Some people will tell you that there are no set characteristics of a leader who is admired and gets things done. They believe that it depends on the situation. But many other people would disagree with that. Especially people who have experienced a bad leader firsthand or who have been a bad leader.
It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the leader of a family, business, or country, there are certain characteristics of a leader that make him or her more successful in the long run. And success is what any leader should be striving towards. Success in their goals, their ability to make things work, and the control they can maintain over any situation that comes their way. So what are the characteristics of a good leader?
1. A Good Listener
One of the differences between a bad leader (often a dictator) and a good leader is the ability to listen. Someone who leads needs to be able to stop talking, shut down their judgments, and listen to other people. They need to recognize that they don’t know everything – nor could they – and that listening to other people and what they have to offer can strengthen their ability to get what they ultimately want as a leader.
Most inspirational ideas come from ideas you hear outside of your head. If you are not willing as a leader to listen to other people, then you can never uncover those winning ideas that help take your team towards a better direction.
2. Takes Accountability For Own Decisions And Actions
Some of the worst leaders I’ve met cannot take accountability for their decisions and actions. They are the leader, yet they blame everyone but themselves when something goes wrong. Not only does this hurt their ability to become a better leader (you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge), it also makes the people following them resentful and angry, and that affects the performance of everyone.
A leader needs to be able to admit where they went wrong and then find a solution on how to fix it. They should understand that their failures and mistakes do not make them weak, but, rather, stronger in the long run.
As an additional thought, I think that having the ability to move through fear is what helps a great leader take accountability for themselves. The fear of being judged and making mistakes can cause a lot of people to never own up to their negative contributions to something. Therefore, one of the characteristics of a leader who is great is being fearless, or close to it!
Despite what many people think, being a good leader is not about being a bully or domineering. Yes, those traits can put fear in other people and cause them to do what you want simply out of the desire not to be hurt in some way, but that doesn’t mean you are a good leader because of it. A good leader has the ability to bring out the best in people which, in turn, brings out the best in his or her team.
Compassion allows a leader to have concern for the people that are under them and be sensitive to their needs, which plays a big part in making effective decisions that are best for the group moving forward. They understand others and can look past judgments they have to see the positive traits in people and what their strengths are. Obviously, this ability to truly understand the people following them gives them the ability to help their team grow, do their best, and feel good about themselves and their leader in the process.
An inspiring leader can excite their followers and encourage them to do anything that he or she asks, which is the ultimate goal of a leader! A leader needs to be able to inspire people to follow his or her vision and do the work needed to reach that vision.
An inspiring leader can easily explain their vision and what needs to be done. They are enthusiastic about the vision and what everyone is working together to accomplish, so they can make others feel good about their contribution thus far and the benefits they will receive when the vision is reached.
Inspiring leaders usually lead by example, meaning they get their hands dirty and do a lot of the work that needs to be done. They don’t just sit back with their feet on the desk and bark orders. They show others the enthusiasm, motivation, integrity, and dedication that they want them to have.
5. Gives And Takes Feedback
Feedback is crucial for success. It can help a leader understand if what they are doing is working. It can help them understand how others feel about them and what they may need to change about themselves. And, it is the only way to convey a message to others in order to implement change or action of some sort.
One of my classes in college was focused solely on feedback in the way of constructive criticism. The professor thought that it was so important to the success of our career that it was something we lived and breathed for a semester. Anyone can criticize other people. Bad leaders are notorious for criticizing other people and hurting their feelings as they do so. But, one of the most obvious characteristics of a leader who is good is being able to criticize in a constructive way that uses both positive and negative feedback in perfect balance in order to inspire someone to make changes, improve, or take action.
Some of my best bosses didn’t always have all the characteristics of a leader who is great, but they did have this one, and I remember their ability to talk to me (and everyone else) without offending anyone. They built up their team. They got problems solved. And they made each one of us feel better about ourselves and our contribution in the process.
6. Willing To Show Vulnerability
Nobody is perfect, and everyone knows that. Leaders who try to pretend that they are perfect come across as arrogant and unrelatable. It takes a lot to pretend that you are perfect with your words and actions, and this fake persona can cause followers to lose trust. When followers view a leader as untrustworthy, things go downhill quick for everyone.
