Leaders influence the beliefs, actions, and performance of customers, employees — and even the larger world. In the world of work, great leaders understand the importance of employee retention and their influence on employee engagement.
While some people are born leaders, others invest time and effort to develop the best leadership skills. So what makes a great leader? Here we explore 25 leadership qualities and how to strengthen those skills.
Learn More: 17 Key Drivers of Employee Engagement and 14 Signs of Engaged Employees
What is leadership?
If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find many definitions of “leadership.” Yet they all have one thing in common: Leadership refers to one’s ability to influence or motivate others toward achieving a common goal. Leadership impacts organizational culture in many ways. It can also improve employee engagement and improve employee retention.
What are leadership qualities?
Leadership qualities are characteristics or traits that all great leaders share, whether corporate CEOs, frontline managers, or employees. Sometimes these qualities come naturally, and sometimes they come from experience.
It’s also important to note that leadership qualities are different from leadership styles, which are dependent on personality and unique to each person.
25 Qualities of a great leader
Leadership can improve employee engagement. We’ll highlight the qualities that can make a direct impact on that. Let’s explore!
1. Lives values
One of the essential qualities of a great leader is having solid values, including accountability, integrity, and strong ethics. People in leadership positions make risky decisions on behalf of the company, so employees must trust that those individuals operate with integrity and consider the ethical consequences of all decisions, big or small.
Leadership is responsible for modeling company values daily and ensuring those values continue to resonate with everyone. Great leaders set intentional company values and live by them every day. To create deeply embedded values, leaders must understand what employees feel passionate about and integrate it into all levels of their organizational culture.
An easy way to measure the effectiveness of your company’s values is by asking employees to explain them. Leadership needs to improve communication if employees need more time to readily and quickly explain company values.
2. Sets direction
Top Workplaces are made up of employees who believe in the direction set by leaders. When leaders convey a clear direction, employees are more willing to give the discretionary effort and commitment needed to achieve success.
A strong sense of direction, one of the qualities of a great leader, helps managers and employees operate more efficiently. This quality allows leaders to motivate their teams toward success and makes it easier for those teams to understand company goals and values.
3. Practices accountability
Accountable leaders are crucial for business success. It shows that a company is dedicated to its workforce and mission. Strong company goals, leadership models, and team commitments help achieve optimal accountability.
Leaders are responsible for holding others accountable. Setting clear goals and expectations, fostering trust, and enforcing performance management helps everyone feel more connected to the company’s direction. Plus, it allows employees to align around shared responsibilities and performance goals.
4. Mentors others
Great leaders encourage a culture of mentorship and professional development for others to follow. A passion for mentoring others is contagious and will trickle down to managers and employees across the organization.
Learn More: Improving Training and Development Strategies
5. Communicates well
Especially in today’s world, leaders must communicate well in person and virtually. It’s essential to understand different subgroups of communication, including cross-cultural, group, individual, interpersonal, presentation, and written communication. Great leaders have spent time developing skills in all those areas and have an impressive ability to connect with individuals while keeping key business goals in mind.
Learn More: Importance of effective workplace communication
6. Shows gratitude
Employee appreciation is one of the strongest drivers of engagement, plus it’s one of the least expensive and simplest ways to improve morale. Top Workplaces research shows that gratitude goes a long way in the workplace. Company culture and tone are set at the top, but anyone can be a role model for gratitude in their organization. Great leaders model meaningful appreciation daily because they understand the importance of employee recognition.
Learn More: Employee Recognition Ideas
7. Appreciates flexibility
Great leaders remind others to be flexible when things don’t go to plan. Embracing changes with flexibility and positivity motivates others to do the same. Plus, an optimistic culture encourages more creativity and innovation from everyone.
As a leader, you must be skilled in cognitive, dispositional, and emotional flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to use multiple different thinking strategies. Dispositional flexibility is the ability to be optimistic while being realistic, and emotional flexibility is the ability to navigate other people’s different emotions.
8. Thinks strategically
Being strategic separates good and great leaders because it requires action, adaptability, optimism, and a knack for quick problem-solving.
