Your leadership traits are the qualities that define your success. Do you know the critical traits and skills of an effective leader in 21st-century America? Moreover, how you can build on your existing key leadership qualities and join the ranks of the best leaders?

All great leaders are self-confident. Of course, leadership styles vary depending on the leader’s role and goals of their organization. But, the most committed managers share several top leadership traits. Examples are excellent communication, confidence, accountability, vision, and others that can be taught and learned.

You don’t need to be a natural-born leader to excel, and very few people are. This piece examines the seven shared leadership qualities and traits of the most effective leaders. You will learn why they are so vital in the modern workplace. There are suggestions under each trait to get you thinking about how to grow and refine these essential assets.

First, a quick look at the difference between leadership traits and skills and the characteristics possessed by bad leaders.

Leadership Traits Vs. Skills

Business writers often use traits and skills interchangeably. However, although there is a relationship, there are distinct differences. For example, a leadership trait refers to your natural or developed leadership qualities and characteristics. And skill is your ability to perform a task from acquired knowledge, practice, and aptitude.

However, soft skills or people skills are character traits. Leaders with developed soft skills display interpersonal talents when interacting with others.

Leadership Traits that Hold Back Careers

Poor leaders are unpopular with their teams for several reasons. And like exceptional leaders, poor managers or supervisors also share some common traits.
The negative characteristics of a poor leader include one or all the following: 

  • Inability to communicate in an effective manner
  • Quick to pass blame and slow to take responsibility
  • Dismissive of ideas outside their own
  • Not open to self growth and leadership development programs
  • Inconsistent behavior creates workplace uncertainty
  • Chronically indecisive
  • Unreasonably bossy
  • Showcase a lack of empathy

Bad management deters employee engagement, which is necessary to drive organizational performance and improve worker retention.

Strong Leadership Lacking in 77% of Organizations
Around 10,000 baby boomers retire every day in the US, adding to the management vacancy crisis. This shortfall in leaders is largely down to a lack of effective succession planning. But the desperation to fill positions often risks inexperienced and incompetent managers entering and advancing through the leadership pipeline [1].

Acknowledging Weakness Makes a Great Leader

Poorly performing leaders don’t see themselves as others do, so they rarely seek solutions. Most only focus on their strengths and are oblivious to their weaknesses [2]. Often bad leaders assign cause for their shortcomings to external factors rather than their own failure.

Conversely, a progressive leader is open to periodic high-quality assessments. They want to know about their weak points and build on them. Self-awareness and a willingness to change is the only way to improve. This approach exponentially grows the soft leadership skills needed to lead appropriately and drive the organization forward.

Leadership Traits that Benefit Business and People

A college degree and technical skills are career stepping stones, while leadership traits are the soft skills developed on the job. There are no stereotypical leadership qualities. However, there are traits that the most successful leaders embrace and include in some form into their leadership style. How these qualities manifest is determined by your work and the teams you lead. 

Leaders Are More than Workplace Delegators
A leader is not simply a manager, someone in a position of authority. Instead, true leaders maintain power and influence due to genuine support from willing followers… according to Scott Taylor, Professor of Organizational Behavior [3]. Not all managers are true leaders that inspire, support, and lead their direct reports.

7 Effective Leadership Traits

These seven traits are not about job titles or role responsibilities. They are the qualities of a great influencer, someone who inspires the people around them to excel.

  • Confidence
  • Accountability
  • Authenticity
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Triple Focus
  • Vision
  • Decisiveness

There are others, but they cross over into the seven leadership traits above, including resilience, honesty, inspiration, active listening, and delegation.

#1 Self-Confidence Gets Results

The confidence trait is the basis for all growth in both men and women leaders. Women in leadership positions often receive feedback that confidence is the area of improvement where they need to focus, which is not as straightforward as it seems.

Effective leadership cannot exist without self-confidence. It is needed to address difficult conversations and make tough decisions. Poise borne of confidence bestows a strong sense of worth and faith in your abilities to follow through. Also, teams trust and respect confident leaders.

How to Develop Workplace Confidence

Whether you are a leader or expect to become one, there is always plenty more to learn. Confidence building requires a proactive approach.

Make a habit of looking assertive even if you don’t feel it. Or, to put it another way, fake it until it begins to feel natural. Network more with other leaders. And if you need support, ask for help and constructive feedback from more experienced, trusted colleagues.
Other practical confidence-building exercises to consider are:

  • Take a self-awareness development program
  • Learn and apply positive psychology
  • Use your acquired skills and knowledge to help others succeed
  • Celebrate wins with colleagues and teams
  • Develop an increased sense of emotional intelligence (EQ) 
  • Develop a sense of humor. It also improves leader-follower relationships [4]

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#2 Accountability

Accountable leaders commit to the organization they serve and the people they lead. They hold themselves responsible for their actions and decisions, whatever the outcome. They also take onus for the actions and decisions made by the teams that report to them. Accountable leaders are also quick to give praise and credit where it’s due.

