do more than just manage stress… you’ll also develop a strong, resilient mentality (a must-have leadership trait). Grab your copy of the free guide >>>here.

 

What Makes A Good Leader?

Leaders are constantly challenged to make difficult decisions, think outside-the-box and go against the mold. They’re expected to handle the unexpected (un-phased) and face down their fears. And to handle criticism.

Quality leaders don’t have the time to worry over what others might think (about their decisions). That doesn’t mean that they don’t take other people’s opinions into account when making a decision (they do). But they need to be decisive.

And they can’t feel threatened by others’ achievements, strengths or help. Instead, they need to be honest about their own weaknesses and seek help where needed.

So what does it mean to be a good leader? Being a leader means facing down fears, risking failure and admitting to mistakes (so that you can learn from them). Which isn’t comfortable!

Effective leaders have to get comfortable being uncomfortable, trusting that they’re capable of figuring things out as they go.

What’s required of leaders provides us with a window into what makes a good leader – pointing to the essential qualities that effective leaders need. Let’s take a look at the top 10 leadership characteristics shared by great leaders…

 

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Leadership Trait #1: A Growth-Oriented Mindset

What Is Mindset?

Mindset is quite the buzzword these days (and can be overused). But the fact is this: the most effective leaders are growth-oriented and resilient. And that’s all about your mindset.

Your mindset is the combination of your assumptions, attitudes, emotions, thoughts and beliefs. It’s both what you think and your way of processing thoughts, events and emotions.

[For more about why your mindset is so important, read my article about Why Mindset Is Everything (The Key To Success & Happiness)].

What Is (And Why) A Growth Mindset?

Having a growth-oriented mindset means being open to taking calculated risks, facing your fears, being willing to fail and honestly assessing mistakes (so that you can learn from them). A growth-oriented mindset is what enables you to:

  • Be comfortable with the unknown.
  • Take calculated risks.
  • Learn from mistakes/failures (and bounce back quickly).
  • Acknowledge your weaknesses (and ask for help).
  • Adequately manage (even avoid) stress.

And all of these traits are necessary for good leadership. Because this is about being resilient.

Moreover, failure is often the best teacher. Which means being willing to fail while proactively identifying mistakes (so that you can learn from them).

Adopt a growth mindset to transform from being merely an okay manager to a much more effective leader.

 

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Leadership Trait #2: Effective Communication

Being a skilled communicator is a necessary element for what makes a good leader. And let me be clear about something… communication isn’t just about how you speak to others.

What Effective Communication Really Is

Effective communication requires:

  • Self-awareness. You need to know how others perceive you.
  • Active listening. Listening with an open, curious mind (instead of half-listening while determining what you’re going to say next – which is what most people do).
  • Clear, concise and direct communication. This includes not undermining yourself through your nonverbal communication (another reason self-awareness is so important).
  • Using stories for illustration. Effective storytelling to make a point increases understanding and buy-in.

These are all skills that can be learned by anyone. And the first place to start is with the self-awareness piece. Because you can’t become a better communicator if you’re blind to your communication deficiencies.

 

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Case Study Of A Communication Blind Spot

Back when I practiced law, a support staff member (who had been at the firm for about a year by that point) made the comment that I wasn’t anything like she’d assumed. When I pressed her for details, she told me that she had initially perceived me as cold and uncaring. But once she got to know me, she realized that I was warm and cared deeply about other people (and their feelings).

Why the disconnect? First, I’m pretty introverted when meeting new people and like to observe people for a while before initiating conversation. Second, I hyper-focus on what’s most important when I get busy (and cut out anything that’s not a priority). And so people who don’t know me well would initially perceive me as cold because I wouldn’t talk much.

These were blind spots. Everyone has communication (and other) blind spots. Figure out yours so that you can fix them (and become a better leader).

[For more about how to identify your blind spots, listen to my podcast interview with fellow leadership coach Likky Lavji in Navigating Your Blind Spots >>>here (an audience favorite)].

 

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Leadership Trait #3: Emotional Intelligence

What makes a good leader (or better yet, a great leader)? Two words…Emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence – at its core – is the ability to (1) understand your emotions (and the impact they have on others), (2) effectively manage your emotions, and (3) perceive (and positively influence) other people’s emotions.

The term was popularized by the American psychologist Daniel Goleman. According to Goleman, there are 5 elements of emotional intelligence:

 

Elements of Emotional Intelligence

 

Self-Awareness

This element is about understanding what you’re feeling (and why), how your feelings influence your behavior and the impact your feelings/behavior have on others. It also includes being aware of your strengths and weaknesses (and honest about them).

Being self-aware is necessary for accurate self-assessment. And it’s also the foundation to increasing your emotional intelligence. All other elements build upon this piece.

Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to regulate your emotions so that you can stay in control – no matter the circumstances, time constraints or pressure. Calm minds are capable of quick, rational cognitive thought. But emotional minds don’t do that.

Self-regulation is what allows you to calm down quickly when presented with unexpected negative events and effectively problem-solve without emotion.

To help you become both more self-aware and capable of self-regulation, be sure to get your FREE guide of 8 science-backed mindset + stress management strategies here:

 

 

Motivation

Motivation is what allows you to achieve goals. It’s what keeps you focused on your goal, working despite hardships. And when considering what makes a good leader, motivation creates the:

  • Commitment to set and achieve a challenging goal.
  • Initiative to go above and beyond.
  • Persistence to keep going (despite any setbacks).

Empathy

People with high levels of empathy are able to put themselves into another person’s shoes so that they can understand how they feel and where they’re coming from.

Empathy is an essential leadership trait because it’s what enables you to identify (even anticipate) the needs of others so that you can meet them. Empathetic team leaders are better at developing team members.

