When you’re leading teams and organizations, you have a lot on your plate. Improving your leadership skills might not be at the top of your list.
However, taking the time to consider how you lead and how that impacts business metrics can be a huge benefit to the organization.
On the flip side, never considering how your leadership affects other people can be harmful to your team and career.
According to Forbes, leaders who are rated in the bottom 10% percentile contribute to employee turnover, lost productivity, and low team engagement.
All things that a leader wants to avoid.
With a leader with great leadership skills, a company can accomplish more, stay ahead of changing trends, attract top talent, and keep team members at all levels inspired and motivated.
So what makes a good leader?
This post will explore the qualities, strengths, and weaknesses of great leaders, along with practical tips for how to continually work on your skills.
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Qualities of a good leader
Contrary to popular belief, leaders aren’t born.
There are many qualities that make leaders successful, which can be either ingrained from a young age or learned with experience.
Skip to the sections listed to learn more, or keep reading for the full list of qualities of a good leader.
- Encouragement and support
- Strong communication skills and a clear vision
- Approachable and confident
What makes an effective leader: Important strengths to have
To create this list, we asked other managers and executives what they believe the most important qualities are. Is it being a good listener? Or is it about never straying from your vision?
We also looked at leading research on the topic, and combined learnings into this set of qualities.
Unsurprisingly, real-world experience and survey results provided similar qualities.
So, how can you be a good leader and a manager?
Being engaged and interested in the work is a necessary quality for a leader.
After all, no one looks up to a disinterested leader.
“In order to be a great leader, you have to be passionate,” explained Gabriel Shaoolian, founder and executive director at DesignRush.
“That’s one thing I look for in everyone I hire and promote. If you’re not passionate about what you do, you won’t succeed at much of anything because you’ll always be pushing through that lack of motivation and excitement.”
Being a leader means demonstrating the behaviors you want your staff to embody, as well. Drive and passion can be contagious — a great side effect to this leadership quality.
“Passionate leaders invigorate teams, facilitate meaningful connections and drive results. Passion also helps cultivate a positive and engaging company culture. This is essential for business success,” Shaoolian continued.Passionate leaders invigorate teams, facilitate meaningful connections, and drive results. Click To Tweet
2. Encouragement and support
When you’re a leader, you’re not just responsible for yourself and your own aspirations.
You need to take your team’s individual drives and motivations into account.
In a SurveyMonkey leadership report, 43% of respondents said that feeling appreciated makes them more confident.
“Great leaders should naturally support and lift up others, as opposed to being hungry and ambitious for solely their own interests,” said Stacy Caprio, founder at Growth Marketing.
Many people take the approach known as “servant leadership.”
For Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers, that means treating your team as if they are your customers. If they are facing obstacles or risks, align the proper resources and people for them.
“For example, if they are about to tackle a project they don’t have experience with, set up a meeting with them, you, and the most experienced person. Prepare questions and scenarios to ask about in the meeting,” Breyer said. “Being engaged and helpful will set them up for success.”
After all, your team’s success is directly tied to your success.
The servant leadership balancing act
However, taking on a servant leadership approach can have its potential downsides.
Just ask Tasia Duske, CEO of the Museum Hack, a multimillion dollar company dedicated to reimagining the museum experience. (Maybe you’ve heard of the Game of Thrones tour of The Met?)
Here’s what she warned about when embodying servant leadership 100%.
“Servant leadership has always been part of my approach with employees and clients. I embodied The Giving Tree, drawing personal and professional meaning from making others happy, solving problems for them, and giving all I had 24/7.
Over time I realized this type of leader, while popular with employees, is not sustainable. Without the focus on development, managers rescue vs. empower, and the cycle continues.
I came to a new realization: a true servant leader is like being a compassionate coach, someone who raises their people up to their full potential. It can be, and often is, uncomfortable.
You must be fierce, strong, and occasionally unpopular — which sometimes contradicts the expectations of a female leader. To me, having the courage and willingness to embrace this is selfless.”
While it’s important to support and motivate your team, it’s not your responsibility to give them your all to the point of not encouraging their own personal development.
Find that balance, and you’ll be destined for growth.
