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Top 21 Leadership Qualities That Make an Exceptional Leader

By Shane Dayton |

Leadership isn’t a simple thing to define, much less encourage. However, almost everyone has had experience following a good leader. Most of us have also had the experience of following a bad leader. The difference between the two is huge and affects everything whether at work, on a project, or dealing with any situation. So what actually makes a good leader? What features or traits come together to create leadership qualities?

Not every good leader will have every single one of these qualities. However, the truly elite leaders will tend to have most of them. Some of these are easier taught than others, but almost all of them are skills that most of us can at least get better at with some focus and hard work. Take a look at these 21 leadership qualities. They may give you some insight of what you can specifically work on to improve your leadership game.

#1: Communication

Communication is absolutely essential for a good leader. This is true at every level. If people don’t understand your vision, they’re not going to buy into it. If your orders are unclear, you won’t get satisfactory results.

Do you know how to clearly get across what you expect out of others? Do you know how to speak to them on their terms and in a way that inspires them? Can you come into a confusing situation and cut through it to clear things up for everyone involved? Good communication makes everything run better, and more easily. Poor communication, on the other hand, can actually make things worse.

Good leaders understand the importance of communication as one of the major leadership qualities out there.

#2: Integrity

Integrity matters. Sometimes this can seem frustrating as there are always examples of shady individuals who seem to be succeeding. But do they really get respect? Do they inspire large groups of others? Can they look at themselves in a mirror at night?

Different people will have different ideas about how to be a leader, how to take point, and have different value systems. The key is to be true to these values. How often have you heard someone say they disagreed with someone on politics/beliefs, but you had to respect their character?

That is at the heart of integrity and the pros of living an honest life far outweigh the cons.

#3: Delegation

No one person can know how to do everything, no matter how talented. If you are incredibly talented at a few things that need to be done, but aren’t high priority, then you’re wasting time by spending your energy on those things.

Smart delegation is a key trait that virtually all strong leaders have whether as CEO of a company, head of a charitable organization, or otherwise simply taking charge of a situation. Delegation isn’t just giving responsibility to other team members. It’s knowing how to match what needs to be done with the skills and abilities of those there. Good delegation involves clear communication, the ability to listen, and to guide everyone involved towards the best possible outcome whether firing up an in-person team or hiring a team of freelance writers to ramp up your affiliate marketing blog.

#4: Empathy/Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Managing people matters. This make strong empathy and emotional intelligence a pair of related traits that tend to exist in many strong leaders. The ability to effectively manage difficult emotions, understand the social pressures of any given situation, resolve conflicts between individuals, and understand where co-workers and underlings are coming from will help to more effectively manage them.

While there are also plenty of examples of leaders without empathy, they tend to thrive in only very narrow situations. They often tend to struggle much more along the way, as well. Empathy is a powerful tool for good leadership. A great leader understands the importance of empathy with team members to get great results from their effort.

#5: Motivational

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The ability to motivate others is a trait that appears in most leaders. This can appear in many different forms. The quiet humble worker who is there first, leaves last, and is always ready to help others. The charismatic extrovert who knows how to fire up a group. The story teller who has overcome incredible odds and can bring those stories to life in a way that makes you want to climb mountains to beat that next challenge.

Whether through glowing charisma, the ability to create excitement, or get others to buy into a larger vision, motivation matters. There aren’t many great leaders who lack motivational skills. Even those who take great pride in leading by example

#6: Resilience

Resilience is apparent in leaders who have been through heck and back. Sometimes referred to as “true grit” or the ability to bounce back, resilience is a trait almost everyone admires. Being on top of the world during good times is easy. Getting knocked down and getting up again and again with a positive attitude and encouraging leadership style is something else completely.

This is one of those traits that can only come from obstacles and life experience. Most leadership skills aren’t inherent but they are picked up over time by individuals who grow into becoming an effective leader.

#7: Vision

A truly great vision can be enough to get many good capable people to follow. Having a strong sense not just of where you are but also what is possible is crucial. This can help individuals lead through the roughest challenges, outwork everyone else, and push past the competition.

