15 Traits of Effective Leaders
I’ve worked with some inspired leaders, and they all shared a handful of traits. There might be good leaders who don’t exhibit these attributes, but I haven’t met them.
Effective leaders I’ve known consistently exhibit the following fifteen characteristics.
- Integrity: To lead effectively, people must trust your word and believe you will treat them fairly. If you lie to your team or treat them unjustly, you are done.
- Mission focus: Know and communicate the mission. Everything you do, every order, every decision, should trace to the mission.
- Accountability: A leader is responsible for everything their team does or fails to do. When a team fails, good leaders don’t blame; they take the heat and look for process improvement.
- Personable demeanor: Leaders establish relationships with individuals and work to provide people the tools, skills, end environment needed for success. They aren’t always a friend, but they do treat everyone with the courtesy and respect they expect in return.
- Leading by example: A leader’s work ethic should be beyond question. This includes demonstrating self-care and tending to the needs of the team.
- Seeking options: Good leaders explain the objective, work with the team to develop an approach, then solicit risks and alternatives, demonstrating through their words and actions that they value input.
- Admitting mistakes: To make it safe for people to tell when they have screwed up, leaders should model that behavior by admitting their own mistakes.
- Forgiving honest mistakes: Good leaders don’t expect perfection; they expect honest effort and continuous improvement.
- Eliminating trouble-makers: Some people may not fit with a team. A leader’s first job is helping everyone fit. If a team member is not up to that task, a leader promptly addresses the problem.
- Good humor: I’ve never known a good leader without a sense of humor, especially the ability to laugh at themselves.
- Public praise: Leaders recognize the contributions of others, not with meaningless participation trophies, but with honest praise for things done well to support the mission.
- Private criticism: Chastising individuals in front of their peers is divisive, is disruptive, and discourages communication.
- Lifting others up: Real leaders develop the leadership potential of team members with coaching, mentoring, and challenging assignments.
- Flexibility: Teams look to a leader to be decisive, and once a course of action has been chosen, it should be pursued diligently until the mission is complete—unless evidence emerges that the approach is flawed. Leaders communicate the rationale and assumptions behind their choices but remain open to new information.
- Reliability: Good leaders are dependable and rarely lose their cool. The team takes cues from a leader about how serious a problem is. If everything is the highest priority, soon nothing is a priority.
Is there more to leadership? Certainly, and there are plenty of sources for the finer points. But this list is not about skills; it is about attitudes and behaviors—choices you can make to improve your leadership.
Do your best to be consistent and live up to these ideals, and the details can be worked out on the job.