Every year, Fortune releases a top 50 list of the world’s greatest leaders. This year included philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, special counsel Robert Mueller, and 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thurnburg. Last year’s had athlete Serena Williams, CEO Oprah Winfrey, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
What do these varied individuals have in common? It’s hard to say exactly what makes someone leadership material, especially during a time when those at the top of the world’s major companies range in age from their 20s all the way to their 80s.
When it comes down to it, leaders are defined by the respect of their followers. They seem to have something that grabs people’s attention, makes them drop what they’re doing, and listen up.
It isn’t a specific skill, certified ability, or anything quantifiable. Leaders have what’s referred to as a leadership quality. In this post, we describe exactly what a leadership quality is and list the qualities most needed in today’s workplace.
What Are Leadership Qualities?
A personal quality is best described as a distinct attribute or characteristic. For example, this can be friendliness, persistence, charm, even a good sense of humor. A combination of qualities can tell you a lot about a person — their nature, behavior, and overall personality.
Leadership qualities, in particular, are the general qualities that make a great leader. They enable the leader to direct an overarching vision, while still being personable enough to connect with their followers.
Some qualities may come more naturally than others, but don’t be disheartened — great leadership takes time. Every leader is different, and everyone has the potential to become a great leader on their own terms. Cultivate the eight following leadership qualities to the best of your ability and discover which ones work for you.
It’s hard to even imagine a leader who’s not confident. So much of what’s required rests on this important quality — spearheading new ideas, leading strategies, making decisions. inspiring team members, etc. Confidence is the foundation of a good, effective leader. And leaders who are consistently unsure about their choices and actions will find themselves without any followers.
Confidence, of course, can be built over time. Learn something new, tell yourself positive affirmations, actively help others, and create opportunities for little successes (i.e. wake up earlier for a quick 30 minute workout, read a new book every month, talk with an employee for 10 minutes a day) — all these small steps will help boost your self-awareness and self-confidence, and lead to good leadership traits in the long run.
Until then, act the part. Confidence is mostly conveyed in the form of nonverbal cues. Strong body language — having good posture, holding eye contact, and moving calmly — can help establish you as a confident, successful leader.
This is essential for leaders, as it’s the cornerstone of many other desirable qualities — honesty, ethics, values, and moral principles. Integrity is what makes a leader put safety and quality first, give credit where it’s due, acknowledge mistakes, and do the right thing, even if it means affecting a project’s success or company’s bottom line.
And for those who lead by example (which should be most leaders), integrity is even more important. If a true leader want their followers to be honest and ethical, then they have to first exhibit those important leadership qualities themselves.
The best leaders inspire their followers not just with goals, targets, and rewards, but through their own positive attitude and outlook — no matter the situation. It’s easy to stay positive when everything is smooth and bright. But how about when things aren’t going so well?
A positive approach can help leaders through moments of frustration and stress. Instead of reacting negatively and pointing fingers, a good leader takes everything into consideration and sees how they can tackle challenging issues. They have a sense of positivity at all times that not only moves them forward, but also lifts up and reassures those around them.
Leaders don’t just make decisions because of their position — they are decision-makers by nature. Rather than simply letting time pass and discussions remain unresolved, leaders are willing to do the hard decision-making.
This also means they’re willing to stand by their decisions and hold themselves accountable, no matter the risk or outcome. Even if your decision isn’t supported by everyone or turns out wrong and needs to be reworked, being decisive when it’s needed is a better leadership quality than not doing anything at all.
Many managers or supervisors simply expect employees to follow them because of their title or position. And, true enough, this is the reason many employees do. But really great leaders are able to inspire others to follow them, regardless of organizational hierarchy, because they are inspired themselves.
Inspiration is different from motivation, despite the two being used interchangeably. Motivation is an external force that pushes us to accomplish a task. For example, we are motivated to work out so we can reach our weight loss goals.
Inspiration, on the other hand, comes from within and pulls us towards something. In this case, we are usually inspired by a particular person or event. People who are inspired aren’t focused on the finish line — they are filled with passion to do their best work.
An inspired leader has a clear vision of the big picture of what they’re doing. And they’re able to spread that vision and passion to others by addressing the needs of others, communicating clearly with them, and working with them to make things happen.
A smart leader knows they can’t do everything. If they keep taking on more tasks and micromanaging their followers, they limit all potential growth and are only as effective as a one-person team. Instead, a leader must pass on some responsibilities and start delegating work. This will not only free up their time for other activities and make them a better leader, it will help them effectively challenge and empower their team, as well.
This takes some faith and open-mindedness on the part of leaders. But given the proper training, tools, and space, most empowered employees prove to be up to the challenge and highly capable of doing their jobs well.
Many of history’s great leaders are described as charismatic — Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Jack Welsh. As compared to the other qualities of a good leader, charisma is highly dependent on the leader’s personality and charm.
Charisma is a mix of being articulate, verbally eloquent, and able to communicate on a deep level that arouses strong emotions. It’s also about being likeable.
Simply put, people are more likely to follow someone they like. Because of this, a charismatic leader is able to build trust and influence, and persuade their followers to work together toward a common goal.
If your own charisma and communication skills aren’t as engaging, start practicing in small ways — add an interesting style to the way you tell stories over dinner, chat with coworkers during your afternoon break, and so on. Don’t forget to brush up on smaller aspects, like your body language and facial expressions, as well. These non-verbal cues are great ways to quietly capture the attention of your audience.
Enthusiasm seems like a comparatively lightweight leadership quality on this list — something you’d require more from a follower than a leader.
However, a follower can easily tell if their leader is less than enthusiastic about what they’re doing. This, of course, doesn’t set a good precedent, and soon enough, the whole team will be half-hearted in their approach to their work.
If a leader has sincere enthusiasm and passion, on the other hand, it’s a big game changer. This is the kind of contagious energy a good business leader needs to breathe life into their vision.
Leading the Way
Aside from the common denominator of being someone inspirational enough to follow, all leaders are ultimately different. You may be more of a charismatic trailblazer, or perhaps a problem-solving innovator. These are qualities that not only help those in leadership roles, but help anyone who is working toward their own vision. It’s up to you to discover your leadership style and cultivate your own set of leadership qualities.