Leaders make risky decisions all the time. Great leaders always think about improving their systems and using data to justify their decision-making process. Plus, they are adaptable to new ideas and stay open-minded about any problems in the business, knowing they have all the tools necessary to make their next move.
9. Encourages innovation
People want to work for leaders who encourage innovation because it shows that the organization values creativity, flexibility, and growth. New ideas help companies and individuals grow, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Innovation helps companies fix many problems, like customer relations, employee engagement, and productivity.
Innovative leaders help employees find new ways to do things, which improves company performance and helps individuals reach their full potential. Ensuring everyone is focused on shared company goals and performance metrics enhance effectiveness.
10. Delegates work
Leadership delegation is a critical component of productivity and team performance. When done thoughtfully, it can save time and reduce future inconveniences. Thoughtful delegation requires leaders to understand their teams’ strengths, weaknesses, and professional development goals well. If company leaders are well-aligned on team capabilities and collaboration goals, then the company will have more time to address critical business initiatives — like innovation.
11. Acts empathetically
Next on the list of great leadership qualities is empathy. Being empathetic and emotionally intelligent helps leaders care for, respect, support, and understand employee well-being. Without empathy, leaders will find it extremely hard to be self-aware and communicate effectively.
12. Practices discipline
Being a leader means having endless goals and responsibilities. Great leaders keep themselves and others on track by holding themselves to a higher level of accountability, coordination, and commitment. Additionally, great leaders share the ability to stay self-disciplined and encourage a culture of discipline. Whether it’s at an individual, team, or company level, understanding your employees’ work and motivation styles helps streamline the communication necessary to boost discipline and productivity.
13. Shows resilience
Teaching your employees how to be resilient is one of the most extraordinary things you can do for your organization. Resilience grows from difficult situations, and there are a lot of tricky situations in business. Great leaders can quickly recover because they have confidence, experience, and optimism. It may not come easy to most, but leaders must be able to fight for their organization again and again. It can seem like a never-ending process, but all great leaders gain energy from helping others see the light at the end of the tunnel.
14. Gives support
Employees will always have concerns, and great leaders are aware of that. Being supportive is excellent for your interpersonal relationships, but it is also a fantastic way to improve company culture. Employee well-being grows when you remind people that they and their feelings are valid and appreciated.
Concerns can be a blueprint for improving employee retention at an organizational level. When leaders care for and support their employees, they create an environment of trust that encourages everyone to be more authentic, confident, and productive.
Learn More: A Guide to Employee Well-Being
15. Empowers others
Empowering others is one of the essential qualities of a great leader. Leadership empowerment will help you maximize direction, engagement, and performance when executed well. True employee empowerment comes from understanding individuals’ motivation styles, personal passions, and professional development goals. It requires trial and error, but once you know how people want to be empowered, the opportunities are endless.
16. Thinks creatively
Creativity helps great leaders see endless possibilities. It is one of the best leadership qualities because it helps in many other areas, including direction, empowerment, innovation, and optimism.
Business improves when leaders are creative because it helps them motivate others to think outside the box. That’s because the ability to think creatively about the future allows companies to achieve higher levels of competition and innovation. Creativity builds an environment open to change and growth — key factors of successful, sustainable businesses.
17. Has self-awareness
Clued-in leaders are aware of what’s happening at and around their company. They value open communication, learning from the frontlines, and staying updated with industry trends. Great leaders use this awareness to communicate insights more efficiently with employees and create meaningful solutions.
Having self-awareness helps great leaders understand their strengths and weaknesses. That awareness improves collaboration and delegation, plus it encourages others to learn about themselves and their ability to ask for help.
18. Seeks collaboration
Great leaders realize they are role models for collaboration. The more they collaborate, the better their interdepartmental cooperation will be. Creating a collaborative culture saves time and improves productivity, which helps companies find higher levels of success at a faster rate.
Additionally, collaboration helps employees develop communication, delegation, and strategic thinking skills, improving their leadership development process. It’s a win-win for individuals and the organization.
