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Leadership Characteristics to be a Successful Leader

Being a great leader takes a lot of hard work, determination and discipline. There are certain leadership characteristics you must have and skills you need to develop. Don't despair if you lack any of the qualities we are going to discuss. While some will be more naturally predisposed to some of these qualities compared to others, all of them can be developed.

If you are willing to put in the hard work, all of these leadership attributes can be developed, fine tuned and perfected. Remember, leadership is a verb as much as it is a noun. Developing your leadership qualities is an ongoing process that you will work on your whole life.

Don't be discouraged if your self inventory of your leadership abilities doesn't stack up to this list. Start small and start working towards developing the qualities you want improve the most. Little by little you will start to see progress!

While we will discuss many habits, characteristics and attributes below, let's start with one habit you SHOULD NOT get trapped into. While growing your leadership qualities, it is very easy to become impatient.

We look at ourselves and our leadership everyday and might ask for too much feedback or advice. We then give too much weight to the feedback when we get it. Be patient, growing your leadership skills takes time and builds character.

If you stared at a tomato plant after putting a seed in the ground, it will seemingly never grow. Water it everyday and look at it after a week and you start to see the growth. Take great care of it and before you know it, it is bearing a lot of fruit! Below are some good leadership qualities, characteristics and habits that will make you a better leader.

Leadership Characteristics written on a chalkboard strong communicator courageous self-aware authentic decision maker gracious/humble positive empathetic flexible accountable

Remember, as you grow these important leadership qualities, be kind to yourself and give yourself time to grow.


judge pointing at a piece of text

Everything begins and ends with the leader. From design to production, from new employees to separation, from beginning to end. Regardless of the context leaders find themselves in, they are responsible for not only the outcome but for all of the details in between. Leaders must act like they are on center stage.

Being accountable to their team and employees is one of the best ways for new leaders to earn respect. Lack of accountability is also one of the fastest ways for even the most seasoned of leaders to lose respect. There is a great book on this topic that we highlight in one of our leader resources.

Leaders must own everything in their world, their is no one else to blame - Jocko Willink


The world is changing faster today than it arguably has at any point in human history. Everything is faster. Communication, flow of information, employee learning curves, food delivery, just about everything. If leaders cannot or will not adapt to the ever changing landscape around them they will fail.

It is the leader's job to be flexible with what needs to change while remaining positive and resolute for the employees that follow them. The leaders that can successfully adapt and pivot (and do it quickly) will have a huge advantage over those that can't.

Flexibility is the key to stability - John Wooden


Being a good leader means doing things that might frighten you in your career. It means standing up for what is right and acting quickly to protect that which matters most to your team, organization or family. It means having the necessary but difficult conversations with those people that need tough feedback. It means staying calm when everyone else is panicking.

It can also mean being vulnerable with people you care about to make a true connection with them. The leader must remain steadfast in the face of adversity and pressure without becoming calloused in the process. In today's world they will face plenty of both but will always need to be understanding as well.

Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision - Winston Churchill


Good leaders must be able to truly understand what their employees are feeling or might be feeling. Empathy is NOT to be confused with sympathy. Empathy is about connecting with someone by helping them share their emotions. Sympathy can have the opposite impact and disconnect us from others.

While developing your leadership qualities, this characteristic is not a skill that leaders can afford to ignore during their career. Great leaders can better influence others by creating a shared vision and building a strong bond with their people through empathy.

Consider the following scenario: A friend confides in you they are worried they might lose their job. The empathetic response is: I'm really sorry to hear that, I'm so glad you told me though and no matter what happens I am here to help you however I can. The sympathetic response is: Well at least you have a job for now and maybe you can get unemployment. Brene Brown says it best below.

Empathy fuels connection, Sympathy drives disconnection - Brene Brown


person looking at themself in a mirror

Knowing what you can do best and what you can't do is one of the most underrated but most important leadership traits there are. It's a trait that doesn't get as much attention as the others because it is often assumed or taken for granted that leaders have this down already. After all, so many of the other traits on this list, if done well, subtly point to a leader that is self aware.

