20 Leadership Qualities that Make a Great Leader

Whether you’re leading a team or a meeting, developing and owning leadership skills can help you succeed at any stage in your career. Leadership skills include a combination of soft and technical skills, such as using your interpersonal skills to motivate your team or applying your technical knowledge to solve problems and complete tasks. Learning about the qualities of effective leaders can help you develop and apply these skills in your workplace.

In this article, we discuss 20 qualities that make a leader great and offer tips on how to improve yours.

20 qualities of an effective leader

Here are 20 important qualities for effective leadership:

1. Accountability

Taking ownership of responsibilities and positive and negative outcomes is key to effective leadership. Leaders should be able to take responsibility for their team’s work, as well as their own. This may involve apologizing for mistakes and developing new systems and processes to avoid errors in the future.

2. Active listening

Successful leaders should be able to give, but also receive feedback from team members and listen. To actively listen, a leader can listen to the words being spoken but also understand the meaning behind them. You can practice active listening by minimizing distractions when having conversations, showing interest by using non-verbal cues and summarizing the speaker’s words to show your understanding.

3. Collaboration

Often, leaders need to collaborate internally across departments and externally with vendors, third-party companies and contractors. It’s important that they know how to find common goals and create partnerships for the most successful and mutually beneficial outcome. Good collaboration often involves prioritizing communication between parties to ensure your goals align and all participants understand your expectations.

4. Courage

Effective leaders should have the courage to do what is in the best interest of the team and company at all times. There may be times when leaders need to make unpopular or difficult decisions, so having courage can help them accept the difficulty of their role and make necessary decisions with confidence.

Additionally, leaders may need courage to pursue new challenges. You can show courage by accepting more responsibilities or pushing yourself to gain new skills.

5. Communication

Communicating in an articulate and positive style creates a clear path for the rest of the team, project or meeting you are leading to follow. Good communication skills include listening effectively to the needs and expectations of others while also expressing your own. When you communicate well with your team, it helps them understand your expectations and goals. Additionally, your team members may feel comfortable expressing their interests and concerns to you.

6. Empathy

Leaders need to understand how the people around them feel about projects, decisions, morale, direction and company or team vision. Strong leaders show empathy by recognizing and considering their employees’ feelings.

Having empathy for your team members means identifying their struggles and showing understanding toward them. When you show care and concern about your employees, it can help you develop stronger professional relationships.

7. Flexibility

A flexible leader can adjust and maintain ownership of the team, project or meeting as needed. They’re open to new ideas and change as long as it moves the team and company forward. Being flexible can help you adapt to changes in your workplace, project or stakeholders’ expectations so you can adjust your strategy for achieving goals.

8. Focus

A good leader sets a practical vision and suitable, achievable targets. They know how to set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Using the SMART goal framework can establish a strong foundation for achieving success.

9. Growth mindset

Leaders do well when they adopt a growth mindset. Circumstances often change from when a project, challenge or issue began. Leaders consider that technology may have changed or personal issues may have arisen for their team. If they can keep a growth mindset and adapt, they can overcome challenges to continue to make progress toward goals.

10. Eager to learn

Leaders are effective and inspirational when they stay knowledgeable of trends and the topics they are leading. Not only does this help leaders improve their skills and contribute to their purposes, but it also helps to inspire the team to continue learning, too. For example, when you commit to continuing your education or taking part in professional development opportunities, it may motivate your team to invest in their own learning.

11. Innovation

Leaders often develop ideas, solve problems and complete tasks that require innovation and creativity. They encourage creativity and innovation in their teams through activities like brainstorming or prototyping. Good leaders actively listen to their employees and motivate them to think creatively or consider new perspectives.

12. Optimism

Optimistic leaders show they believe their company is working toward a better future. They value their team members’ contributions to achieve that goal. Effective leaders often plan ahead and maintain a positive outlook through changes and transitions. Being positive during stressful or adverse situations can help your team manage difficulties effectively.