19. Values learning
An essential quality of great leadership is an eagerness to learn. Great leaders find opportunities to learn and educate others whenever possible, whether it’s learning from employees, competitors, or industry experts. The more leaders learn about themselves, their company, and the world, the better they are at their job.
And it doesn’t stop there. Great leaders use their learning to educate others and always seek new training and development opportunities. No matter what the job market looks like, employees want to work where they can learn the most. Giving managers adequate resources and incentives helps employees and the organization stay competitive.
Learn More: A Guide to Employee Training and Development Programs
20. Acts transparently
Being an open, transparent leader helps your team learn more about the company and its unique processes. Encouraging other leaders to share more about their strategies and struggles helps everyone feel more clued-in to the business, which improves employee engagement and trust.
All company leaders and managers must align on this topic. Communication training, frequent opportunities for questions, two-way communication channels, and written documentation help employees stay clued in. And don’t forget “the why” — it’s essential.
21. Actively listens
Employees will always have concerns. As a leader, how you listen and handle those concerns impacts individual engagement and your company’s future. Active listening is one of the common qualities of great leaders. The idea is simple: give people your full attention, ask thoughtful questions and follow up with solutions.
Active listening is the difference between a good leader and a great one. It helps you gain more meaningful insights, which in turn helps you offer more impactful solutions for your team and business. The process encourages higher levels of efficiency and productivity.
22. Demands inclusion
All great leaders know how to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Inclusivity is a crucial quality of great leadership and a key driver of employee engagement. To be inclusive, you need a workforce that is full of diverse people and perspectives. Once that is achieved, great leaders continue to create an open and respectful environment. This process leads to more competitive ideas, increased collaboration, and higher profits.
Great leaders also understand that teams become more effective when everyone works towards a common goal. They encourage collaboration whenever possible and are role models for interdepartmental communication. When executed well, organizations see that collaboration and inclusivity strengthen all aspects of the business. Employees feel a stronger sense of belonging when all teams work well together.
23. Inspires others
Great leaders share an ability to influence and inspire others naturally. This deep passion for others, the business, and the future help employees feel more confident in the company’s direction.
Leaders find it easy to get excited about everything, from day-to-day managerial tasks to big-picture projects and employee engagement strategies. They take the time to understand how employees want to be motivated and use those insights to spark energy. Great leaders do this because their connections and influence energize them.
24. Exudes confidence
Confidence helps leaders achieve most of the qualities on this list. Without it, a leader’s voice seems skeptical and unauthentic. The more genuine you are, the more connected and motivated employees will feel. Believing in your company and the people around you helps build that confidence. When you believe in the direction and mission of your company, others follow suit.
Leadership confidence has external benefits as well. Customers and job seekers feel more connected to a brand if the leaders seem positive, reassuring, and upbeat — which boosts profit and word-of-mouth across the board.
25. Inspires motivation
Like the ability to inspire, great leaders must also have the natural ability to motivate others. Great leaders get energy from motivating others and know how much their positivity contributes to the company’s bottom line. Using many other qualities mentioned above, leadership must continuously encourage others to reach their full potential.
How to develop and strengthen leadership qualities
Leadership is a skill that can be learned, which means anyone can become a great leader. Understanding and developing great leadership qualities helps organizations improve training and development, increasing employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.
Developing and strengthening leadership qualities requires a commitment to self-improvement and a willingness to learn and grow. It involves creating a clear vision and purpose, setting goals, and leading by example.
It’s also important to recognize and avoid the signs of a bad leader, such as micromanaging, lack of transparency, and failing to communicate effectively. By building positive relationships, empowering team members, and creating a supportive work environment, individuals can become effective leaders who inspire and motivate others.
Top Workplaces for Great Leadership
Top Workplaces awards are the industry-leading gold standard for employee recognition. Winning the Top Workplaces for Great Leadership award celebrates leaders who are intentional about driving a people-first culture.
Companies with great leadership development deserve great recognition. Nominate your organization today to start taking advantage of the fantastic benefits.