What Are the Characteristics of a Good Leader?
Leaders shape our nations, communities, and organizations.
We need good leaders to help guide us and make the essential large-scale decisions that keep the world moving.
Our society is usually quick to identify a bad leader, but do we know how to identify a good one? What would most people say makes a good leader?
The Characteristics & Qualities of a Good Leader
Based on our research, we’ve found that great leaders consistently possess these 10 essential leadership skills:
- Ability to delegate
- Learning agility
The importance of integrity should be obvious. Though it may not necessarily be a metric in employee evaluations, integrity is essential for the individual and the organization. It’s especially important for top-level executives who are charting the organization’s course and making countless other significant decisions. Our research shows that integrity may actually be a potential blind spot for organizations. Make sure your organization reinforces the importance of integrity to leaders at various levels.
Ability to Delegate
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, facilitate teamwork, provide autonomy, lead to better decision-making, and help your direct reports grow. In order to delegate well, you also need to build trust with your team.
Effective leadership and effective communication are intertwined. You need to be able to communicate in a variety of ways, from transmitting information to coaching your people. And you must be able to listen to, and communicate with, a wide range of people across roles, social identities, and more. The quality and effectiveness of communication across your organization directly affect the success of your business strategy, too. Learn how better conversations can actually improve your organizational culture.
While this is a more inwardly focused skill, self-awareness is paramount for leadership. The better you understand yourself, the more effective you can be. Do you know how other people view you or how you show up at work? Take the time to learn about the 4 aspects of self-awareness and how you can strengthen each component.
Being thankful can make you a better leader. Gratitude can lead to higher self-esteem, reduced depression and anxiety, and even better sleep. Few people regularly say “thank you” at work, even though most people say they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss. Learn how to give thanks and practice more 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. Explore how great leaders are great learners, with strong learning agility to get started.
For some people, “influence” feels like a dirty word. But being able to convince people through logical, emotional, or cooperative appeals is a component of being an inspiring, effective leader. Influence is quite different from manipulation, and it needs to be done authentically and transparently. It requires emotional intelligence and trust. Learn more about how effective influencing can be a game-changer.
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 a concern for someone above you. That’s part of the reason courage is a key skill for 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 more than the absence of disrespect, and it can be shown in many different ways. Explore how you can cultivate a climate of respect at work or learn more about becoming an ally to others.
Putting It All Together: The Characteristics of a Good Leader
While successful leaders may exhibit these 10 leadership skills to varying degrees, all good leaders leverage at least some — or most — of these characteristics. Together, they make up the backbone of leadership across leader levels, industries, and continents. Without these skills, true leadership is impossible.
If you don’t feel like these characteristics of a good leader adequately describe you, don’t panic — there are ways for you to improve on your leadership capabilities, including all 10 of these core skills. At CCL, we believe that leadership is a skill that can be developed and that leaders are molded through experience, continued study, and adaptation.
In other words, you can strengthen any of these 10 characteristics and qualities of a good leader if you’re open to growth and you put in the time and effort towards self-improvement. Similarly, organizations can help their people hone these skills through leadership development training and real-world experience.
It’s also essential to realize that leadership is a social process. If you demonstrate several of the characteristics of a good leader but fail to grasp this, chances are you won’t get very far on your own. You may be well-liked and respected, but it will be challenging to accomplish team or organizational goals.
Also, leadership isn’t a destination — it’s something that you’ll have to work at regularly throughout your career, regardless of what level you reach in your organization.
Leadership is less about a strong or charismatic individual and more about a group of people working together to achieve results. That’s why we say that leadership is a journey — different teams, projects, situations, and organizations will require you to apply these skills in different ways.
Develop the Qualities of a Good Leader
Organizations can strengthen leadership skills and foster deeper levels of engagement at work through providing a variety of development opportunities, ranging from on-the-job learning and mentoring to more formal virtual coaching or leadership development programs.
But individuals don’t have to wait to begin strengthening these characteristics and qualities of a good leader within themselves — you can start today.
First, make sure you subscribe to our newsletters to get our research-based insights and tips on leading effectively delivered straight to your inbox.
And if you decide you want to work on developing your leadership skills and becoming a more effective leader, here’s how to convince your boss to make an investment in you and your future.