The Common Qualities of Real Leaders

Authentic leader talking to employee

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Leadership is a difficult term to define, but everyone knows what qualities they think great leaders possess. They're also certain they know the qualities that ineffective people show when they are thrust into leadership positions. 

How to Identify a Real Leader

Participants in executive training workshops are inevitably asked to describe the attributes and behaviors of leaders they admire. The results are consistent.

  • Real leaders treat everyone with respect
  • Their actions match their words
  • They teach by example
  • They challenge us to be our best
  • They coach
  • They support the growth of the people who work for them
  • They communicate effectively
  • They share the big picture and pitch in on the details

Bad Traits for a Leader

The traits of a lousy leader are equally easy to spot.

  • The lousy leader micromanages 
  • Is arrogant, aloof, or both
  • Criticizes without foundation
  • Communicates infrequently and ineffectively
  • Never clarifies the big picture and never works alongside subordinates

The Top 10 Leadership Qualities

This list is also crowdsourced from many executive training sessions. They are the qualities that most often are used to describe the best leaders that participants have worked for or with.

  1. Effective leaders bring out the best in others. They believe that everyone has untapped potential and give people the confidence to achieve that potential.
  2. The best leaders inspire with words and actions. They have bold visions and audacious goals, but they also have the ability to communicate in a way that inspires others to act. They involve others to give people a sense of ownership and control.
  3. Great leaders are genuine. They know who they are and they are not afraid to let others see their core values, strengths, and weaknesses.
  4. They have a presence. Great leaders stay in the moment whether they're on stage or interacting with a single person. They pay attention, listen, ask great questions, and make everyone feel they are being heard and valued.
  5. They can be trusted and they trust others. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they promise to do. They expect the same of others.
  6. They preach and practice accountability. The best leaders admit their mistakes and never point fingers or make excuses. They also hold others accountable.
  7. Great leaders drive great results. They never take their eyes off the target.
  8. They are positive and confident. Great leaders can balance optimism, passion, and confidence without ignoring reality. They don't let confidence turn into hubris.
  9. Effective leaders drive change. They also understand the dynamics of organizational and individual change and can cope with them.
  10. They empower others. Great leaders are comfortable delegating. They understand the motivational power of giving people control. They don’t hoard or abuse their power.

The Bottom Line:

When you have the opportunity to work for a leader who displays the qualities described above, pay close attention and learn. These lessons offer priceless guidance as you strive to grow into the leader other people describe positively in workshops and seminars.