A good vision is important because that gives something for others to buy into. This goes beyond having a vision of where you are all trying to go but also the ability to communicate that vision to others in a way that guides, inspires, and motivates them.

#8: Influence

Influence matters. If you have no ability to influence others, then you will have a hard time leading. This can mean connections within your industry or other ones, the ability to convince others in debate, relationship building, and persuasion. These all make up part of influence. Depending what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to lead this is a very important trait. Connections matter, as does the ability to persuade quality people to see things your way. Influence can take shape in many different forms. It’s an important trait for leaders to have, or build, in a way that suits their leadership style.

#9: Accountability

Accountability matters. Many of us have had jobs where we had to deal with a manager or boss who had no accountability, but the key to that sentence is “had.” Good and great workers aren’t going to put up with that forever. Accountability is a leadership quality that is underrated but it’s really important.

A leader who owns up to his or her mistakes, can be honest about their hand in problems, and take their share of the blame will have happier, more dedicated workers willing to go to the grindstone to help during any problem or potential issue. This tends to be one of those underrated leadership qualities that doesn’t get enough attention.

#10: Confidence

Confidence is a huge leadership quality. In fact, many will argue this is one of the single most important traits. There are many people who have moved up the corporate world with some success simply from overwhelming confidence as opposed to actual skill or ability. That’s how important this leadership quality is. It can be enough by itself to fool others in many fields.

While confidence is often associated with being an extrovert, there are plenty of introverted leaders who have plenty of confidence. That “quiet confidence” comes from individuals who know they don’t have to prove themselves. They are that good. They are that capable. The rest beyond that is just superfluous detail.

#11: Transparency

Why do you do what you do? Why do you make the decisions that you make? If people are wondering what guides you or motivates you then you’re going to struggle. Even if people don’t always 100% agree with you, that’s fine as long as you demonstrate being a strong leader and people can understand why you think and act the way you do.

Transparency is important. It’s crucial if you are selling your vision to others and if you want others to have the same level of passion for a goal that you do. The way has to be clear. This is a trait that scares some people because openness isn’t easy, but that’s what makes it all the more admirable a trait in an exceptional leader.

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#12: Passion

Passion is an incredible motivator and is often tied into many of the other traits on this list. If you have a clear inspirational vision, then you are going to need to have passion. After all, if you can’t be passionate about your own vision, how are your going to inspire anyone else? How are you going to motivate anyone else?

When you’re a passionate individual it makes it easier to work hard, to be accountable, and to be resilient when things temporarily don’t go your way. Passion can often be a major part of your confidence level. When you have a vision and are clearly excited about it, other people are more likely to work hard and gain a piece of that excitement.

The old saying goes that excitement can be contagious. If you learn how to harness that as a leader, you will often find yourself becoming that much more effective in your position!

#13: Empowerment

The ability to empower those working with you is crucial. Surrounding yourself with cool and capable people is important. But it won’t help out nearly as much as it should if they don’t feel free to use their abilities to go above and beyond. The ability to empower those around them really is a mainstay trait of the best leaders out there. They not only get the best out of themselves, but out of others, as well.

Empowerment goes hand in hand with effective delegation. If you have the ability to empower each co-worker, employee, or volunteer to be confident and push to give their best, then delegation becomes easier and more effective, as well. Great leaders empower the workers or volunteers they lead. This can be one of the most powerful qualities an effective leader can have. Many of us have a story of a person or a mentor that had a permanent positive influence on who we became.

That’s the power of empowerment.

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#14: Patience

The old saying goes that patience is a virtue. While this is true, it can also be a good leadership quality! No question the ability to take a decisive action with confidence matters. However, sometimes the right move is to be steady and patient. Especially during long-term projects. Or when you need time to see a tough project through.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be patient and calm when everything seems to be falling apart. Having the patience to make the right move, not act too hasty, and to navigate those types of choppy waters is the hallmark of a very capable leader.

#15: Diplomacy

Most people prefer it when things are running smoothly and everyone gets along. While this is great, in any group there will be clashes at some point. Being able to navigate these conflicts in a way that appeases both sides is an important trait of a leader.

