Leadership isn’t about a particular position or a person’s seniority. Just because someone has worked for many years doesn’t mean they have gained the qualities and skills to lead a team.
If you’re an aspiring leader who is intent on supporting your team, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed at all you need to be. Especially if you’re also focusing on transforming and improving organizational culture. And want to be recognized as exhibiting ethical leadership behavior.
Our society is usually quick to identify a bad leader, but how can you identify a good one? What would most people say makes a good leader?
As a leader, integrity means approaching all of your work with consistency and coherency: the way you communicate with others, carry out your organization’s mission and approach new situations.
Integrity means honoring commitments (including to yourself) and doing what you say you will do, as well as approaching challenges in ways that are coherent with other values and beliefs.
Delegating is one of the core responsibilities of a leader, but it can be tricky to delegate effectively. The goal isn’t just to free yourself up — it’s also to enable your direct reports to grow, facilitate teamwork, provide autonomy, and lead to better decision-making. The best leaders build trust with employees in order to delegate more effectively.
Communication is the foundation of any relationship.
In a work setting, centering communication as a core leadership value manifests in many ways. It can take the form of conveying context to employees. Or it can be setting clear expectations for individuals and teams. Or even providing and seeking constructive feedback.
A leader may have a clear vision, but unless the communication is a driving value, others will not be able to share it.
While this is a more inwardly focused trait, self-awareness and humility are paramount for leadership. The better you understand yourself and recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, the more effective you can be as a leader. Do you know how other people view you or how you show up at work?
Being thankful can lead to higher self-esteem, reduced depression and anxiety, and better sleep. Gratitude can even make you a better leader. Yet few people regularly say “thank you” in work settings, even though most people say they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss. The best leaders know how to demonstrate sincere gratitude in the workplace.
Learning agility is the ability to know what to do when you don’t know what to do. If you’re a “quick study” or are able to excel in unfamiliar circumstances, you might already be learning agile. But anybody can foster learning agility through practice, experience, and effort.
For some people, “influence” feels like a dirty word. But being able to convince people through logical, emotional, or cooperative appeals is an important trait of inspiring, effective leaders. Influence is quite different from manipulation, and it needs to be done authentically and transparently. It requires emotional intelligence and trust.
Empathy is correlated with job performance and is a critical part of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. If you show more inclusive leadership and empathetic behaviors towards your direct reports, our research shows you’re more likely to be viewed as a better performer by your boss. Plus, empathy and inclusion are imperatives for improving workplace conditions for those around you.
It can be hard to speak up at work, whether you want to voice a new idea, provide feedback to a direct report, or flag concern for someone above you. That’s part of the reason courage is a key trait of good leaders. Rather than avoiding problems or allowing conflicts to fester, courage enables leaders to step up and move things in the right direction. A workplace with high levels of psychological safety and a strong coaching culture will further support truth and courage.
Treating people with respect on a daily basis is one of the most important things a leader can do. It will ease tensions and conflict, create trust, and improve effectiveness. Respect is about more than the absence of disrespect, and it can be shown in many different ways.
Knowing your leadership core values is an essential part of being an effective leader. When you’re in touch with your values – and live them every day – you’ll make better decisions, build trust in the workplace and inspire others to follow your example.
All great leadership is servant leadership. Your specific leadership style is a combination of service with your other values. Democratic leaders will hold empathy and communication as leadership core values, while visionaries value creativity and innovation. Affiliative leaders may value loyalty and harmony, while pacesetting leaders will appreciate hard work and responsibility. Once you determine your foundational leadership values, you can learn to incorporate other values to become a better leader.
Pay more attention to the decisions you make day to day. Why did you make that decision? Connect it back to one of the values above or one of your own values. Also look at which decisions were easy, and which were more difficult. The difficult decisions probably didn’t relate as easily to your leadership core values. If you were able to make a decision quickly and it left you feeling satisfied, chances are it just “felt right.” That’s because your leadership values guided you.
Examine your actions and decisions outside of the workplace as well. Think back on key moments in your life where you felt extreme emotion: happiness or sadness, pride or embarrassment, fulfillment or emptiness. Why do you think you felt that way? On occasions you felt positive emotions, you were likely living in line with your core values. If you felt negative, you weren’t able to align your values with your experience. These personal values will overlap with your leadership values, providing valuable insights.
Start by making your own personal leadership values list. Write down each value that matters to you, then group the similar values together, making no more than five groups. For example, honesty, integrity, and authenticity may go together, like optimism, resilience, and adaptability. Choose one word from each group that is most important to you. You now have a list of your five leadership core values.
As you encounter new experiences and challenges, you have the tools to reflect on your leadership values and apply them to your decision-making. If your values align with those of your workplace, you’ll find plenty of ways to apply them. If they don’t, you’ll have an opportunity to bring new insights and inspiration and create a more positive and open company culture.
While successful leaders may exhibit these 10 leadership qualities to varying degrees, all good leaders leverage at least some of these characteristics. Together, they make up the backbone of strong leadership across organizations, industries, and continents. Without these qualities, true leadership is impossible.
Now that you know what makes a good leader, you’re one step closer to becoming one. Leadership traits are learnable. If you practice consistently, you can be a great leader, too.