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

As a leadership coach to lawyers and other high-achieving professionals, I’ve learned that impactful leaders share some common characteristics. Today, I’m sharing 10 top leadership traits for what makes a good leader.

 

Core Leadership Characteristics For What Makes A Good Leader

To understand what makes a good leader, it’s important to first take note of what leaders are expected to do. And also the difference in being an effective leader versus a manager.

Management is about organizing people and resources for the purpose of achieving business goals. Leaders must influence people in a positive way. So that others dig deeper to achieve more and fulfill their full potential.

A Team Leader That Can Handle Whatever Comes Their Way

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

And they don’t have time to overthink things or worry about what others might think.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t take other people’s opinions into account when making a decision. On the contrary, great leaders seek the advice and knowledge of others when making decisions.

But they’re decisive.

Good Leaders Are Honest About Themselves and Their Situation

Successful leaders must be willing to take calculated risks – even fail. And they don’t downplay their mistakes but seek to learn from them.

Which means they must get help (and know their own weaknesses). So that they can buffer their weaknesses through the strengths of others. And give credit where it’s due.

A Surprising Trait For What Makes A Good Leader: Vulnerability

We’ve established that being a good leader means taking risks, making difficult decisions, admitting to weaknesses, relying on others’ help and learning from failures. These are skills that require you to be vulnerable.

Good leaders must be willing to face their fears, acknowledge doubt and deal with their emotions. Which means feeling them fully and knowing how to manage them.

And that’s not comfortable.

 

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Top 10 Leadership Traits For What Makes A Good Leader

Now that you know what good leaders are expected to do, let’s dive into the top 10 leadership traits for what makes a good leader.

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 beliefs, thoughts, assumptions and emotions. It’s what creates the voice inside your head that talks you through personal challenges, helps you dig deeper and (yes) questions decisions.

Learn more about what mindset is and why it’s so important in my article about Why Mindset Is Everything (The Key To Success & Happiness).

The good news is that you can take control of your mindset by taking control of how you process your emotions and the thoughts/beliefs behind them.

Here’s how that works:

  • Your emotions aren’t created from circumstances alone. They’re created by the thoughts and beliefs you have around those circumstances.
  • If not properly processed and managed, your emotions will impact your response.
  • How you choose to respond impacts your result. Sometimes by a lot.

When you take control of your thoughts and emotions, you change your response (and hence result) in a positive way. And bonus: you slowly change the thoughts themselves.

What Is (And Why) A Growth Mindset?

Having a growth mindset means believing in your ability to learn as you go – not just from success but from failure. People with a growth-oriented mindset are:

  • Willing to take calculated risks.
  • Honest about mistakes.
  • Ask for help to backstop their weaknesses.

Why is this leadership trait necessary within good leaders? It creates resilience.

This is what enables you to bounce back quickly from setbacks, unexpected challenges and failures. You won’t even see these things as problems but as opportunities for growth and creative thinking.

Think about how that mindset could impact your results.

Leadership Trait #2: Effective Communication

You’re not a good leader without stellar communication skills. You must be able to communicate clearly, in a direct manner. So that people understand what you’re saying and where you’re coming from.

There’s no room for confusion or uncertainty.

And please note that communication isn’t just about how you speak to others…

Effective Communication Defined

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 (what most people do).
  • Being direct, clear and concise.
  • Nonverbal communication that exudes confidence, isn’t distracting and doesn’t undermine your message.
  • 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.

 

Tips for Effective Communication Graphic

 

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 people, their feelings and the impact I had on them.

Why the disconnect? Two main reasons:

  • I’m introverted and like to observe people before initiating conversation.
  • When busy, I tend to hyper-focus on what’s most important (and don’t do small talk).

These were clear blind spots that made me seem cold to people who didn’t know me. The good news is that they were easily fixable once I knew about them.

Everyone has blind spots, including communication bind 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 Likky Lavji in Navigating Your Blind Spots >>>here.

 

 

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 – and honest about – your strengths and weaknesses.

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 and creative thinking. Emotional minds aren’t.

Motivation

Motivation is what keeps you focused on your goal despite unexpected hardships and setbacks. It’s what builds commitment to set a challenging goal, catalyzes initiative to go above and beyond and keeps you going when things feel hard.

Empathy

Empathy is about putting yourself into another person’s shoes so that you can understand how they feel and their motivations. This is an essential leadership trait because it’s what enables you to identify (and anticipate) the needs of team members, meet their needs and create buy-in on your bigger vision.

