10 Leadership Qualities & Characteristics of Good Leaders
Many leadership qualities have been observed throughout history. Some were adopted by tyrannical leaders while others were exhibited by great leaders.
In both cases, the traits of those in charge correlated to their ability to accomplish their desired outcomes.
Just as importantly, those same characteristics of a good leader determined how much – or how little – their followers considered them to be effective leaders.
What is Leadership?
Leadership is the act of guiding a group of people or organization to a desired goal, result, or higher level. Memorialized throughout history, the greatest leaders have inspired millions of people and continue to do so even after their leaderships end.
One great leader was Mahatma Gandhi, who was born an ordinary boy with a passion and determination to excel. Once completing his Law degree in London, he spearheaded a nonviolent resistance to the successful campaign for India’s freedom from British rule in 1947.
As a lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist, Gandhi’s leadership inspired civil rights movements across the world. His main leadership qualities included resilience, knowledge, and leading by example.
“The history of the world is full of men who rose to leadership, by sheer force of self-confidence, bravery, and tenacity.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Another leader with exceptional leadership qualities is George Washington.
Known as the founding father of the United States of America, the leader of the American Revolution, and the first US president of the US, George Washington’s vision has endured for more than 200 years.
A true visionary, President Washington used his foresight and strategic planning to lead his people (and country) to success.
“Remember that it is the actions, and not the commission, that make the officer, and that there is more expected from him, than the title.” – George Washington
What Makes a Good Leader Great?
Great leaders find the balance between business foresight, performance, and character. They have vision, courage, integrity, humility, and focus, along with the ability to plan strategically and catalyze cooperation amongst their team.
Most leaders reflect on their most effective leadership qualities and try to apply them on a daily basis.
And while they may already be great leaders, they continue to ask themselves how they can improve and think about what makes a good leader, especially as time continues to change.
They also look to the characteristics of other great leaders in history to understand and employ their tactics.
Great leaders understand that they are only as strong as their team. This is why many choose to lead by example. In doing so, they earn the respect of their team and followers, and may even inspire others to join the mission.
The ability to motivate and drive others to join in on a mission is a positive leadership quality that separates good leaders from great ones.
To help you become a better leader, here are my top 10 best leadership qualities that you can start putting into practice immediately. Reference them as a tool to help you develop your leadership style.
Great leaders have a vision… one that allows them to plan their moves strategically to reach their goals.
They have a clear idea of where they are going and can motivate themselves (and their teams) to reach it. They practice idealization to visualize the long-term goals they hope to achieve and use their vision and strategic planning to advance towards them.
Those with great leadership qualities focus on the future while maintaining a positive attitude; they’re more concerned with the opportunities of tomorrow rather than the problems of the past. This way of thinking allows them to think long-term and disregard solutions that would only create instant gratification.
Someone with effective leadership qualities always begins with understanding the “needs” of the situation by looking at the bigger picture. An effective leader can project forward 3-5 years and imagine clearly where they want to be and what it will look like when they get there.
Leaders have the ability to anticipate trends, well in advance of their competitors. They continually ask, “Based on what is happening today, where is the market going? Where is it likely to be in three months, six months, one year, and two years?”
They do this through thoughtful strategic planning.
This leadership quality separates them from managers. Having a clear vision turns the individual into a special type of person. Consider what your visions are and the quality of them to transform from a “transactional manager” into a “transformational leader.”
Remember: Managers direct, leaders inspire and guide.
One of the more important leadership qualities and characteristics is courage.
Having courage means that you are willing to take risks in order to achieve your goals. While many people can dream big, only leaders and risk-takers understand that taking a risk and failing is still more productive than not taking a risk at all.
“Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose.” – Tom Krause
While no risk can fully assure success due to the uncertainty of life, each risk you take can act as a learning opportunity to get you closer to your goals. Having courage means getting up and trying again when you fall. All great leaders will have more failures than they do successes.
Among the seven leadership qualities, courage is the most identifiable outward trait. All great leaders can be defined by their courage and ability to take risks that others were too afraid to.
In every strategic planning session that I have conducted for large and small corporations, the first value that all the gathered executives agree upon for their company is integrity.
Each one agrees on the importance of complete honesty and transparency in everything they do, both internally and externally.
“We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters… that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules… and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square.” – Michelle Obama
To dive even deeper though and to help you become a great leader, remember that the core of integrity is truthfulness.
Having integrity and a reputation of being honest helps leaders gain the trust and respect of their colleagues and their teams.
As a leader, your decisions should be based on the betterment of the group, rather than self-gain. People should look to you for inspiration and aspire to follow in your footsteps. They should know that your moral compass does not waver.
Humility gets results.
Larry Bossidy, the former CEO of Honeywell and author of the book Execution, explained why leadership characteristics, such as humility, make you a more effective leader:
“The more you can contain your ego, the more realistic you are about your problems. You learn how to listen, and admit that you don’t know all the answers. You exhibit the attitude that you can learn from anyone at any time. Your pride doesn’t get in the way of gathering the information you need to achieve the best results. It doesn’t keep you from sharing the credit that needs to be shared. Humility allows you to acknowledge your mistakes.” – Larry Bossidy
Being a great leader means raising your team up to succeed. This means admitting when someone knows more than you and giving them the opportunity to take initiative. It means being conscious of your power, but never letting it get the best of you.