How to Develop Accountability

Know your role inside out, and don’t commit to an unrealistic workload. Be candid and admit oversights as you make them. And apologize when something goes wrong, but only if it’s necessary. Lastly, pause to reflect and learn from past mistakes. Consider what you can do to recognize issues that create a different outcome next time.

#3 Authenticity

An authentic leader radiates a sense of purpose and comes across as genuine and approachable. To be authentic is to care about your job and the people you lead. Thus, authentic leaders build healthy relationships with teams and establish real connections. It’s true; employees take more interest and care in their work when directed by an authentic leader.

How to Develop an Authentic Leadership Style

Authenticity begins by expressing yourself, telling the truth, and treating those around you how you would like them to treat you. An authentic leadership style combines inherent qualities and acquired skills. Many leaders opt for personal coaching to develop this essential trait.

Leadership Coaching Improves Learning Capacity
A 2017 study revealed that leadership training programs improved participants’ learning capacity by up to 25% and performance levels by 20% [5].

#4 Interpersonal Skills (Relationships)

Education and job experience mean little in leadership if you lack the interpersonal skills to effectively share that knowledge and experience with others. It is an ability that crosses over to many other traits listed here. This one is all about effective and open communication in the workplace.

How to Develop Your Interpersonal Skills

Great leaders develop interpersonal skills by honing in on the following:

  • Communication, verbal and non-verbal
  • Active listening (see below)
  • Compassion & empathy
  • Feedback, including constructive criticism
  • Honesty & trust
  • Self-awareness
  • Selflessness

#5 Triple Focus Leadership Traits

There are three areas of focused leadership, Self, Relationships, and Strategy. This type of focus is not about concentrating on tasks. Instead, it’s about allocating your attention. Leaders who possess this trait can manage their attention where it’s needed most and lead with laser-like triple focus.

How to Develop Your Focus

SELF-Focus means being mindful—and letting go—of those things that would otherwise distract you. It frees the mind so that you can concentrate on what really matters. Examples of inner focus are self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-censorship.

RELATIONSHIPS-Focus prioritizes your attention on the quality of relationships. That typically includes subordinates, colleagues, customers, and peers. A leader who focuses on others gains respect for the quality of their relationships. 

STRATEGIC-Focus is the ability to envision future opportunities. This outward focus helps you connect current situations to long-term goals and initiatives to map outcomes well into the future.

Companies Failing to Choose the Right Leaders
According to a Gallup survey, 82% of companies fail to choose the right person for the advertised positions. Yet the natural talent is often already in-house, hiding in plain sight, suggests the report [6].

#6 Vision

Leadership vision is a trait that permeates the workplace. It manifests in several ways, notably through the leader’s values, beliefs, actions, and goals. Furthermore, having a clear vision is an attractive quality. It manifests and shares desired outcomes to positively affect the employees engaged with you and the active project.

How to Develop Vision

Vision is not only something you acquire; it’s also a natural trait. Like so many leadership qualities, vision stems from within. To develop leadership vision, practice positivity, and foster a glass half full mentality. Other self-help tools include self-reflection, mindfulness, clarity, and enhanced communication.

#7 Decisiveness

Great leaders are decisive. They have a natural or developed ability to make clear decisions in a timely manner. Moreover, a decisive leader makes decisions based more on productivity and less on company politics. Clear-sighted people also leverage the knowledge and expertise of their teams in decision-making processes.

Workers Engaged in Decision-Making Increases Morale
Participative leadership actively engages workers in the decision-making process. Research shows that this increases workplace attitudes, job satisfaction, and overall company morale [7].

How to Develop Leadership Decisiveness

Decisiveness—like other leadership traits—requires you to commit to stepping outside your comfort zone. Be wide open to change and prepare to overcome your fears. Try not to major in minor details as you visualize potential outcomes. Instead, break the process down into smaller decisions and focus on progress, not perfection.

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Closing Comments on Leadership Traits

Leaders who develop and display the right traits are not only great leaders but models for others looking to become better leaders. They share their vision with others and strive to empower those they guide. Great leaders radiate confidence and authenticity and have the personality traits that inspire those around them. Moreover, they are decisive, focused, and bring out the best in those who follow them.