Top 11 Qualities Of A Good Leader
April 29, 2021
Think about some of the most influential leaders in your life. They could be family members, mentors, co-workers, celebrities or even historical figures. What makes them stand out as a leader? You may notice there is probably not one trait or feature shared by all the examples that come to mind.
That’s because there is no one perfect formula for a perfect leader. Good leaders come in all shapes and sizes and use a variety of leadership skills, theories and techniques.
While the answer to good leadership may not be straightforward, that’s not necessarily a negative! Given that successful leadership comes in many forms, this allows for everyone to become successful leaders in their respective organizations and projects.
In this blog post, we will cover the top 11 different leadership qualities possessed by good leaders across a variety of industries, including insights from leaders in our faculty, student and alumni networks.
What is Leadership?
Before describing what makes a good leader, it may be helpful start with a definition of leadership.
If only it were that easy.
There are as many definitions of leadership as there are people who have defined it.
According to Bill Gates, "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others."
American scholar Warren Bennis said that “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality."
Aristotle once said, "He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader."
While we do not have one set definition for leadership, the examples above paint a leader as someone who has a strong strategic vision and goal, knows how to motivate and mobilize people around that goal and knows when to listen and follow others who bring their own skills and qualities to the table.
What are the Most Important Leadership Qualities?
Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what someone else is going through—the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another.
In the workforce, this can relate to understanding where employees are coming from and to work with them to ensure they best fit the position they are trying to fill. This will help you to best match a person’s strengths with the needs of the organization.
“As a manager, you should try to understand your team and learn what everyone is capable of and make sure that everybody is trained in all aspects of the job,” says Maria Verdin Frieden ’88 (Operations Management) ’90 BBA, a freelance transcriptionist.
Being empathetic can also help a leader to gain the trust of followers. Embracing others’ strengths and flaws and acknowledging that we, even the leader, are all imperfect can help motivate individuals and encourage them to do their best—or even have the courage to fail—because they know they will have support from their leader.
“As a leader, it’s important to make sure we create an environment of being valued. This environment can be created by leaders listening to team members and being empathetic towards the efforts of every individual in the team,” says Aishwarya Raghunath ’20 MS MIS, program manager for ServiceNow.
Good leaders are confident in their actions and goals and speak courageously, which helps followers to rally around a goal.
“Women have traditionally been told not to be assertive,” says McClean “but my research shows that when suggesting ideas for change, women who speak up agentically—for example, suggesting changes to work tasks and using confident language—got their ideas endorsed more than those who spoke up in a tentative manner.”
A good leader understands that a level of creativity is needed for effective problem solving. When beginning a brainstorming session, it is important to create an environment where all ideas are appreciated and valued, even the silly or crazy ones. Some of the best solutions and products can come from an idea that initially seems outrageous.
Creative leaders are not afraid to make waves and look at a problem from an untraditional perspective.
Accountability is the ability to follow through on commitments and take ownership of successes and failures. A good leader who exemplifies accountability can inspire followers to take similar accountability for their actions.
“A good leader holds you accountable to be better—to be the best you can be while maintaining empathy and compassion when needed. A good leader holds themselves and others accountable to the same standards,” says Rachel Calvert Young ’10 BSBA (Management), human resources manager at Northrup Grumman.
Transparency is the ability to openly share information with others and is generally associated with openness, communication and accountability. This can help followers to have a better understanding of what their leader is trying to achieve and can help them take ownership in those efforts.
According to Heather Molina ’23 MBA: “The more context and information you can share about the 'why' on something helps others buy into the mission, objective, strategy and/or tactic.”
While good leaders possess accountability and follow through on their own tasks, they also know when to tap into the skills and strengths of others. This quality requires the leader to trust the ability of their followers to work on their behalf and produce quality outcomes.
By delegating work to others and being humble enough to understand that others may be able to perform a task better, the leader is able to focus their time on other responsibilities and the team will be able to reach their goal quicker.
Compassion is the ability to feel sympathy for others, often in times of need. While empathy is about creating an environment where all are valued, compassion is action-oriented—helping others overcome obstacles in a way that benefits the individual in need while still helping them accomplish the goals in place.
“The job, although very important, does not define who I am as a human being. I carry the ups and downs of life. Although I do try to separate my personal life from my professional, it's hard when I'm going through a difficult stage in life,” says Fernanda Bueno ’18 MS (Marketing), product marketing analyst at PeacockTV.
As Bueno describes, issues in one’s personal life can affect their professional life and ability to complete tasks. Good leaders acknowledge this and make adjustments to their plans and expectations to ensure that those around them are taken care of.
To have humility means to not be too assertive or arrogant—to be humble. Good leaders who practice humility give credit where it is due and celebrate the successes of others, instead of celebrating just their own.
According to Scott Gossett ’97 BSBA (MIS), CEO of Clutch Solutions, “a good leader will never build anything if they are focused on themselves and not on the wellbeing of their team.”
Grit is the perseverance and passion needed to reach a long-term goal, despite all obstacles. Good leaders know that the path to success is anything but easy and linear and they are up for the challenge.
Connor Arendts ’17 BSBA (MIS), account executive at Sisense, has experienced the importance of grit in his career in software sales. His advice: “Understand your long-term goals and define a plan to get there efficiently.”
Visionary leaders are able to look at a problem from a “bird’s eye view” and develop paths to find a solution. They help others to stay focused on the goal and can pivot and re-center a team when things don’t go as planned.
In order to gain or strengthen this quality, practice problem solving both at a personal and organizational level. This skill will come with time and experience in both failing and succeeding.
With all of these in mind, there is one final quality to remember—integrity, which is described as the quality of having strong moral values and honesty. As Karl Eller, our namesake, once said: “Make absolute integrity the compass that guides you in everything you do. And surround yourself only with people of flawless integrity. Integrity is all you’ve got.”
What are leadership qualities?
Leadership qualities are a set of traits that a leader has that helps them to succeed in their role, such as the ones listed in this article. Leadership qualities can range from interpersonal skills—such as compassion and empathy or organizational skills—like vision and grit. These qualities can either come naturally or be learned over time.
How do I develop leadership qualities?
Practice is the best way to develop leadership qualities. Though it may seem counterintuitive, using a leadership skill and then failing will help the most. By learning from the failure and adapting to ensure it doesn’t happen again, you will learn how to harness the power of each leadership skill. A great way to build leadership skills is to become an active member of committees, organizations, sports teams or clubs that relate to things you are passionate about.
Why are leadership qualities important?
Leadership qualities are important because they help a leader to motivate and empower their followers and reach their goals. Without strong leadership qualities, a leader may lose the support of their followers.
What are examples of leadership?
Leadership can be found in many forms, including managing a work team, leading an organization, running a business, running a campaign, coaching a sports team, managing volunteers or even setting and managing progress towards personal goals.
Developing the skills to become a good leader takes time and practice! Many of the skills listed above are integrated into the curriculum of our graduate business programs. We’re here to help you transform your life—wherever your path leads—so you can transform lives in your industry, your community and even the world. Find the right grad program for you.
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