Sometimes not everyone will like each other. A good leader can help make sure that people with very different personalities, opinions, and styles can still work together effectively for the common good. Professionalism doesn’t always happen by itself. Sometimes a good leader needs to play the role of a diplomat to make things happen.

#16: Problem Solver

This leadership trait should be obvious. Problem solvers at any level of a company, organization, or even independent problem solvers are in high demand. Certain people have a gift for being able to take on a new problem and find ways around it. Those who can be creative to get around especially tough problems will always find others happy to work with them.

Very rarely does a plan, event, or anything in life go smoothly and according to plan. Someone who has the ability to go around, over, or through obstacles instead of being stopped cold by them will always have at least moments where they take the lead.

Good problem solving can come from an analytical or creative point of view. Many of the best leaders will be able to mix the two. When you hear the description “innovative” many times that means next level problem solving.

#17: Managerial Skills

The ability to manage well can be far harder to find than you think. Managing well can take many forms but it good management skills are the hallmark of a great leader. Many times this means combining leadership traits like delegation, empowerment, listening, motivation, and problem solving to not only get the most out of every team member, but also have them buy-in enthusiastically.

Everyone who has spent any amount of time in the working world has seen the difference between good managers and bad managers. In fact, it’s easy to see the difference between average managers and good managers in most situations. The ability to juggle all these needs and put people in a position to succeed will automatically make you a person others listen to and treat as a leader figure.

#18: Listens

Many great leaders know how to listen and be open-minded. This often runs contrary to what many of us see in media with the brash, abrasive visionaries who love the story of going alone. However, this usually doesn’t work.

Far more often leaders at every level have the ability to listen. This involves actually analyzing the information or concerns given, the ability to be open-minded to consider all options, and then make a decision will work much better. This doesn’t mean every leader who listens will be empathetic or social. They might be, or they might take the information, be combative, and then still change course based on information and arguments. However, listening is still a major part of that process.

#19: Patience

Rome wasn’t built in a day. While all of us would like to suddenly explode into pulling off all of our hopes and dreams tomorrow. However, that’s not how it works. While the ability to make a decision and work hard right now are important, the patience to play the long game often separates the good leaders from the truly great ones. Not everything will move according to your preferred schedule. Learning to be patient is a crucial part of leadership. Impatience can get you into a lot of trouble.

#20: Decisive

While patience is important, when it’s time to make a decision a good leader needs to be decisive. When it is time to strike, hesitating isn’t the right answer. Having the type of leadership traits that allow you to plan, weigh different options, and prepare makes decisive action all the more likely to succeed.

Once it’s time to act, the ability to act confidently and decisively are traits that are synonymous with good leadership. A common quote credited to Teddy Roosevelt goes “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best is the wrong thing, and the worst thing is to do nothing.”

While that might be going a bit far, it shows just how important decisive action is among good leaders.

#21: Self-Awareness

There’s nothing worse than having to follow a “leader” with no self-awareness. This goes beyond how you come across to others. This means understanding both your strengths and your weaknesses. Without that self-awareness you can’t adjust to put yourself, or others around you, in the best position to succeed.

The ability to accurately look at yourself is crucial when getting the right team around you. If you can’t see your weaknesses or own up to them, you’ll surround yourself with similar people who likely have the same weaknesses. Great leadership often comes from business leaders who understand the importance of self-awareness.

In Conclusion

Leaders appear in many different forms. Leadership qualities can be mixed and matched in weird ways that create wildly different people, but with all of them having the ability to be a quality leader. Especially when put in a position to let their particular leadership qualities thrive. People may have disagreements about the 5 best qualities of a good leader or the 10 best characteristics of a good leader, but there’s no denying you’re going to find those among this long list of 21 great traits of great leaders who lead by example.




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By Shane Dayton

Shane has been a full-time writer since 2005. Shane has a degree in English & Creative Writing from Coe College (2002) and an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction Emphasis) from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (2007).

Shane spent years using his online writing skills to earn a living online and live the life of a digital nomad. After learning about affiliate marketing and SEO he has since created several niche sites to further increase his business income.

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