Leadership Traits: 10 Top Qualities of Effective Leaders

Exhibiting leadership qualities, like adaptability, can help you to excel at your job as well as advance your career. Developing leadership traits can also improve your professional marketability, whether you’re starting out on your career journey or looking for new opportunities.

In this article, we explain the 10 traits of an effective leader and how to develop them, plus list some less favorable leadership traits you should avoid.

What are leadership traits?

Leadership traits are essential qualities that make effective leaders in the workplace. Whether you are managing a team, a department or an entire company, these traits allow you to guide people and projects to success. The most important leadership qualities involve soft skills rather than technical knowledge or industry-specific experience, making leadership traits critical in nearly every occupation.

Top 10 leadership traits

To become an effective leader, you should strive to become an expert in your field and aim to cultivate essential leadership qualities. Begin with these 10 examples of leadership traits.

1. Accountability

The best leaders take full responsibility for their team’s performance, whether the outcome is good or bad. As a leader, you should aim to praise your team when they perform well and provide constructive criticism to help them improve. It’s also important for you to take responsibility when you have made a bad decision or done something unfavorable. We are all human and prone to mistakes, but effective leaders recognize their areas of improvement and are open with their team about them. Make a point of serving as a role model, and your team is likely to demonstrate accountability, too.

2. Adaptability

Experienced leaders understand that plans, schedules and even goals can change at any time. To become a strong leader, you should aim for a flexible approach that allows you to pivot as necessary. As you develop adaptability, you may also find that you develop related leadership characteristics, such as resourcefulness and problem-solving abilities. To improve your sense of adaptability, practice accepting and overcoming unexpected challenges rather than resisting them.

3. Confidence

As a key figure in a department or company, every leader should demonstrate confidence to instill motivation. Even when obstacles impact progress, you should strive to exhibit poise and conviction. Leaders who have this quality also tend to build trust quickly with their team and colleagues. Build confidence by practicing your presentations, anticipating the questions you might receive and preparing effective, helpful answers.

4. Creativity

The best leaders rarely follow established pathways or copy the routes others have taken. Instead, they embrace new ways of thinking and strategies that others have yet to try. As a leader, you should aim to prioritize creativity so you can experiment with innovative solutions and alternative approaches to reach goals. To improve your creativity, try thinking of different resolutions for issues you encounter before moving forward with a plan.

5. Empathy

Company leaders like executives, managers and supervisors work at a higher level than other team members. In these positions, you should always try to empathize with the reality that your team experiences so you can work together more easily. To understand your team members better, try scheduling informal meetings to help you acknowledge the challenges they face and the goals they want to achieve.

6. Focus

Focus can help you handle possible distractions while achieving major objectives. When you give your attention to the most important aspects, you can complete your biggest goals while managing your time and resources. Try scheduling alternating periods of work without interruptions and less intensive work where you can pause to address other issues. This strategy can help you to concentrate your attention as necessary.

7. Positivity

Quality leaders use positivity to motivate their team to achieve goals, do their best work and exceed expectations. To be an effective leader, you should exhibit positivity during difficult situations such as overcoming obstacles or delivering constructive criticism. For example, you can focus on the benefits of completing a major project instead of highlighting the hard work your team will have to complete in the process.

8. Risk-taking

Leaders regularly encounter risks, but they must know when to embrace a challenge and when to take a safe approach. To become a master at navigating risk, start by learning how to assess situations and compare pros and cons. Strive to make decisive judgments so that your team can readily accept and act upon your decisions. Try creating a flowchart with steps so you can evaluate situations and make decisions confidently.

9. Stability

Although leaders are charged with driving significant change, they also need a strong sense of stability. Taking a steady, reliable approach can allow you to keep your project, team or company on track. Establishing regular routines and telling your team what to expect allows you and your staff members to maintain energy and focus, even as you strive for constant progress. For example, set a weekly meeting to update your team on upcoming changes.

10. Team-building

Even the strongest leaders need dedicated teams to complete projects. To be an effective leader, you must know how to encourage teamwork and collaboration, inspire team members to contribute their best work and motivate colleagues to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. You can incorporate team-building activities such as icebreakers and group outings to promote bonding and improve communication.