It is critical that as leaders, we understand ourselves if we ever hope to understand others. It is much harder to empathize for example if you don't understand yourself. It is also very hard to assemble strong teams that compliment a leader's weakness if the leaders don't know what those weaknesses are!

The greatest of faults, is to be conscious of none - Thomas Carlyle

Strong Communicator

As we mentioned under flexibility earlier, communication of all kinds moves at the speed of light. Think about the sheer barrage of communication you have come at you in a single day, emails, texts, conversations, social media. It is never ending.

Great leaders must be comfortable communicating, especially to their employees, through any medium. Communication can be the difference between success and disaster.

This isn't just about the quality of the communication either but the quantity and timing as well. Failing to communicate at a critical juncture, could derail an entire project or leave expectations unknown. No matter the jobs you have or the business you are in, properly communicating information is one of the skills you will always need!

Additionally, communicating at the right time to an employee dealing with personal struggles might completely change the trajectory of that person's day. Another important form of communication is body language.

Body language skills are extremely important to great leaders. If you want to improve your leadership qualities, you should look into getting some training with these skills. We discuss these qualities in one of our leadership resources on body language.

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said - Peter Drucker


man with closed hands in sign of humility

We are squeezing a "twofer" out of these characteristics because humility and being gracious, often go hand in hand. The power of these characteristics cannot be underestimated. This is especially true when it comes to leading a team of people. Good leaders, take accountability as we discussed earlier but also give credit.

If you want to build credibility and trust with your team and employees, take accountability when they lose and give them all of the credit when they win. This characteristic is hard for a lot of leaders because there is a huge misconception out there that humility equals weakness and that couldn't be further from the truth. The leaders that can master this skill will take their employees and teams to the next level fast.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less - C. S. Lewis


This trait is by far one of the hardest on this list to do because for most leaders, it goes against our human nature. It is important for good leaders to be positive despite challenging circumstances though because it is their job to rally their people for the cause. Whether it is completing the huge project or program at work or getting your kids dressed in the morning for school.

Leaders must stay relentlessly positive for their team and employees. Positivity can be a not so secret, secret weapon for any good leader facing challenges to their goals or business. Here at the leadership mission we take a detailed look at this subject in our article Attitude of Leadership.

Positivity always wins...always - Gary Vaynerchuk

Decision Maker

One of the basic functions of good leadership is decision making and delegating to their team or employees. To put it simply, leaders are in positions of leadership so they can make choices that others, like the CEO, don't have time to.

They are often chosen for these positions because they are especially good at making those choices. While this seems simple on the surface, the process of making good decisions can sometimes be quite complex. The ability to make decisions is also a trait that can be improved on.

The process with which you make decisions is something you should pay close attention to. As we mentioned in the section on self-awareness earlier, you should know in what areas you might struggle to make good decisions due to lack of knowledge, bias or any number of other issues.

Surround yourself with others who excel in that regard so that your decision making will improve. A word of caution, one of the absolute worst things you can do as a leader is fail to make a decision when one is needed by your team or employees. Especially, if it impacts your people or company.

Good decisions come from experience, experience comes from bad decisions - Mark Twain


In a world of "reality" TV, social media and dwindling personal interaction being authentic is an increasingly more difficult task. That doesn't mean we can ignore it however, especially when it comes to your team, employees or company!

One of the best ways to make a connection with those you hope to lead is to be real with them! So many leaders fall into the trap of thinking they must be perfect all the time and nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure, you shouldn't be walking around a hot mess "keeping it real" with your employees all day... but being vulnerable and sharing struggles with them? For sure. Empathizing is hard when you don't share.

In an age where nothing seems real, leaders that are good at being authentic with others in the office will stand out. If you can do it really well, you will win over the hearts and minds of your employees.

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway - Mother Teresa

There are so many good characteristics, attributes and qualities that you can develop over the course of your lifetime to improve your leadership. If you are new to leadership, these ten are a great place to start. If you have been a leader for a long time, these characteristics and leadership qualities and skills should be staples in your leadership toolbox.

We also have a good post regarding leadership topics for presentation if you want some additional information to discuss at any upcoming meetings.