3. Strong communication skills and a clear vision
It’s hard to rally a team if you haven’t clearly communicated exactly what they’re rallying around.
Craig Murphy, managing director of ALT Agency, leads a team of 8 web designers, developers, and project managers.
His first piece of advice for other leaders: be direct on goals.
“Have a clear vision that can be clearly conveyed, ingrained in every member of staff, executed upon by every member of staff, and be at the core of all actions taken by a company,” Murphy said.
Communicating this vision from the start when a new hire is added or a team is shifting important. Listen to our podcast on better agency leadership here.
As is communication of all kinds, including during times of change.
Having strong communication skills can ensure your team knows where you stand, where the company is going, and how they fit in.
Siddhartha Gupta, CEO of Mercer-Mettl, explained:
“While working in a startup and overseeing its eventual acquisition by a global consulting giant, I have come to realize this one thing:
If you are leading people, it has to be participative and collaborative.
In times of leadership change, people tend to perceive it as a loss of business vision. Or they fear their role might change.
I held various meetings and business lunches with each department to clearly and transparently communicate to them where we are, where we want to be, and what we expect from them.”
If you’re a leader, it’s always a good idea to assess and sharpen your skills so you can overcome the most common communication challenges.
“Open communication helps develop trust and a healthy relationship with your subordinates,” said Brett Helling, CEO of Gigworker. “They should feel comfortable in sharing both their success and problems with you. You should be clear about your expectations of them. It is your job to ensure that you and your employees are on the same page,”
One way to do this? Hold regular team meetings and one-to-one sessions to bridge the communication gap with team members.
4. Approachable and confident
While these two qualities might not appear similar at first glance, but it is the act of balancing both that will lead to great results.
Drew Fortin is the SVP of sales and marketing at The Predictive Index; a company that recently conducted a survey of over 5,100 employees about what makes a great manager.
“Our research found that the best leaders have a strong work ethic, are honest, self-aware, confident, have a sense of humor, and maintain a positive attitude,” Fortin explained.
Being confident doesn’t mean you have to be serious. In fact, employees appreciate managers who are human, have a sense of humor and self-awareness (which we’ll cover more in the following section).
Just be cautious not to go too far the other way, and lose respect by being too friendly or not confident enough in your own skills.
Paul A. Dillon, a consultant and Adjunct Instructor, Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University echoed this sentiment.
He said, like many other respondents, that some of the top qualities that successful leaders possess are integrity, decisiveness, and confidence in your own competence.
“But, without the ability to be selfless,” Dillon said, “To put the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to follow you to a place where they wouldn’t go to by themselves.”
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Leadership weakness: Downfalls to avoid at all costs
When you’re reporting to a manager or leader, it’s easy to recognize “bad” qualities.
As time goes on, and you’re promoted with more responsibilities, it can be easy to lose touch of the subpar qualities you saw in your own managers.
Especially when you’re overly taxed on work and responsibilities.
So, here’s a refresher. These are the leadership qualities that make a bad manager — in other words, leadership weaknesses to try to work on or improve.
1. Becoming robotic
Your role as a leader includes making sure that processes and teams are in place to succeed.
But when you’re focused so much on systems and tools, you might forget to nurture relationships and develop the skills of your staff.
Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVOIP, reminded us of how critical team morale building is:
“Make sure that you take the time to connect with your team on a human level, or else you risk work becoming a robotic experience,” he said. “Over time, quality will suffer. Sometimes, that means being vulnerable as the leader. Other times, that means allowing your teammates to fail without fear.”
When you limit yourself to only checking tasks off a list or focusing solely on driving sales, you risk employee turnover, disengaged teams, and falling short of goals.
It’s worth repeating: Team member happiness is still an important metric.
2. Inability to delegate
This one will strike a chord if you’ve ever had this type of boss.
The one who refuses to let go of projects or tasks, or who wants to be involved in making the least important decisions.
One major weakness of a bad manager is to never hand off work, or let their team run with an idea once the strategy has been set.
The ability to delegate — and to do so without micromanaging — is absolutely key. For reaching goals, for better outcomes, and for happier teams.
“A boss or manager cannot do everything themselves, which is why staff members are hired in the first place,” said Clare Watson, operations director at Zolv.