Traits of unfavorable leaders

Being an effective leader comes with time, experience and the motivation to grow. While the traits listed below may be effective in certain situations, they are overall considered to be unfavorable:

  • Unwillingness to change
  • Indecisive
  • Lack of accountability
  • Apathetic
  • Lack of integrity
  • Poor communication

How to develop the character traits of a leader

You may have some of these leadership qualities naturally, but you can also work to cultivate critical characteristics. Follow these five steps to develop the traits of an effective leader.

1. Prioritize learning and training

Aim to learn as much as you can to build new skills and hone key qualities. Make a list of areas that need improvement and methods that can contribute to your progress. Taking an online course or completing a training session could help you improve your leadership skills through structured lessons and activities. For example, if you need to improve your approach to teamwork, enroll in your company’s next team-building seminar.

2. Adopt a leadership style

Many prominent leaders create their own versions of the most common approaches to leadership. Get to know some of the most effective styles, and adopt one that works best with your personality, industry and goals. For example, consider a coaching style that centers on helping all of your team members become the best versions of themselves or try a visionary style that enables you to focus on driving progress through innovation.

3. Ask for more responsibilities

One of the best ways to practice leadership skills and develop key traits is to take on responsibilities that allow you to lead. Consider asking your supervisor to let you give an important presentation at a meeting or to handle an oversight role during your next project. Focus on advancing the leadership traits you need to improve to get the most out of your new responsibilities. For example, speaking for your team during a meeting can help you work on confidence while overseeing a project can help with team-building.

4. Improve your communication skills

The most effective leaders can speak and write clearly as well as listen to understand. Learn to communicate your mission and ideas verbally and in writing, focusing on providing the clearest message possible. You should also understand how to process feedback and suggestions to ensure an objective approach to problem-solving that emphasizes improvement. Since these skills are critical to a leader’s success, consider taking a class on professional communication to better excel in this area.

5. Learn from a mentor

Developing leadership traits can be made easier when you work closely with a superior you admire. Take advantage of any mentorship programs your company offers, and develop a relationship with a colleague who is more advanced in your field. You can also seek out a mentor independently through networking events or professional groups. Try scheduling monthly meetings to talk with your mentor about career development and strategies for leading in your field.

How to showcase common leadership traits when applying for a job

Cultivating the qualities of a leader allows you to advance your career, especially when you are applying for a new job. From writing your resume and cover letter to succeeding in an interview, follow these steps to showcase different leadership traits during the job application process.

1. List leadership skills on your resume

The skills section of your resume can be the ideal opportunity to highlight the leadership traits you have mastered. List three of your best soft skills to showcase which leadership qualities you excel in the most. After each characteristic, include a brief explanation to convey how these soft skills translate to the workplace.

Example: “Skilled team builder: Oversaw three specialized teams and provided daily motivation, management and communication during a $10 million client project.”

2. Mention leadership characteristics in your cover letter

Since your resume largely focuses on professional experience and measurable accomplishments, your cover letter is your chance to discuss your soft skills in more detail. Take this opportunity to highlight your most valuable leadership qualities, and explain how and why these traits are relevant to potential employers.

Before writing a cover letter, review the job description and make a shortlist of the most important leadership traits for the position. Then include each quality in the narrative of your cover letter.

Example: “After moving into a managerial role and becoming responsible for vetting new projects, I mastered the art of risk assessment. As a result, the projects my team completed were overwhelmingly successful and generated average revenues of $10 million.”

3. Discuss leadership personality traits during your interview

When you advance to the interview stage, you have the opportunity to discuss your leadership qualities with your potential employer. To prepare, refer to your list of essential qualities for the position. Think of a few situations where you exhibited those traits at work. Memorize the key points, and be ready to share the best examples at opportune moments during your interview.

Example: “You mentioned that this role requires flexibility. In my previous position, I learned how to adapt by joining a team that had to pivot based on changing market conditions. This experience helped me become more flexible with my methods to achieve goals.”

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