Leadership Characteristics to be a Successful Leader

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

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.

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

Leadership Characteristics


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


have no fear written in black text on white paper laying on the ground

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.