Leaders are seldom born — they’re made. Although some people are lucky enough to come into the world with natural charisma and other personality traits that make a successful leader, anyone with a desire to lead can work to develop the right leadership skills.
How? Jennifer Hancock, a teacher of leadership and humanistic management at Humanist Learning Systems, offers this advice: “To get started, choose one trait and start reminding yourself to practice it,” she said. “When you fail, think through what you might have done differently if you had actively chosen to exemplify that trait and then next time, do better.”
Want to be a leader? GOBankingRates asked 50 business and community leaders, managers and leadership educators about the most important traits of leadership. Check out the qualities that made the top of their lists, and learn how to climb the career ladder and become a successful leader.
1. A Distinct Vision
A clear vision or purpose is what inspires people to support a leader. “The vision must be shared in a way that it inspires subordinates and colleagues alike,” said Timothy G. Wiedman, who has a doctorate in business administration and is a retired associate professor of management and human resources from Doane University. “That communication must be clear and concise so that everybody in the organization understands the short-term and long-term objectives. Employees will not buy into a vision that they don’t fully understand and thus cannot personally articulate.” A distinct vision is just one trait that investors look for in their CEOs.
2. The Ability to Enroll People in a Common Vision
Getting people working toward a common goal can be a challenging task, but essential to leadership. “Leaders leverage all viewpoints to accomplish the objective,” said Susan Gilell-Stuy, an executive coach who runs her own company devoted to helping executives build leadership qualities. “They’re able to adeptly explore things from all angles and are open to differing perspectives. They pinpoint the best position with which to approach an objective, bring together divergent perspectives and unify their colleagues around a common vision and mission.”
3. The Ability to Put People in the Right Roles
The traits of an effective leader include being able to recognize the individual talents of people on their team and putting them into roles where those people can use their talents. “They’re able to motivate and tease out the brilliance and drive in others,” said Gilell-Stuy. “They quickly identify their strengths and weave them together to create a cohesive team. They move swiftly and know how to shape varied opinions into a single strategy that inspires and motivates them to take action.”
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4. Great Communication Skills
“Effective leaders are effective communicators,” said Cheryl Procter-Rogers, senior consultant and certified master coach at A Step Ahead PR Consulting & Coaching. “To become an effective communicator, one must first become aware of their own use of negative disempowering language and phrasing, use empowering words and phrases and develop a variety of communication styles, understanding that each individual has a preferred learning style and way to take in information.” Screaming and intimidating colleagues has some real costs.
Procter-Rogers said leaders should read articles and books on neuroscience to help develop effective communication traits.
5. Open Ears and an Open Mind
Nearly every respondent to GOBankingRates’ query about good leadership skills mentioned the ability to listen to other members of the team and act accordingly. “A good leader will listen to the advice of the other people in the group and act on that advice,” said Ty Belknap, business coach and CEO of MyCoach.Life. “Of course, you can’t please everyone all the time, but a good leader will always do what is best for the group in general. And the only way to find out the needs of the group is to listen.” Listen to your employees — they have job expectations beyond their paychecks.
Stephen Hrop, vice president of organizational services at Caliper, an employee assessment and talent development agency, puts flexibility at the top of the list. “Unilateral actions by leaders are less effective, in most cases, than approaches that include multiple voices in the planning and decision-making process,” he said. “Leaders who are more flexible will achieve superior results with a higher level of employee engagement. Develop this trait by seeing the merits of ideas and opinions with which you don’t agree. Even if you disagree with almost everything they have to say, seek to find the grain of truth in their opinions.” This method is just one of the ways to challenge yourself like the world’s most brilliant people.
7. Motivational Skills
Leaders have to keep the team motivated and that often means leading by example. “Be willing to do what you’re asking others to do,” said Heather Thornton, office manager at RE/MAX Classic in Mesa, Ariz. “Being part of the team might mean leading from the center — or even from behind — and never asking anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do or haven’t done yourself. People work hard for people who speak greatness into them and believe in their potential. All else is dictatorship, not leadership.”