Social Skills

Social skills are the emotional intelligence skills needed to effectively connect and interact with other people. Good leaders must be able to leverage other people to achieve company goals. That’s where social skills come into play.

This isn’t just about having good communication skills (that’s only part of the equation). It’s also about building strong bonds as a team leader, being collaborative and effective conflict management. That means that you must be able to navigate your way through change, conflict and unexpected events with relative ease.

If you want to be a good leader, work to strengthen your emotional intelligence (it’s non-negotiable for what makes a good leader).

 

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Leadership Trait #4: Clarity of Purpose

The most effective leaders have clarity around their vision (and mission), with clear goals that provide a pathway toward that vision. Clarity of purpose makes it easier to explain (the what and why behind it all).

Uncertainty breeds self-doubt but clarity begets confidence, and hence motivation and buy-in from team members. This is important because it makes things simpler, keeps people focused and increases productivity.

Leadership Trait #5: Self-Trust

Effective leadership is all about believing that you’re capable enough to figure things out, accept help and learn from your mistakes. It begins with knowing who you are, but goes even deeper than that.

Being a leader is all about making imperfect decisions, which is vulnerable. You must have the courage to try new things, embrace the unknown and risk failure. That’s why self-trust is a crucial component of what makes a good leader.

Trusting your decisions means trusting that you can figure things out as you go, course correct and learn from mistakes quickly. It’s about your decision-making process.

For more about how to recover after failure, read my article on How To Be Confident Again After Failure (5 Strategies).

And then grab your guide of 8 mindset and stress management strategies for building a calm, confident and resilient mentality. This powerful guide will help you create a mind that’s willing to act courageously.

Download your free guide here:

 

 

Leadership Trait #6: Servant Leadership

The most effective leaders adopt a service-first mindset (and don’t care about being on top, but instead care about using strengths for the benefit of others). This means that you:

  • Focus on serving customers/clients and employees to the best of your ability.
  • Encourage diversity of opinion.
  • Foster leadership in others.

So that team members have what they need to stay motivated to do their jobs most effectively and continually grow. And so your clients/customers get what they need – and beyond.

This creates a more collaborative environment built on trust – allowing team members to thrive (and hence create a better product/service for customers).

 

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Leadership Trait #7: Integrity

A cornerstone of what makes a good leader is integrity. After all, who would follow someone with no integrity? Integrity shows up in a number of ways:

  • Being honest.

  • Following your values.

  • Doing what’s promised.

  • Apologizing for mistakes.

  • Offering forgiveness.

  • Holding yourself accountable (including taking responsibility for bad outcomes).

  • Treating others as you want to be treated.

  • Giving credit to others.

Integrity is what ultimately enables you to learn from mistakes (it’s impossible to learn from mistakes if you’re unwilling to admit to and apologize for them in the first place). And it encourages others to follow suit, creating an environment that makes people want to do their best for the goals and mission of the group.

 

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Leadership Trait #8: Inspirational

Being inspirational is another top quality for what makes a good leader. This is how to influence others in a positive way (because working towards big goals isn’t easy and requires lots of time and energy).

Good leaders motivate their team to achieve – even exceed – goals and do their best. That’s what it means to inspire others. And you do that by being positive, asking for input, and encouraging team members to try new things (and get back up after failures).

When it comes to being positive, I’m not talking about toxic positivity. Instead, effective leaders reframe obstacles as challenges and mistakes as learning opportunities.

Reframing is a science-backed strategy that helps cultivate a positive, growth-oriented mentality. And it’s one of the strategies included in my FREE Guide of Stress Management and Mindset Strategies that can be downloaded here (so be sure to grab it):

 

 

Leadership Trait #9: Strategic Thinking

Another characteristic of what makes a good leader is strategic thinking.

Good leaders value brainstorming, innovation and experimentation. And are always thinking ahead. You must consider both internal and external factors when thinking strategically about the future – from government regulations to technology and even staffing issues.

The best leaders rarely follow a path just because that’s how it’s done. That doesn’t mean they never follow routes that others have taken (they do if it’s the best solution). But they’re always open to new ways of doing things.

Additionally, you’ll have to make tough decisions – sometimes even risky ones (but not reckless decisions). And be decisive with those decisions. That requires that you think strategically through potential issues and roadblocks so that you can make an informed decision.

 

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Leadership Trait #10: A Network of Support

Contrary to what many believe, leadership doesn’t mean going solo. Although the final decision is on the leader, good leaders seek others’ opinions when making decisions and to ask for help when needed (and yes, delegate to those who can do something faster, better and/or more efficiently).

That means that great leaders proactively build a support network – both within and outside of their team. You’ll want to delegate as much as you can while asking team members to weigh on with their opinions. This is how to develop team members to fulfill their greatest potential.

It’s also necessary to build a strong support network that includes mentors, colleagues, sponsors and coaches. This network of people should be your go-to for brainstorming, advice and support (and should include only people who you trust, will listen and will give honest feedback).

What Makes A Good Leader – Summary & Next Steps

Being appointed a manager (or even the leader of a team) doesn’t make you a good leader (or even much of a leader at all). To be an effective leader, work to develop all of the traits listed above.

You can get started today – and you even have several great options for how to get started. First, be sure to download your free guide of 8 mindset + stress management strategies for creating a calm, confident mind that’s in control of your emotions. Download that guide here:

 

 

And if you’re ready to go all-in, consider working with a coach to develop a strong leadership mindset. Learn more about how I can help here.

 


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Hey there, I’m Heather.

Recovering lawyer. Leadership Coach. Business Strategist. Cancer Survivor.

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