Showing vulnerability doesn’t mean that you break down over and over again. It just means you admit that you are human and have emotions just like any other human. It means embracing the fact that sometimes things piss you off, hurt you, confuse you, or get under your skin.
7. Has A Vision
A good leader should have a vision and be focused on that vision. They should be able to see the bigger picture, even when other people can’t. And they should have the ability to make decisions that will affect their vision in a positive way.
This is one of the biggest things that separates a leader from a follower. Leaders can see why it is important to do something tough, unwanted, or not fun today in order to get to the vision they have in their head, while followers don’t always understand why it’s so important.
8. Has The Confidence To Make Decisions
A leader sometimes needs to make decisions quickly, which means they need to be able to take into account everything that is happening and everything that could happen and then make the best decision possible.
This is where leaders often emerge in a group. They are willing to pick a direction while other people are too scared or too unsure to do so. They can foresee that things have a good chance of working out, and their confidence in their ability to foresee that makes other people turn to them when someone needs to step up.
A good leader practices patience in everything they do. Yes, everything. A leader who is unable to practice patience will find themselves booted out of the leadership role very quickly.
The ability to go with the flow, tolerate disturbances, deal with problems calmly, and treat other people with respect in times of difficulty are all traits that will help a leader make decisions and take actions that are for the best of everyone.
Moreover, a patient leader is respected more. Someone who loses their cool at every problem or person they don’t like loses the respect of everyone around them. They don’t have the self-restraint to hold their tongue or make decisions based on their logic, not their emotions, and this is not something that people want in a leader who is supposed to be making the most important decisions and taking the most important actions.
10. Desire To Serve
One of the characteristics of a leader who will accomplish great things is the desire to serve. They are focused on more than just their ego and desire to get what they want. They are also focused on how their decisions will help other people in the long run. This helps them make better decisions and have a bigger impact on the people around them, which benefits their vision in the long run.
If you don’t have a desire to serve others, then you can only have a desire to serve yourself. Any leader who is selfish will eventually fail and find themselves no longer a leader. This world and everything we do in it is based on making other people’s lives better in some way. That should always be a leader’s focus.
A good leader should be honest. They should be willing to communicate how they feel and be willing to let others know when changes need to be made and why those changes need to be made.
Honesty has the power to persuade others, which is definitely one of the characteristics of a leader. When people hear something that is true from someone, their opinions can change, they become more willing to jump on board with that person, and they become less resistant or argumentative.
However, a good leader is not just honest with the people who are following them. They are also honest with themselves. They are able to admit when things are not working out, where they are going wrong, and when it is time to change. Honesty, in other words, allows them to be realistic, which helps them make quick and beneficial decisions as a leader.
12. Has A Willingness To Deal With Conflict
Conflict will always arise for a leader. Leaders need to deal with people inside their group and outside of their group in a way that helps overcome conflict and move everyone forward to a good outcome. Any leader who would rather ignore problems that come up or hide from them will never find themselves in a leadership position for long.
I remember an old boss who ran his own business that used to tell people to work it out themselves whenever someone brought up a conflict they were having. He also hired someone to deal with clients who he felt were not in agreement with him or his business. You can imagine how well people worked out the conflict they were having together. In short, they didn’t, and that conflict escalated until everyone was involved in some way and affected negatively by it. Moreover, his clients and potential business associates lost respect for him because he was unwilling to deal with their disputes or problems.
13. Prioritizes Well
A good leader has the ability to prioritize their day, including the unexpected stuff, in a way that helps them get things done. They recognize what is important and then deal with it before they move on to something that is less important.
The thing about a leader is they need to be able to get things done. They have to show that they are capable of constantly moving forward in order to gain the respect they need and inspire others to do the work that they need to do. When nothing gets done because the leader’s priorities are all messed up, this can demotivate everyone else and cause nothing to get done all the way down the line. Moreover, it can cause him or her to miss important issues their team is having that needs to be looked after now before further progress can be made.
One of the less talked about characteristics of a leader is awareness, but I think it’s very important. Awareness means having the ability to see reality. It means getting out of your head and recognizing what is actually going on around you so that you can make decisions based on what is happening and not what you had planned for the day.
Some of the worst leaders I’ve seen have their head stuck in the sand focused on their plan of action instead of what is going on around them. That lack of awareness is what can bring a whole team down and force someone else to step up into the leadership role.