Developing the following habits will give you a tactical advantage over other leaders. Habits built around succeeding, unsurprisingly often lead to success. They can also become what's known as a force multiplier.

A force multiplier is something that gives those that have it an advantage over those that don't. So, all things being equal, leaders that develop these habits will usually find themselves in better positions to succeed than leaders that don't.

A good leader should always be learning

A woman studying from a laptop

The best leaders never stop acquiring new skills or let their education stop. They understand the value of constant self-improvement as it equips you to handle one of the constants of life, change, especially in business.

No matter what industry you work in, sport you play, company you belong too, change happens. The more a leader approaches life with an attitude of learning as much as they can regardless of the situation, sets themselves up for continued success.

Whatever gets thrown at them, these leaders will be vastly better prepared than those that consider their skills static. This is because these leaders know that even if a business meeting, event, conversation is boring or irrelevant to them, they might learn something that will be useful to them later on.

The same goes for the business leaders and others we work with or for. You can learn as much from bad leaders as you can a good one. We discuss how to do this in our article How to Respond to a Bad Leader if you want to search more in-depth on this topic.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest - Benjamin Franklin

Challenge yourself as a leader

While this is similar to the first habit, always be learning, this habit is more about staying curious about what you can accomplish. Ambition, initiative, drive are all words used to describe this habit. It's about not being complacent with anything.

The easiest way to develop this habit is to identify something about yourself that you don't like and challenge yourself to change it! We have a good leadership challenge on this topic.

People often confuse complacency with contentment and they are very different. A leader can be simultaneously be trying to achieve something better everyday while still being content with where they are now. This is essential to living a life of fulfillment.

It's okay to not be happy that you aren't a VP yet or a successful business owner or the starter on your team but be content knowing that your hard work will pay off one day. It is one of the great dichotomies of personal growth, wanting more but being happy where you are.

If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you - Fred DeVito

Take good care of yourself as a leader

Self care is extremely important for leaders and it is often one of the first things to go out the window when leaders get stressed or overworked. Everyone knows the example of the oxygen masks example you get when you board an airplane... but leaders so often fail to do it in real life or in their business.

They take care of everyone else before themselves, if they ever take care of themselves at all. While giving graciously of your time to others is part of being a leader, if it is burning your candle at both ends then your effectiveness will diminish quickly.

Find an outlet, a hobby, a way to relax that is just for you and find a way to work it into your schedule. You will be amazed at how you can better serve others and take care of them with more joy, when you take time to take care of yourself. Be purposeful about carving out this time, it is so important to allow yourself time to refresh and come back stronger than ever.

Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation - Audre Lorde

Leaders must be action oriented

A woman holding an action sign used in movies

One of the primary tasks for a good leader is to make decisions and initiate action. While not always the one to be doing the physical action, it often happens because of the leader. One of the worst things a leader can do, is nothing.

Sometimes doing nothing is the right answer but even when it is, there is is something else you can most likely be doing to better prepare you for the consequences of doing nothing. This seems confusing but here is an example.

Let's say you had to terminate a high level executive and you are worried legal action is coming down the pike. The smart answer might be to do nothing more in terms of engaging the individual or their close associates for fear of making the issue worse.

You can still be feverishly preparing in the background, consulting counsel, gathering documents and preparing a defense. The point is, when faced with decisions or situations that MIGHT require action, take action proactively so that you can be prepared to handle whatever comes down the pike.

Successful people are action oriented - Jim Rohn

Authentic leadership

You might be thinking this is more of a leadership characteristic than a habit but it is both. Many times leaders get stuck in the trap of acting the way they think their people want them to act. While sometimes we need to adopt our leadership style to the situation or person, we must remain real.

You became a good leader thanks in part to who you are, not for being someone else.

Furthermore, when engaging with your teams, you must be genuine with your praise and encouragement. People will easily pick up on a leader that isn't authentic or lacking in integrity and that leader will lose respect quickly.

Make it a point to be fair but honest with your constructive feedback and sincere and generous with your positive feedback. This habit, more than most others builds strong trust with your teams. That trust is crucial to the overall success of your leadership.

