When you think of the best and most inspirational leaders, who comes to mind?
Do you envision a titan of industry? A philosopher? A politician? You might even think a bit closer to home and recall a teacher or coach who guided you through your formative years.
Regardless of whom you envision as the ideal leader, the responses probably have some strong similarities across the board. That’s because while leaders may have their own unique personalities and strengths, they share some common traits when they’re successful at guiding their organizations and motivating their teams.
Which traits are most important for leaders? Let’s start with the top five.
These top five traits are critical for any leader seeking to enhance their abilities, connect with their teams, and improve their opportunities for success.
Communication is more than the words you say when you’re leading a group or a meeting. It’s the whole package – words, tones, gestures, posture, and facial expressions. It’s the way you respond when others communicate with you.
All day, every day, you communicate with goals in mind – to be heard, to be understood, to persuade, to inspire, to effect change.
Strong leaders strive to align what they say with what they do and will take ownership when they do not. They also keep their bucket filled so they can avoid miscommunications that arise from being physically, emotionally, or mentally drained and reactive.
Almost half the time, people are functioning on autopilot – letting their minds wander and/or interacting with others without thoughtfully considering the impact of their decisions. When people operate on autopilot, they rely on habits and characteristics they apply without conscious thought.
As a leader, you may find yourself going on autopilot when you’re stressed or overwhelmed, interacting with your team members in ways you regret later. As a self-aware leader, you can gain a better understanding of how you appear to others and how you might adapt your communication and interpersonal connections depending on your audience.
Leadership development focuses on developing mental models that make leaders more fully aware of their motivations and their interactions.
Every single interaction we have with others either strengthens the relationship (relationship-building) or breaks it down (relationship-separating). If you’re conducting these interactions on autopilot and with a low level of self-awareness, you may be causing damage that’s hard to repair.
To be more self-aware:
Gain an understanding of how your leadership is affecting the environment. What is it like to work for you? A help you understand your motivations, communication preferences, and leadership styles as pathways to goal-based success.
Understand your own leadership style and how it may come across to the people around you. Leadership development training offers insight into your specific style of leadership and prepares you for managing interactions with other people’s specific personality types.
Spend more time reflecting, prioritizing, and gathering information. Talk to people around you – a fellow manager, an executive coach, or even your team members – to get an outsider’s perspective on the way you’re coming across to the people with whom you interact.
Everyone has the capability to do more and be more successful. As a leader, it is your responsibility to harness motivation and use it to fuel your success and the success of your team members.
Leaders who are motivated also energize their teams and boost their capacity. Motivated leaders will set goals that are specific and challenging, yet attainable.
They’ll find ways to clear barriers for their team members and ensure they’re providing the communication and support that will empower their team members to focus on goals.
Have you ever moved a team member to a leadership role, then watched them flounder under the weight of a new set of expectations? Maybe you’ve encountered this experience yourself when you’ve transitioned from working as an individual contributor to leading a team.
Companies often identify the potential of people who are strong in supporting roles. They transition those high performers into leadership positions and the high performers may struggle with letting things go or trusting team members to perform as well as they would.
Delegation is one of the most underdeveloped leadership traits and one that has the However, many leaders are afraid to delegate lest they give up control and their team members let them down.
To delegate well, ensure tasks are being assigned to the right people and that the expectations and level of autonomy are clear.
Encourage clear and transparent communication to ensure the team members are letting you know whether they have the resources and bandwidth to do their jobs. Give team members the room and opportunity to try and fail, then support them as they try again.
Leaders with high emotional intelligence use their problem-solving skills and their empathy to build stronger interpersonal relationships, reduce or manage conflict, and create connections that lead to success.
Emotional intelligence is a learned skill – one that can be acquired through leadership development training. It’s the number one predictor of performance (90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence) and one of the most sought-after skills for professional success.
What other skills do exceptional leaders seek to develop?
Leaders who are good listeners may be more accurately characterized as good observers – people who are paying attention to the full context of the conversations they’re having.
When you listen, you’re only accessing one portion of the message your conversational partners are sending you. Factor in the context beyond the words – the emotion that’s connected to them, the non-verbal messages they’re sending.
Good leaders/listeners tune-in with curiosity and without judgment.
Great leaders know things won’t always flow smoothly. Instead, they develop resilience even when things go wrong.
Resilient leaders celebrate both successes and failures. When they succeed, they advance their goals, and when they fail, they look for lessons that will help them perform better on their next attempt.
Research shows that resilience develops best within a team structure. When you or your team members go through hard times or face tough challenges, the connections you build will boost your ability to rise resiliently above adverse circumstances.
Technology continues to advance and organizations shift accordingly. Research indicates that 40 percent of workers will require reskilling during the next six months to continue to meet the requirements of their roles.
Reskilling isn’t relegated to managing a computer program or learning a new coding language.
Your responsibility, then, is to be prepared to learn and to absorb leadership lessons. Instead of resting on your laurels as a leader, commit to ongoing learning and reflection.
Organizations either adapt or become obsolete, and the same goes for leaders. When change comes to your organization – whether in the form of new management, industry disruption, or other factors – leaders with self-awareness identify their reaction to change, use self-control to harness their fear and stress, and adjust their approach to meet their desired goals.
Flexible leaders learn to evaluate their situation or the people around them and to adapt in such a way that they maintain or increase their influence.
The best leaders maintain a sense of curiosity and a desire to improve themselves over time. As you continue to hone your leadership craft, set goals for yourself in each of these categories.
You can keep yourself accountable and track your success as you interact with your team members and colleagues. No matter how far you advance, there will always be more opportunities to increase your connection with your team and your capacity to lead.
SSCA offers executive coaching, leadership development, and culture work.
Read more about how we can help you boost your org’s leadership effectiveness here.