Humility doesn’t mean that you’re weak or unsure of yourself. It means that you have the self-confidence and self-awareness to recognize the value of others without feeling threatened.
This is one of the rarer attributes – or traits – of good leaders because it requires containment of one’s ego.
It means that you are willing to admit you could be wrong, that you recognize you may not have all the answers. And it means that you give credit where credit is due – which many people struggle to do.
If your goal is to be a good or great leader, learn how to embrace humility.
“Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps, they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them. – Jack Canfield
In order to be a good leader, one must have true focus; focus on their goals, focus on the needs of their team, and focus on the bigger picture. This will allow you to strategize and plan for success.
Without focus, your efforts will be misguided. You may be led in different directions and never reach the goals you set out for yourself. When you focus on the mission at hand, you remain steadfast in your journey and do not waiver on your path.
Similarly, when you focus on your strengths and the strengths of those around you, you are able to utilize your collective power to achieve and succeed as a team.
Great leaders are action-oriented and create strategic plans focused on the strengths of the organization, allowing for efficient and effective movements.
Your job as a leader is to ensure that you, and everyone around you, remain focused on the goal. This means making sure everyone makes the most valuable use of their strengths and their time. This is essential for the performance of your team
“If your imagination leads you to understand how quickly people grant your requests when those requests appeal to their self-interest, you can have practically anything you go after.” – Napoleon Hill
One of the most important leadership qualities is cooperation. Cooperation is the process of working together to reach the same end.
Good leaders have the ability to get everyone on the team on the same page in order to get something done.
This ability is critical to your success as a leader because it will create a helpful and collaborative environment within your team that allows for the best work.
Your ability to keep yourself and your team in cooperation with each other is essential to the smooth functioning of the organization.
Gain the cooperation of others by committing to getting to know your team and understanding each one’s personal strengths. Remember that the more of an effort you make to understand them, the more they will feel heard and acknowledged.
And when someone feels understood, they are more likely to cooperate. Everyone wants to feel like their thoughts and ideas are being listened to.
Another characteristic of a good leader is the ability to effectively and persuasively. Clear communication begins with the ability to stop, listen, think, and proceed slowly.
Being able to clearly communicate with your team will create an open dialogue that allows your team to ask questions, voice concerns, and problem-solve. When people understand the assignment clearly and can openly communicate about it, there will be fewer errors and issues overall.
Many great leaders are also excellent public speakers. Practicing public speaking is a great way to learn how to communicate clearly and effectively.
You will not only improve your vocabulary, but you will also gain confidence. Practicing public speaking can also be a way to create effective dialogue to use with your team and organization.
When you ask yourself how to be a better leader, never forget honesty. It allows you to gain trust with your team and keep the focus on the vision. When leaders are dishonest and ingenuine, it becomes difficult to keep everyone moving in the same direction.
Your team will lose trust not only with you but with your efforts. This will create a chaotic environment full of gossip and drama.
“Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.“ – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Being honest is important in both positive and negative situations. If someone does a great job, do not be afraid to give them praise. If someone makes a mistake, it is also important, to be honest (and kind) with your feedback.
Communication and humility are also inherently tied to honesty and transparency. Having self-awareness allows you to be honest with both yourself and your team.
This also applies personally. It’s difficult to admit when we are wrong, or when we do not have the answer to something.
But being honest about your abilities and mistakes will keep you grounded. The first step in making a change is being honest with your mistake and turning it into a learning opportunity in order to succeed in the future.
Another one of the biggest qualities I’ve found in great leaders is empathy and kindness.
As leaders, we may be hyper-focused on our own goals and what’s at stake. But, if we are looking for how to be a better leader, we must also understand that without our team, goals cannot be reached.
Knowing that, it’s important to check on your team and make sure they feel understood. A team that feels heard will be much more willing to cooperate and participate.
“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” – Oprah Winfrey
To be truly empathetic means to have the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, recognize if they are feeling burnt out, and enact ways to provide support. Without empathy, you’ll find yourself pushing people to succeed without giving them the tools to do so, which will only push them away.
Great leaders are able to understand and empathize with their team in order to reach their goals together.
Ability to Delegate
The ability to delegate is also a strong quality that makes a good leader.
“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” – John C. Maxwell
In order for leaders to stay focused on their vision, they must be able to delegate their tasks. Not only does delegating take room off your plate so you can focus on the bigger picture, but it also empowers your employees to take on bigger responsibilities.
Delegating tasks shows your employees that you trust them and their work. This will motivate them to produce high-quality work in order to keep your trust and respect.
Great leaders are able to successfully delegate tasks and goals to other members of their team based on their strengths. This is why it’s so important to get to know your team. Strategically delegating allows you to put the right work in front of the right people.
This can be seen in the 80/20 rule: 20% of the people produce 80% of the work.
Recognize the hard workers on your team and utilize them in the best and most efficient ways in order to reach your collective goals.
I hope you use this list of my best leadership qualities as a guideline for how to become a better leader.
Consider writing them down and listing specific ways you can utilize these attributes within your own life and with your team. You may also allow this to be a tool for you to reference when making decisions.
To strengthen your leadership skills and become the best leader you can be, download my personal development plan. In this development plan, you will identify areas of opportunity and learn how to think ahead and evaluate your goals effectively.
This plan will ultimately act as a tool that you can use to set strategies in motion for goal-setting and optimizing your success to help you become the leader you were destined to be!
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.