Authenticity is about being true to who you are, even when everyone around you wants you to be someone else - Michael Jordan

Disciplined leadership takes work

The word discipline connected to the word plan and goal like a bridge in scrabble tiles

A little discipline goes a long way while establishing your leadership. Not just with the big things but with all of the little things. That’s what really matters in the end, everyday leadership.

Yes, the big moments matter but how you are treating your employees on the regular matters more. Be disciplined enough to remember what matters to them, to their kids or spouses and remember that every day they are choosing to continue to follow you. Don’t let them regret that choice.

This also applies to personal thoughts and actions as well. If you set a goal to lose 20 pounds, be disciplined to see it through. If you set rules for yourself, business or company be disciplined in holding yourself accountable to achieving the results.

The leaders that can stay disciplined are the leaders that won’t be swayed by fads or anxious over change. They have their goals and vision set and they have the strong discipline to see it through.

Choose either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret - unknown

A leader must work to be aware

A good leader doesn't exist in a bubble. There is a whole wide world of people and events happening simultaneously every day all around us. Successful leaders today cannot be naive to what is going on around them, especially with the employees or people on their team.

Stay current on the news but be disciplined enough to not be consumed by the negativity. We have an in depth article about having a leadership mindset. Good leaders listen before seeking to be understood.

This also applies to what’s happening within your “own house.” Don’t be the leader that is up to date on all the latest engagement topics in their industry for example, while their own team is miserable and disconnected. Have enough vision to be aware of what is happening in your people’s lives and what they might be thinking or feeling.

This goes a long way in getting buy in from your team and people. If they know that you take an interest in what matters to them, they will trust you to have their best interests at heart.

Awareness is a key ingredient in success. If you have it, teach it, if you lack it, seek it - Michael B. Kitson

A leader must be accountable to their team and people

Just like authenticity, this leadership habit is a verb not just a noun. It is one of the most important as well. Leaders must take extreme ownership over everything in their world. The leader that is accountable to their team, their boss and themselves is a well respected leader.

If your team knows that you own your opportunities and work to improve them and are humble in your successes, they will trust you. Building accountability and trust with your team takes a long time and losing it can happen in a heartbeat if we aren't disciplined.

Owning everything in your world as leader means when your team succeeds, they get all of the credit. When the team falls short, a good leader will shoulder the blame for their people. This builds an incredible amount of trust and your employees will work that much harder for you.

It's not just your team that accountability builds trust with but your leader and/or shareholders as well. They know that they can trust you to be realistic about both wins and losses. It is a "next level" of maturity that further builds strong trust, which is critical as a leader.

You either make yourself accountable or you will be made accountable by your circumstances - unknown

Common Leadership Styles

Science journalist Daniel Goleman first came up with the concept of the styles of leadership in the early 2000's. Since then, they have become extremely popular when discussing the topic of situational leadership.

If you want to be a good leader, we highly recommend you master the various uses of these leadership styles. Understanding behaviors within your department or team will allow you to effectively use these leadership styles.

The leadership styles are as follows:

  • Visionary — mobilize people toward a vision. Works best when a clear direction or change is needed.

  • Coaching — develop people for the future. Works best when helping people and building long-term strength.

  • Affiliative — create emotional bonds and harmony. Works best to heal rifts in teams or motivate people in stressful times.

  • Democratic — build consensus through participation. Works best to create consensus or get input.

  • Pacesetting — expect excellence and self-direction. Works best to get quick results from a highly competent team.

  • Commanding — demand immediate compliance. Works best in crisis or with problematic people.

We'd love to hear from you in the comments below! Or feel free to shoot us an email

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Leadership Characteristics and leadership habits as an infographic red on white

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Jul 22, 2021

Great article! I especially like the part about empathy. I also think that good communication skills are really important.

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Jul 07, 2021

very interesting. thanks for sharing.

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Great list of characteristics and habits for leaders to think about! Thank you for sharing.

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Thank you!


Jul 05, 2021

Great article. Thanks

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Thank you!


Jul 01, 2021

Such a great post! I think a lot of leaders forget about the whole “empathy” piece, and sometimes strong communication skills as well.

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Thank you for your response!

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