12 qualities of successful leaders (and how to develop them)

When I was a kid, I thought the leader was simply the person who told everyone else what to do.

Let’s face it, some bad leaders probably do take this approach.

But true leadership is so much more than just being the person in charge.

The strongest leaders guide, inspire, support, and motivate.

So, what does it take to be a successful leader? And how can we develop these good qualities as a leader?

Let’s find out.

1) They have the ability to get in the zone

Focus is a key ingredient to success in anything. And the same goes for leadership too.

A 2021 study concluded that being able to mentally reconnect to work after a nonwork period can set the tone for the workday.

It also noted that leaders have a higher positive mood and better focus when they do this.

How do they achieve this in practical terms?

Things like:

  • Setting intentions for the day
  • Looking over schedules
  • Providing a vision for the working week ahead

Leading from the front with a raring-to-go positive mental attitude brings a sense of vitality to the workplace.

2) They demonstrate credibility

In order to lead, people have to believe in you.

If they don’t it’s impossible to command respect or trust.

We might be tempted to flex our power muscles when wanting to show off our credibility.

But credibility comes from a far more humble source. We achieve it through demonstrating honesty and integrity.

Credible leaders boost their image in the eyes of others by:

  • Staying true to their word
  • Holding themselves accountable
  • Showing consideration for employees
  • Building their own expertise and continuing to learn
  • Strengthening communication skills

In many ways, credibility is intertwined with the next quality of strong leadership on our list.

3) They are transparent in their approach

Transparency is another word for truth.

Without this honesty, we cannot build sincere and trusting connections.

That’s why successful leaders are brave enough to invite a culture of transparency.

I say brave, as the reality is that this kind of clarity is not always comfortable.

It can involve:

  • Being prepared to have difficult conversations
  • Being clear about expectations (on both sides)
  • Setting and upholding boundaries
  • Being open to feedback
  • Trusting others with the truth and allowing them to make decisions for themselves

This kind of openness and honesty demands really strong communication skills.

4) They have good communication skills that unite people

It’s no surprise that communication makes it to our list of successful leadership qualities.

At the end of the day, leadership is all about how well you can build relationships. And as we all know, the quality of any relationship rests on the quality of communication.

A so-called “people person” often finds success in business easier.

When we use this expression, we really just mean someone who is good at interacting with others. Aka, they have good communication skills.

Good communicators:

  • Clearly define goals and objectives
  • Set expectations so people know what is needed from them
  • Are straightforward but not tactless
  • Remember the role of body language in communication
  • Can adapt their approach depending on their audience and know how to read the room
  • Ask plenty of questions for clarity and greater understanding
  • Listen to others
  • Encourage and respond to constructive feedback

Yes, talk is incredibly important in successful leadership. But not when it’s all talk and no action.

A great leader doesn’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. That means being able to get things done.

5) They are decisive action-takers

You know what they say, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Being at the top involves plenty of responsibility, and that can be daunting.

No one wants to make the wrong call or take action they later regret. But all success involves being able to make calculated risks.

After all, leadership is a verb and not a noun.

When discussions have ended, action needs to start.

Good leaders improve action-taking and decisiveness by:

  • Weighing up their options
  • Limiting choices
  • Creating a plan
  • Setting timelines and deadlines
  • Being assertive
  • Letting go of perfectionism and keeping it in perspective
  • Choosing to learn from mistakes to improve in the future

6) They don’t make themselves the star of the show

Successful leaders aren’t on a power trip, they are team players.

That means trusting their subordinates by delegating and not looking over people’s shoulders.

They empower their team by setting guidelines and providing support — but leaving them to do their work.

They are humble in their approach as opposed to proud or arrogant.

They are less concerned with who takes credit and more concerned with what is best for the team.

And that means recognizing the important work of others, as we’ll see next.

7) They are reward focused

There’s nothing quite as demotivating as feeling like all your hard work is going unrecognized.