“To lead effectively, you need to be able to focus on the key responsibilities only you can achieve, while assigning other tasks to the specialists around you.
This empowers your team to achieve things on their own, which will leave them with a real sense of responsibility and accomplishment when the job is done,” Watson continued.
Similarly, micromanaging is nothing but harmful.
Not only because it pulls you away from more important tasks, but also because it doesn’t allow team members to grow and challenge themselves.
“Leaders hire the right staff to take roles and duties off their hands so what’s the point in interfering?” Murphy asked.
“Secondly, as a leader you need to be focused on coaching staff when required and ensuring that sales, profits, marketing plans, and other activities are all being executed. You need to ensure that the business is on an upwards trajectory.”
3. Lack of self-awareness, or low emotional intelligence
According to a Forbes article, a study of the stock performance of 486 publicly traded companies found that companies with strong financial performance tend to have employees with higher levels of self-awareness than poorly performing companies.
Understanding yourself, your role in the company and team, and how it impacts performance is crucial to becoming a great leader.
When talking about self-awareness, the phrase emotional intelligence comes to mind.
The same article defines emotional intelligence as “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”
You’ve likely had a boss at one point who was argumentative, or who frequently steamrolled conversations — making it difficult to reach a conclusion or feel confident in your work.
As the graphic below shows, these are all signs of low emotional intelligence. And, qualities to try to avoid when leading teams.
4. Being too rigid
In 2007, Laura Spawn and her brother founded a company based on flexible, legitimate telecommute job openings.
Since then, the company called Virtual Vocations has helped more than two million job seekers in their remote job searches.
In building the company and growing as leaders, one necessary quality emerged: adaptability.
Not only for leaders, but also for the remote teams that report to them.
“Adaptability is just as important to telecommuters as their computer, and that’s particularly true for those in leadership positions,” Spawn said. “Managers often find themselves overseeing large, ever-rotating teams and trying to stay one step ahead on the latest technology, especially when remote. With tasks like that on your docket, you can’t be flustered by change.”
Being open to new ideas and revising processes will make you a better leader.
Encourage your team to think critically about their work, and to bring their thoughts to the table freely.
They’ll feel ownership over their work, and you’ll be alerted to processes or projects that could be improved for the better.
What are leadership growth opportunities?
Hopefully, by this point, you’ve found a few qualities or skills to work on as a leader.
Or maybe you feel good about everything we’ve covered. In which case, great!
However, as a leader, it’s important to practice career and personal growth so that your team knows you value it.
Modeling the behavior you want to encourage is — you guessed it — another quality of great leaders.
How to be better and grow as a leader
1. Look for example leaders and mentors
No matter where you are in your career, there’s always a role or professional you can look up to.
Seek out guidance from peers or find a mentor. They could be from within your own company, or outside of it. The added benefit of networking with other leaders doesn’t hurt, either.
“I’ve found being a leader and having leaders in the trenches with me, helps everyone involved and inspires people to work harder, since they see the leader cares so much and is in it with them,” Caprio of Growth Marketing explained.
In fact, many leaders credit their early mentors or peers for their success today.
“While I am the CMO of a 1,000-person company, I was fortunate to have gotten my start by learning directly from the company’s founders,” explained Yaniv Masjedi of Nextiva. “Receiving their direct tutelage was a huge boon to my career, as I was able to pick up many new skills quickly.”
Masjedi continued by saying one founder’s humility and open-mindedness made him a great educator and resource. It’s something Masjedi emulates with his own team.
“I ensure that they feel welcome and valued at all times. When they have questions, I want them to feel comfortable asking me,” Masjedi said. “We are all here to grow and develop as professionals. Real leaders, in my opinion, empower their team members.”
Turn to books for guidance
Not sure where to find a mentor? Turn to the pages for ideas.
Leadership books and business podcasts are almost too easy to find.
If your schedule doesn’t allow for in-person mentoring, you can also find good ideas from leaders who have been there.
“For refining your skills, there are three things that have helped me the most: reading books by leaders you respect, having conversations with leaders you respect, and staying involved in many HR aspects of the company,” said William Lipovsky, Founder & CEO of First Quarter Finance.
