leadership | Article

21 Qualities Leaders Should Strive For

Leadership is a big word. Not only because it has 10 letters, but because of the influence leaders hold.

What makes people want to follow a leader?

Some might say leaders are different across the board. That each leader has a unique personality and approach. While this holds some truth, there are core qualities that make leaders effective.

We’ve summarized fundamental qualities that great leaders possess. And we don’t mean the “nature” kind…we’re talking about the kind you can “nurture.”

21 Qualities Leaders Should Strive For

1. Character

The way a leader deals with the circumstances of life tells you a lot about their character. You create your character every time you make choices. So it’s less about what you say and more about what you do.

To improve: Reflect on where you’ve cut corners or let people down, face your flaws, plan how to avoid making the same mistakes.

2. Charisma

Many people think of charisma as a mystical quality that we’re either born with or not. But the quality can be developed. It’s the ability to draw people to you and that makes them want to follow you.

To improve: Love life, expect/see the best in people, give out hope, share yourself (your journey, wisdom, resources, etc.)

3. Commitment

True commitment in leaders inspires and attracts. People will only believe in you if you believe in your own cause. It’s all about never turning your eye from the goal despite obstacles or disasters.

To improve: Measure the time and effort you put towards commitments, know what’s worth committing to, follow through.

4. Communication

The success of your job depends on your ability to communicate, as do both personal and professional relationships. People won’t follow you if they don’t know what you want or where you’re going.

To improve: Make your messages clear, believe what you say & live what you say, focus on your audience.

5. Competence

Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. Humans admire highly competent people. You don’t have to be the most knowledgeable expert in your field to excel in this quality.

To improve: Show up ready daily, keep learning and improving, accomplish more than expected, follow through.

6. Courage

It begins with an inward battle. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – It’s doing what you’re afraid to do. Effective leaders may have different approaches but each one contains the willingness to risk.

To improve: Stretch your courage outside of work (skydive, join a musical, rock climb, etc.), confront anyone if needed, take the giant step.

7. Discernment

Discernment is the ability to find the root of the matter. It relies on both intuition and rational thought. Plus, it helps you find the causes of issues, enhance problem-solving, and multiply your opportunities.

To improve: Analyze past successes, learn how other discerning leaders think, listen to your gut.  

8. Focus

The keys to being a focused leader are priorities and concentration. Priorities without concentration leads to knowing what to do but never getting it done. Concentration without priorities leads to excellence without progress.

To improve: Lean into your strengths often, sometimes step into new areas, avoid working in areas of weakness (delegate instead).

9. Generosity

Great leaders don’t do things just for themselves; they do things in order to give to others. And true generosity isn’t an occasional event. It comes from the heart and permeates every aspect of life.

To improve: Be grateful for what you have, put others first, give away possessions you value, be generous with time and money.

10. Initiative

Leaders should always look for opportunities and be ready to act. Initiators take more risks and make more mistakes. But they don’t let it bother them because only those who fail greatly can achieve greatly.

To improve: Reflect on why you wait to take action, look for opportunities, take the best opportunities as far as you can.

Experienced female leader speaks in front of small audience in loft office
11. Listening

An unwillingness to listen is a common trait among poor leaders. Keep your ears open for two reasons: to connect with people and to learn. There’s much to learn from your employees, customers, competitors, and mentors.

To improve: Schedule time with individuals regularly, ask personal questions, seek common ground, listen between the lines.

12. Passion

It’s not all about credentials and intelligence when it comes to success. Passion makes the difference. It starts a fire within you, increasing your willpower and productivity. Passion makes the impossible possible.

To improve: Get others’ honest opinion about your passion levels, reevaluate your career if necessary, associate with passionate people.

13. Positive Attitude

People who find lasting success often have a positive outlook on life. Having a positive attitude dictates your level of contentment and impacts how others interact with you. So it’s essential for leaders.

To improve: Read positive books, listen to motivational podcasts, set attainable daily goals, write inspiration on your mirror/desk/etc.

14. Problem Solving

Solving problems requires creativity and tenacity. Regardless of their industry, all leaders will inevitably face problems. We can’t control every situation and live in a world of growing complexity and diversity.

To improve: Anticipate problems, see the big picture, handle one problem at a time, develop a process, bring in others to help.

15. Relationships

The ability to work with others and create relationships is a key aspect of leadership. Employees want to follow someone they get along with. They also deeply value connection and feelings of belonging.

To improve: Try to understand how people feel and think, have empathy, find the best in others, embrace vulnerability, repair hurting relationships.

16. Responsibility

Good leaders recognize that who they are and where they are is their responsibility. They face whatever life throws at them, get the job done, are willing to go the extra mile. They carry the ball in pressure situations.

To improve: Persist when it feels like you won’t be able to complete a goal, set standards for yourself, find the right tools to help, own mistakes.

17. Security

Secure leaders believe in themselves and, in turn, believe in others. They know their own strengths/weaknesses and find joy when other team members win. Contrastingly, insecure leaders limit others.

To improve: Become more self-aware, give away credit, praise others, seek professional help if you cannot overcome feelings of insecurity.

18. Self-Discipline

No matter how gifted a leader, they can never reach their full potential without self-discipline. It’s about doing what you should even when it’s not convenient or you’re short on time. It brings leaders to the next level.

To improve: Flesh out priorities, plan accordingly, get rid of any excuses, don’t dwell on difficulty, stay focused on results.

19. Servanthood

Rather than being about position or skill, servanthood is about attitude. Having a servant’s heart is about putting others ahead of your own agenda. The focus is on helping people rather than rank or titles.

To improve: Take risks for others’ benefit, perform small acts of kindness regularly, get to know individuals so you know how you can help.

20. Teachability

Part of growing your organization and your people is allowing yourself to keep growing. It’s important to remain teachable so you’re open to learning new things. We can never really “know it all.”

To improve: Don’t get too content in a single success, forfeit your pride, learn from mistakes, try out new challenges.

21. Vision

Vision leads leaders. It sparks inspiration and fuels the fire within us. It also helps you light fire for those who are following you. Vision helps you paint the picture of where you are going and unites people.

To improve: Think about how you can add value, write down your vision, keep a journal of thoughts, think about what you’d like to see change in the world around you.

Some of these qualities may come naturally, while others may be difficult to develop. Honing qualities takes time so remain patient and focus on mastering one at a time. After all, leadership develops from the inside out. Once you become the leader you should be on the inside, you will become the leader you want to be on the outside.

For more info on each quality, check out John C. Maxwell’s book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow, from which these qualities have been summarized.