20 Qualities of a Great Leader (With Tips)

By Erin Wike

November 29, 2021

Erin Wike is a career coach and lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin has over 14 years of experience in corporate marketing, advertising, PR, non-profit and higher education as well as recruiting for many well-known brands and small businesses

Whether you’re leading a team or a meeting, developing and owning leadership skills will help you succeed at any stage in your career. In this article, we discuss several qualities that make a leader great and offer tips on how to improve yours.

20 qualities of an effective leader

Many different qualities contribute to being a great leader including:

1. Accountability

Taking ownership of responsibilities and positive and negative outcomes is key to effective leadership. Leaders should be able to take responsibility for their team’s work, as well as their own.

Related: Defining Accountability in Management

2. Active listening

Successful leaders should be able to give, but also receive feedback from team members and listen. To actively listen, a leader can listen to the words being spoken but also understand the meaning behind them. Strong leaders know how to ask the right questions and then follow up to ensure all messages are conveyed correctly.

3. Collaboration

Often, leaders need to collaborate internally across departments and externally with vendors, third-party companies and contractors. It is key that they know how to find common goals and create partnerships for the most successful and mutually beneficial outcome.

4. Courage

Effective leaders should have the courage to do what is in the best interest of the team and company at all times. While their decisions may be unpopular, they know the steps must be taken and courageous leaders move things in the right direction.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Effective Leadership

5. Communication

Communicating in an articulate and positive style creates a clear path for the rest of the team, project or meeting you are leading to follow. In today’s global marketplace, it’s also important to communicate across cultures and respect communication differences.

6. Empathy

Leaders need to understand how the people around them are feeling about projects, decisions, morale, direction and company or team vision. Strong leaders show empathy by recognizing and considering their employees’ feelings. They know how to be assertive and kind at the same time. Effective leaders know how to praise those who are succeeding and encourage those who are struggling.

7. Flexibility

Working with a team of people means tasks, goals and responsibilities will shift. A flexible leader can adjust and maintain ownership of the team, project or meeting as needed. They are open to new ideas and change as long as it moves the team and company forward.

Related: 6 Ways To Implement Job Flexibility in the Workplace

8. Focus

A good leader sets a practical vision and suitable, achievable targets. They know how to set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Using the SMART goal framework can establish a strong foundation for achieving success.

9. Growth mindset

Leaders do well when they adopt a growth mindset. Circumstances often change from when a project, challenge or issue originally surfaced. Leaders have to consider that technology may have evolved or personal issues may have arisen for their team. If they can keep a growth mindset and are willing to adapt, they can keep the project moving—even if adjustments need to be made.

10. Eager to learn

Leaders are effective and inspirational when they stay knowledgeable of moving trends and the topics they are leading. Not only does this help leaders hone their crafts and contribute to their purposes, but it also helps to inspire the team to continue learning, too.

11. Innovation

Leaders should be able to develop ideas, solve problems and complete many other tasks that require innovation and creativity. They encourage creativity and innovation in their teams through activities like brainstorming or prototyping. Good leaders actively listen to their employees and motivate them to think outside the box.

Related: How To Encourage Innovation in the Workplace

12. Optimism

Optimistic leaders show that they believe their company is working toward a better future. They value their team members’ contributions to achieve that goal. Recognizing that change is inevitable, good leaders look forward and maintain a positive outlook. Being positive during stressful or adverse situations is a sign of strength.

13. Passion

Teams are motivated by a drive towards a common goal. The team leader should be passionate about the goal, creating unity among their team to work together. They know what they want and are willing to put in the work to achieve it, inspiring their employees to do the same.

Related: How You Can Be More Passionate in 6 Steps (With Tips)

14. Patience

Effective leaders know that mistakes, miscommunications and failures are inevitable. Leaders need to be patient and offer guidance through these times. By accepting this, they can anticipate problems and work to positively resolve the issue as well as possible.

Related: 5 Ways Being More Patient Can Help Your Career

15. Problem solver

Developing problem-solving skills allows teams to move past roadblocks with minimal disruption. Good leaders also make training a priority for their employees, allowing them to develop skills to do their work and head off problems.

16. Resilience

Leaders are perceptive and know how to handle themselves in both positive and potentially difficult situations. This might mean creating new processes, hiring new people or changing the status quo. A resilient leader focuses on the end result, avoids distractions and leads by example.

17. Respect

Effective leaders treat their teams with respect, gaining respect in return. They value feedback and want to hear the opinions of their teammates. Effective leaders show their respect by empowering their employees to make decisions and use their expertise to achieve goals. Showing respect builds their sense of worth and commitment to the organization.

Related: What Is Respect in the Workplace?

18. Self-awareness

Successful leaders express the skills and knowledge required for a certain role in an organization or a specialty. They hone in on what they know, what they may not be an expert in and when to bring in others who have the necessary knowledge. A leader with self-awareness knows it’s OK to not know everything and relies on other subject matter experts when needed.

19. Transparency

Being open and honest makes work more efficient and enjoyable. Good leaders consider the consequences of their decisions and actions for both teams and customers, setting a role model for employees to do the same. They ask for help when needed and provide honest and constructive feedback. This, in return, encourages employees to do the same.

Related: How To Be Transparent in the Workplace

20. Trust

Leadership requires delegation. When leaders trust their team to complete what they are assigned, it encourages positive morale and mutual respect. When leaders are honest with employees, especially during hard times, coworkers trust them in return, enabling the entire organization to operate with integrity.

Delegating tasks is another way of showing trust. An effective leader believes in their employees’ abilities and that they can take on other tasks. Trusting others to take on tasks is crucial to team performance, growth and productivity.

Related: 14 Ways To Build Trust in the Workplace

How to improve your leadership skills

Learning soft skills is not as straightforward as learning technical skills. While it does take time and practice, developing qualities that make you a great leader is possible. Here are a few tips for improving your leadership skills and qualities:

1. Identify your leadership style

While you will use different leadership styles in different situations, it can be helpful to define how you want to lead your team, projects or meetings. Most professionals develop their own style of leadership based on factors like experience and personality, as well as the unique needs of their company and its organizational culture.

Read more: 10 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How To Find Your Own

2. Define areas of strength and areas for improvement

Take time to consider which qualities you already have and which offer opportunities to improve. Asking for professional feedback from trusted colleagues or mentors can help you identify strengths and weaknesses you might have missed. Self-assessments can also help you learn how to use those strengths and weaknesses to benefit yourself, your employees and workplace.

3. Find a mentor

Identify a person who you feel is a great leader and whose actions you’d like to imitate. You might consider someone from your childhood who was a role model for you like a teacher, coach or band instructor.

Ask them to be your or find someone in an area that interests you. Use the opportunity to learn from them and adopt the qualities that make them effective. You can find mentors in your community through friends and family or even look up experts or alumni on professional networking sites.

Read more: 24 Reasons Why Mentorship Is Important

4. Be patient

Becoming an effective leader can take months, years or even decades. Some people dedicate their entire lives to becoming successful leaders. Be patient and allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them and improve over time.

Also, consider that you may be a different type of leader during various phases of your life. You may be a president of an organization in college, move into a volunteer position while working and then even lead your child’s school or hobby-related group. There are many ways to be a leader and the titles often don’t matter.

Related: 10 Types of Power in Leadership

Browse more articles