Empathetic team leaders are good at developing team members.

Social Skills

Social skills are the emotional intelligence skills needed to effectively connect and interact with other people.

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 effectively managing conflicts. So that you can leverage team members and effectively navigate through change to achieve company goals.

[Recommended: Listen to What Is Emotional Intelligence on the Life & Law Podcast to go deeper into what emotional intelligence is, and how to improve your emotional intelligence levels].

 

Clarity and focus picture

 

Leadership Trait #4: Vision

The most effective leaders have clarity around their vision (and mission), with clear goals that provide a pathway toward that vision. This is about the WHY behind it all and HOW to achieve it.

Uncertainty breeds self-doubt but clarity begets confidence. And it motivates people, making it easier to achieve buy-in from team members.

But good leaders don’t have just any vision. They have a compelling vision that’s values-based. And they align everything – from goals to individual decisions – around their values and vision.

Something to note is that this requires simplicity. You want a clear, simple vision supported by goals that help you get there within a reasonable time period. Otherwise, it’s easy for people to get distracted.

Leadership Trait #5: Self-Trust

Effective leadership is all about making imperfect decisions, which (as mentioned before) is vulnerable.

That means that you must trust yourself. Not just your skills and knowledge, but also how you make decisions and measure success. So that you can gather the knowledge you need without overthinking, make a decision and move forward. And then identify when you might need to slow down, pivot or change course.

Want to trust yourself and your decision-making?

It all begins within your thoughts. Which is why it’s important to not just understand them but also to learn how to process them without emotion. So that you can take bold, courageous action.

Leadership Trait #6: Servant Leadership

The most effective leaders adopt a service-first mindset. They’re servant leaders, which means that their focus is on how to benefit others.

They want to help team members grow and to serve clients/customers to the absolute best of their ability (including by letting go of what they don’t need to be doing and allowing others to assist). Fostering leadership in others and encouraging diversity of opinion are hallmarks of great servant leaders.

This is an important leadership quality because it helps team members to continually grow and contribute fully. And it creates a collaborative environment built on trust. By enabling team members to thrive, they’ll be more motivated. And will provide a stellar product or service.

 

 

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.

 

Inspiration picture

 

Leadership Trait #8: Inspirational

Good leaders motivate their team to go above and beyond. And you do that by being positive, asking for input, and encouraging team members to try new things (and get back up after failures).

That’s what it means to be inspirational, and why it’s such an important leadership quality for what makes a good leader.

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. To reframe something, don’t just be positive (and forget the negative). It’s okay to reference and remember the negative parts. But you’ll also identify what good could come of the situation (such as new skills, learning, knowledge and so on).

Leadership Trait #9: Strategic Thinking

Another characteristic for what makes a good leader is the ability to think strategically. Good leaders think ahead through potential roadblocks that could get in the way of their desired outcome.

And they value brainstorming, innovation and experimentation. They 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. That’s what strategic thinking is all about.

 

 

Leadership Trait #10: Seeking 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, ask for help and delegate. And they do that through a strong support network that they’ve curated intentionally.

Their support network is their lifeline for not getting stuck in problems or stale thinking.

Who is within their network? Peers, colleagues, industry leaders, non-industry leaders, creative thinkers and coaches. People who will be honest with them, support them and that they trust (for creative brainstorming).

They don’t just include people within their current place of employment or even their industry. They include a wide variety of people with varying backgrounds, experience and knowledge. So that they can foster innovation and outside-the-box thinking.

[Learn how to surround yourself with an amazing network of peers through a mastermind by listening to the Life & Law Podcast episode about Business Masterminds For Lawyers & other high achievers >>>here].

In Summary Of What Makes A Good Leader

What makes a good leader is not defined by job title, but by your actions and how you interact with your team and colleagues. It’s about cultivating essential leadership traits that inspire and empower others to reach their highest potential.

By embracing these qualities, you can create a positive and meaningful impact on your team and become the kind of leader who motivates others to excel.

Ready To Go Deeper?

Go even deeper to become a more impactful, effective leader with the following resources:


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Hey there, I’m Heather

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FORMER BIGLAW LAWYER (FOR 18+ YEARS)

LAWYER LEADERSHIP & BUSINESS COACH

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I’m here to help purpose-driven lawyers and other professionals (like you) build your ideal career to support the life you actually want. Because you shouldn’t have to choose between professional success & personal happiness.

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