13. Passion

Leaders can motivate their teams by demonstrating their passion in the workplace. The team leader should be passionate about workplace goals, creating unity among their team to work together. When you believe in the value of your work, and you show your care for the work you do, it can motivate and inspire the members of your team to engage with their work.

14. Patience

Effective leaders know that mistakes, miscommunications and failures are part of the workplace and that having patience can help their team overcome workplace errors.

Patience involves understanding that mistakes can happen, accepting mistakes when they happen and focusing your efforts on staying productive. You may also show patience when helping employees learn new roles and responsibilities since it can take time for those you supervise to gain new skills.

15. Problem-solving

Developing problem-solving skills allows teams to move past challenges with minimal disruption. Good leaders also make training a priority for their employees, allowing them to develop skills to do their work and minimize the potential for problems. Being able to identify problems and use critical thinking skills to resolve them is an important leadership quality.

16. Resilience

Leaders are perceptive and know how to handle themselves in both positive and potentially difficult situations. This might mean creating new processes, hiring new people or changing the status quo. A resilient leader focuses on the end result, avoids distractions and leads by example.

17. Respect

Effective leaders treat their teams with respect, which can help them gain respect in return. They value feedback and want to hear the opinions of their teammates. Effective leaders show their respect by empowering their employees to make decisions and use their expertise to achieve goals. Showing respect builds their sense of worth and commitment to the organization.

18. Self-awareness

Successful leaders express the skills and knowledge required for a certain role in an organization or a specialty. They know their abilities and limitations and advocate for themselves based on their self-awareness.

Effective leaders make reflection a priority to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Based on their self-awareness, they can work toward improving their abilities and applying their strengths to help their team succeed.

19. Transparency

Being open and honest makes work more efficient and enjoyable. Good leaders consider the consequences of their decisions and actions for both teams and customers, setting a role model for employees to do the same. They ask for help when needed and provide honest and constructive feedback.

Related: How To Be Transparent in the Workplace

20. Trust

Showing trust in your team can improve employee morale and motivation. When you allow your team members to work autonomously, make their own decisions and apply their skills and knowledge in the workplace, they may feel more valued for their professional expertise.

To show trust in your team, involve them in decision-making processes when possible and empower them to make choices in their roles. Invite them to help define reasonable expectations for their role, set their own goals and create processes that guide their efforts.

How to improve your leadership skills

Learning soft skills is not as straightforward as learning technical skills. While it takes time and practice, developing qualities that make you a great leader is possible. Here are a few tips for improving your leadership skills and qualities:

1. Identify your leadership style

While you may use different leadership styles in different situations, it can be helpful to define how you want to lead your team, projects or meetings. Most professionals develop their own style of leadership based on factors like experience and personality, as well as the unique needs of their company and its organizational culture.

For example, leaders in some industries offer their teams more autonomy than leaders in other industries. If you manage a team of creative professionals at an advertising company, you may offer more employee agency than the leader of an aerospace engineering team where technical precision is key to success.

2. Define areas of strength and areas for improvement

Take time to consider which qualities you already have and which offer opportunities to improve. Asking for professional feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors can help you identify strengths and weaknesses you might have missed. Self-assessments can also help you learn how to use those strengths and weaknesses to benefit yourself, your employees and the workplace.

3. Find a mentor

Identify a person who you feel is a great leader and whose actions you’d like to imitate. You might consider someone from your childhood who was a role model for you, like a teacher, coach or band instructor.

Ask them to be your mentor or find someone in an area that interests you. Use the opportunity to learn from them and adopt the qualities that make them effective. You can find mentors in your community through friends and family or even look up experts or alumni on professional networking sites.

4. Be patient

Becoming an effective leader can take months, years or even decades. Some people dedicate their entire lives to becoming successful leaders. Be patient and allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them and improve over time.

Also, consider that you may be a different type of leader during various phases of your life. You may be a president of an organization in college, move into a volunteer position while working and then even lead your child’s school or hobby-related group.