8 Characteristics of a True Leader

Updated June 30, 2023

A true leader does more than manage others. They enable the individuals on their team to reach their highest potentials. By being a true leader, you show others that you can inspire and motivate your team for the good of the organization. Setting yourself apart as this type of leader will require having certain qualities that establish trust and respect within your team. In this article, we provide eight characteristics that will showcase you are a true leader.

Related: 15 Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader

What is a true leader?

True leadership is a representation of the way you work with your team to achieve goals. A true leader makes an effort to help develop their team's skills so they can reach their full potential. They lead by example and establish strong, trusting relationships to ensure success within the team and for the organization as a whole.

Eight characteristics of a true leader

Here are eight traits that make someone a true leader, including advice on how to showcase them in the workplace:

1. Displays integrity

A true leader acts with integrity, which means they have ethical values that they follow in all aspects of their life. They should communicate these values at work to provide a foundation for the behaviors they expect from employees. Having integrity will help you earn respect, which will motivate your team to follow your leadership. Integrity also establishes your credibility in the workplace because employees will feel that they can trust you to make morally correct decisions under any circumstance.

To show your integrity at work, you should serve as a positive example for your employees. For example, always follow organizational policies and treat others with respect. Show your employees that you strive to produce high-quality work and maintain a positive reputation, and they should do the same.

Related: Integrity: Definition and Examples

2. Helps others develop

A true leader should aim to develop their team members to their full potential. By helping individual members advance their skills, they enhance the team's potential and, as a result, benefit the organization as a whole. Employees want to see career advancement, which means they will be much more receptive to a leader that gives them opportunities to grow.

One way to develop employees is by delegating tasks—these are tasks that the leader can do themselves but serve as a chance for the assigned employees to learn something new or strengthen specific skills. You will also benefit because it gives you more time to focus on more significant or time-consuming responsibilities. When trying to develop your team, be sure to give individuals the freedom to make choices on their own. You need to set boundaries and guidelines, but having more decision-making authority will help employees progress and feel more fulfilled in their roles.

Related: Your Guide To Successful Delegation and Team Management

3. Values relationships

A true leader should value their relationships with team members above their leadership status. To do this, leaders should work alongside their team members rather than solely assigning them tasks. They should take the time to get to know each member as an individual and build relationships with them on a more personal level. When your team members feel valued on an individual level, they will feel more motivated because they know their work is appreciated.

Showing your team members that you appreciate them can be as simple as thanking them or expressing gratitude in other ways when they have completed tasks. Another simple way to show appreciation is to deliver encouraging messages. For example, if you thought an employee did a great job during a client presentation, let them know afterward. When employees know they are doing well at work, the confidence they feel can help elevate their work even further.

4. Holds themselves accountable

A true leader needs to take responsibility for their actions and expect the same from their employees. They should hold themselves to a high standard of work, thus leading as an example for others to follow. Being accountable includes recognizing your mistakes and modeling professional ways of recovering from them. Creating an environment that values accountability can improve performance and trust among team members because it lets everyone know they can rely on one another to perform their duties.

One way to implement accountability in the workplace is to provide specific feedback on work that does not fit your standards. Make sure to speak to individuals directly and respectfully to help them understand the mistakes they made and how to fix them. Likewise, you should praise team members when they show signs of improvement. Employees will be more inspired to follow your high standards when they feel respected—and when they see you are also following these standards in your work.

Related: Improving Accountability in the Workplace

5. Shows honesty

A true leader is always willing to have open and honest conversations with their employees. Being honest establishes a sense of trust with the team, which promotes respect and a willingness to follow your lead. Employees feel valued when they know that you take the time to communicate with them and tell them the truth. Make sure you communicate with your team often because it helps everyone feel more comfortable with open conversations.

To display honesty, aim to provide your employees with the information they need to know directly. For example, you should be transparent with your team about any changes within the organization and how those changes may affect them. You can also show honesty on a day-to-day basis by providing feedback to your team members or hosting regular check-ins, if possible.

6. Practices active listening

A true leader should always hear what their employees have to say, both positive and negative. They should let employees express their thoughts without interrupting or judging them. A good listener also makes an effort to understand and empathize with the other person's thoughts and feelings.

Make it clear to your employees that you are available to hear their questions, concerns, ideas and suggestions, which helps them feel appreciated at work and like they have a more active role on the team. When having these conversations, make sure to maintain eye contact and ask any clarifying questions to show that you are engaged and listening.

7. Promotes a vision

A true leader takes a vision, whether it is their own or the company's, and uses it to motivate and inspire their employees to reach goals. By sharing their vision with the team, the leader creates a collective sense of purpose that provides direction and incentive to its members. A true leader can compellingly sell their vision, whether by making it relatable to employees or presenting a narrative that helps them visualize the outcome.

Always communicate your defined vision to your team and help them understand how their responsibilities support it. Employees will feel empowered when they have a clear idea of how they can contribute to the team's success. Help your team focus by establishing goals throughout their projects and explaining how achieving these goals advances the vision. Provide positive feedback and encouragement when individuals meet these goals.

Related: Your Guide To Visionary Leadership

8. Displays courage

A true leader is unafraid of potential conflict or criticism, especially when they have the confidence that what they are doing is for the good of the team. Employees respect a leader who represents their interests in any situation. Possessing a strong set of values and a clear vision helps a true leader remain courageous through any challenge.

Aside from showing confidence in your decisions and confronting conflicts, being courageous at work can include having the ability to be direct with your employees. Being a leader means you make decisions that directly affect your team members, so it's important to stay confident and courageous in your actions.

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