And a successful leader knows this.

Research has shown just how crucial reward is to motivation.

But here’s the thing:

This idea of “reward” might not be what we first assume.

In fact, one survey showed that recognition means more than money.

As many as 83% of people said recognition for contributions was more fulfilling than any rewards or gifts.

According to Badgeville CEO (who was behind the survey) Ken Comee:

“Workers of all ages, especially the rising Millennial population, are motivated by real-time feedback, fun, engaging work environments, and status-based recognition over tangible rewards.”

Offering praise, thanks, and showing appreciation is all about showing our gratitude for others. And that is a powerful thing.

8) They have strong emotional intelligence

When it comes to being a leader, your EQ is actually more important than your IQ.

Because having a high emotional intelligence makes you far better placed for cultivating those strong relationships which are vital for you to lead.

The expression “It’s not personal, it’s just business” can be incredibly misleading. Because when it’s human beings doing business, it’s always personal.

We want our leaders to care.

According to John Morgan, the president of the talent acquisition company LHH:

“An overwhelming majority (74%) of employees want their managers to demonstrate a leadership style focused on empathy and a supportive attitude.”

That’s why a successful leader needs to be able to understand and control their own emotions.

But importantly, they also need to be mindful and aware of the emotions of those around them too.

9) They keep it real and show sincerity

We don’t like fake people. Period.

We’re often able to spot insincerity a mile off.

When someone isn’t being themselves it puts up a barrier that prevents trust and respect from growing.

The truth is that we get very used to wearing masks.

We often act very differently at work from how we do at home.

It’s natural.

We understandably may not feel comfortable revealing parts of ourselves to everyone we meet. Showing sincerity certainly isn’t about spilling too much information about yourself.

But it’s important that what we do show people is still an honest reflection of parts of ourselves.

A leader that tries to be something they are not, fails to inspire or win trust.

Some practical ways for leaders to remain authentic include:

  • Improving self-awareness to better understand how you are perceived
  • Improve confidence so you can drop the mask
  • Give up on outdated notions of what a leader “should” say or do
  • Keep referring to your own core values and principles to guide you
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses

10) They are a reliable presence

Success demands consistency.

That means effective leaders need to show the people they are leading that they can be relied upon.

Fickle-natured leaders cannot provide a sense of security.

In the word of Edgar Watson Howe:

“Life is like a game of cards where reliability is the ace card”.

A reliable leader is one who:

  • Follows through on their commitments
  • Makes themselves available
  • Knows how to prioritize so they can focus on what is most important
  • Clearly and consistently lets people know what’s expected of them
  • Is realistic in their demands of others and expectations of workloads

Reliability means providing an even-keeled, stable, and grounded environment.

But that certainly doesn’t mean static. At the same time, good leaders are always looking to the future.

11) They are visionary

Leadership demands giving your attention to the present, but not neglecting the future either.

That’s why good leadership knows how to balance stability and growth.

In order to grow and bloom to your full potential, you need to have your eyes on the horizon.

Change is inevitable, whether we like it or not. Being able to navigate those changes as smoothly as possible is important.

A visionary leader has a clear idea of how they see the future, yet they stay adaptable in order to handle whatever is thrown at them.

Being a visionary leader includes:

  • Persistence
  • Planning and strategy
  • Courage
  • Organization
  • Focus
  • Innovation

12) They are patient and accept that mistakes are an unavoidable part of life

I think patience is an often underrated trait.

For example, it doesn’t instantly strike you as quite as powerful as being visionary or inspirational.

But it is one of the firm foundations on which building trusting and long-lasting relationships lies.

Growth and progress always bring mistakes and errors. When people are afraid to make these, they are holding back on their potential.

And that’s exactly why a leader who shows patience and accepts that things that will go wrong from time to time is crucial.

This makes them more approachable.

It also mean people feel more confident in daring to spread their wings, learn new skills, and take on new responsibilities.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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