What makes a great leader? What causes a leader to inspire others to go the extra mile to make a project succeed? What traits and habits should you cultivate to be the kind of leader that people want to follow? Most people would agree that the following traits are essential in a good leader:
- Confidence. This is one of the top qualities people think of. Leadership isn’t for the timid or the shy, although there are plenty of those that lead quietly. People respond to confidence, and are naturally attracted to it. A leader that does not project confidence cannot lead effectively.
- Integrity. No one will follow a leader that can’t be trusted, at least not for very long. Trust is one of the most important things to inspire in others.
- Decisiveness. Leaders must make decisions, often quickly, and must stick by them. Wishy-washy does not cut it; people tend to follow those who act, not those who talk about acting. A decisive leader makes others feel safe and confident.
- Optimism. Inspiring confidence and trust is much easier with a good outlook. The optimist has an open mind, and the ability to see the bigger picture. This is incredibly important, because when there are setbacks, and there always are, the optimist is able to step back and look at the problem with an open mind, often seeing the hidden opportunity.
These are traits that many good leaders share. Confidence, integrity, decisiveness and optimism are qualities that we all should strive for. These are assets that are valuable to any organization. There are other qualities, though, that are sometimes overlooked. These qualities can make a good leader a great leader. If you look at some of the most-loved leaders, both past and present, you will no doubt see the following traits:
This is an often undervalued trait that truly good leaders possess. Someone with humility knows who they are. He or she knows their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and they don’t feel a need to hide either of them. They are not afraid to be wrong. They do not have overblown egos, and they know how to ask for help.
There have been many leaders in history that have lacked this quality, of course, but the leaders who have truly made a positive difference, whether in an organization, or leading a movement or a country. Compassionate leaders do not need to intimidate or throw their weight around to get things done. A compassionate leader is approachable, and welcomes ideas and input from others. A compassionate leader inspires honesty, creativity and cooperation.
The ability to make people laugh is a gift, and a leader who can laugh with others has the ability to put people at ease. Who doesn’t love someone with a good sense of humor?
The buck stops with them. A natural leader does not throw people under the bus when things go awry. He or she takes responsibility and protects those who work for them. A leader who is accountable inspires those around him to be as well.
Anyone in a leadership position would do well to cultivate all of these qualities. Being a leader is a balancing act. Balancing decisiveness and confidence with humor and compassion, steering away from ego in favor of humility, and consistently practicing integrity and accountability are the keys to becoming and remaining a leader who is well-respected.
You will notice that intelligence is not on the list. This is because the leader is not necessarily the smartest person in the room, nor the most experienced. They know when it’s best to rely on their masters degree in leadership and when to step back and say, “this project is out of my wheelhouse” or, “someone else would be better suited.” This is helpful to know in the event you are put in a position of leadership over people who are more educated, experienced or older than you. If you possess the essential qualities that make a good leader, the rest will come naturally.