8. Multitasking Skills
Leaders must wear many hats, especially if you want to go from small business to industry leader. “The most important trait of a good leader is an ability to juggle,” said Arizona small business owner and community leader Bella Donna. “As leaders, we are in a constant state of making decisions and balancing any number of tasks at hand. It’s all a magical juggling act and the better we are at it mentally, the more smoothly a business, operation, project, team or function can run.” Bella knows what she’s talking about when it comes to multitasking: Besides running two businesses, she has volunteered her time working with local youth, a food bank, Kiwanis International and more.
9. Delegating Skills
The traits of a good leader also include knowing when not to go it alone. CEO Brian Lim of IHeartRaves fashion company believes effective leadership also includes a “Do Not Do” list. “In the beginning, I was the guy who tried to do everything on my own,” Lim said. “As I’ve grown, I’ve definitely learned there’s a lot of value in networking and building relationships. Learning the art of delegating tasks has helped me today — I wish I knew that in the early years.”
10. The Ability to Create a Teamwide Growth Mindset
“Having a growth mindset is all about embracing the process of learning,” said Barnum Financial Group CEO Paul Blanco. “Part of any learning process is making mistakes and failing. When people are not afraid to fail they are not afraid to try new things. Once free creativity starts to flow that is when innovation happens. Having a team of innovative people is something every leader strives for, and having a growth mindset helps with that.”
Blanco’s chief of staff, Elizabeth Hiza, agreed. “Paul leads with a growth mindset, so as a firm we also take on this way of thinking,” she said.
11. Concern for the Welfare of Team Members
Leaders are only as good as the weakest members of their team. “Leaders rarely accomplish great things on their own,” said Wiedman. “They know that when they take care of their people and help colleagues and subordinates succeed in reaching their own goals, most of those folks will reciprocate. In an overwhelming majority of cases, organizational success is the result of group effort — and the best leaders are adept at harnessing the power of the team.”
Another important leadership trait mentioned by several respondents to GOBankingRates’ query involved being aware of how your leadership appears to others. “If you don’t know how you’re coming across and the effect you’re having on the people around you, you’re shooting in the dark,” said Aaron Schmookler, trainer and co-founder of The Yes Works, a team training company. “You can’t gather data and experiment to improve your performance. You can’t make adjustments to changing circumstances. To the degree to which you lack self-awareness, you’re just flipping a coin as far as your leadership goes.” With self-awareness, leaders can avoid these critical hiring mistakes.
13. Willingness to Mentor and Be Mentored
“Leadership requires an ability to recognize one’s own weaknesses and strive to overcome them,” said Kelsey Ulmer, office manager at Hometown Heat and Air Conditioning. “Being willing and able to learn from those above and around you is a must. A good leader does more than seek their own mentorships though. They strive to mentor others. They recognize that being a leader isn’t about their own wins, but about their team’s.” Finding a mentor is a key strategy for success for new entrepreneurs.
14. Decision-Making Skills
Although team input was an important factor in effective leadership styles, respondents also emphasized that a leader needs to make the final decision, especially when things don’t go as planned. “Leaders understand the velocity at which things need to happen,” said Gillel-Stuy. “They’re able to quickly assess the magnitude of the situation at hand. They demonstrate the agility needed to excel in any undertaking and respond to emerging needs and high-stress situations with confidence and trust in their ability to execute flawlessly.”
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15. Team-Building Skills
Many responses to the GOBankingRates query cited maintaining quality relations with and among the team as an essential leadership skill. “A ‘Got Your Back’ leader … help their people to grow,” Schmookler said. “They bring out their best. Instead of keeping their people in line, they ask, ‘How can I help you succeed? What do you need?’ They permit people to make mistakes, and then ask their team to learn from those mistakes.”
16. The Understanding That Leadership Is Temporary
“All effective leadership traits derive from one’s sense of temporariness,” said Dave Warner, the former chief technical officer of ELM Services. “An appreciation of mortality, both within your present occupation — and in life — sharpens the desire to both plan and mentor. Plan so that you can leave tomorrow without significant impact on the organization, and know when it is time to step aside.”
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About the Author
Jodi O’Connell is a freelance wordsmith based in Sedona, Arizona, who writes about everything from vacation vagary and adventure sports to real estate and pets. She spent more than a decade in Arizona’s real estate industry advising first-time homebuyers and commercial investors before indulging her passion for the written word on a full-time basis. Her articles appear on websites as diverse as U.S. News and World Report, USA Today, Hipmunk, Roots Rated, and Travelocity.