“A company is a group of people with a shared goal. It would be incredibly difficult to run a company well without being in touch with people.”
Want to learn more about how Lipovsky successfully leads his remote team? Check out this growth story.
2. Break down the management wall
Just like Masjedi, great managers know how to create conversation within teams.
Fostering a collaborative environment where great ideas can take off is the first step.
The second step is to listen.
Leadership tip: Listen more than you talk
One way to assess your communication skills as a leader is to see how often people respond when you ask questions.
Communication should be a dialogue, not one person messaging to a larger group.
Break down the management wall so that ideas can flow freely and issues can be addressed sooner rather than later.
Being a leader means listening to your team’s challenges and making decisions based on that information.
“Great leaders should be willing to listen to team members, and have bi-weekly catch-ups to stay in contact,” said James Norquay, SEO and content marketing director at Prosperity Media.
Not every concern will require action from you to fix it; sometimes just hearing someone out and helping them understand the reasoning behind a decision will bring clarity.
3. Know your values, live your values
Quick quiz: Do you know what your company’s mission and values are?
If you’re a little fuzzy on it, so is your team.
If you’re crystal clear on it, how often do you share it with your team? Does your behavior model the values set forth by the company?
Getting everyone on the same page when it comes to larger goals and shared values can be a huge boost to team engagement.
One way you can do this is to share customer success stories within your company on an ongoing basis. Showing how a company’s vision translates into real success for customers is a powerful tool for team building.
Maybe you don’t have your brand values written down yet. No worries — it’s never too late to start.
“Something that really helped me develop my own leadership skills along with the other founders was to ask ourselves what really matters to us both as business owners and individuals, and what we want to achieve with our business in the long run,” said James Lintern, co-founder and director at RotaCloud.
“By locking this stuff down and sharing it with our team, we always have something to base our decisions on, and there is a degree of fairness and consistency to our leadership,” Lintern continued. “Staff know what’s expected of them, while we as managers are able to act as mentors rather than simply managers, living to the exact same set of values that we judge them by.”
4. Encourage a culture of transparency
While divulging too many details about your business to staff can feel frightening, the outcomes can be beneficial.
According to a recent survey, 31% of employees said that more transparency regarding the overall health of the business would allow them to better understand their employer’s goals.
Seeing how they fit into the larger goals of a business can help employees find their place and contribute in a more meaningful way.
“Transparency is a quality that embraces solutions, not keeping problems on the down low. If you have an employee who is frustrated, then take that negative energy and come up with a proper solution,” explained Kuba Koziej, CEO and Co-Founder at Zety.
“Employee feedback earns trust through transparency. As a CEO, you must lead by example here.”
So how do you embrace transparency?
“It means having objectives, tasks, and results available to everyone in the company. It means complete transparency, all the time, every day, even when it comes back to bite you in the butt,” Koziej said.
Here at Hubstaff, we’re a proud Open Startup that embraces revenue transparency.
In addition to have our annual and quarterly goals made public to our team, we also keep our financials open for anyone to see. You can check out our Baremetrics dashboard for yourself.
Making our revenue public keeps our team accountable for their experiments. Seeing whether one marketing tactic or a new feature rollout caused a shift in our metrics helps us learn about what works and what doesn’t.
Being transparent is an efficient way to communicate important lessons to our internal team.
No matter what type of company culture you take on, make sure you’re consistent with your efforts.
“Culture is about consistency; it is like going to the gym every day or eating healthy,” said Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last.
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5. Think like a consultant
What exactly do we mean by that? Let’s check back in with Tasia Duske.
“Consultants often do not have the luxury of time,” said Duske. “They get in, ask questions, and create fierce action plans to address issues quickly and directly.”
Being a leader that affects change, inspires teams, and reaches ambitious goals requires a more forward-thinking approach.
Much like how consultants operate.
“Regardless of which position you’re in or how long you plan to be in that role, operate as if you had only one year to do your best possible work and create the largest positive impact,” Duske continued.
Seize your leadership future
By strengthening the skills mentioned here and avoiding harmful behaviors, you’ll see a change in your team (and yourself) in no time.
Interested in reading more? See our guide on how to lead your team through a failure.
Which qualities are most important to you as a leader? How are you working to improve them?