Trait of a Leader - Parameters of Leadership

By Sean Stevenson – Latest Revision February 23rd, 2021

Defining The Key Trait Of A Leader

Classifying the defining trait of any leader is a difficult task. 

These days everyone seems to define leadership in different ways.  The ideal leader is often seen through cultural norms -and preconceived parameters- that best represent the interests of a specific group.

What is commonly agreed upon, is that a leader creates superb results and envisions the path towards success. 

A good leader has a plan and can stick to it.  A great leader translates a larger vision into reality, exceeding all expectations.

Effective leadership transcends workplace titles.  It combines a unique merit and a learned discipline. 

Many people believe that leadership is a talent you are born with.  Yet, nothing could be farther from reality.  Leadership traits are a learned habit that can be actively refined with time and practice.

As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

In this article, we will explore the key traits of a leader.  In essence, we will define what characterizes effective leadership, and how you can develop your own ability to successfully lead others to optimal outcomes.

The Effective Traits of a True Leader...

But how to develop effective leadership skills?  Below are sixteen key qualities of leadership that will help develop you into an effective leader in any situation:

1. Always Be Humble, Honest, and Kind

Any leader who asks that others serve under them in common purpose, must always maintain their own humble honesty.  Kindness too, is a huge factor.  If you cannot treat others with respect, how can you possibly expect them to take you seriously?

Some might argue that authoritative approaches are better for obtaining results.  This can in certain instances be true in the short term.  However, for a sustainable approach, kindness and mutual understanding is key. 

You will always be able to approach others with kindness.  Moreover, if you are also a humble leader, your people will come to respect your sincerity of purpose.  This will gain you their trust over time.  They will come to realize that your leadership is actively ensuring their well-being.

Developing these core ethics will stir the hearts and minds of your people.  They will come to reflect the same attitudes they see through your own behavior.  So, why not make that reflection a positive one?  Inevitably, it will serve your organization well.

2. Self-Management

The most tell-tale trait of a leader is one who can master themselves first and foremost.  

Carrying out important tasks skillfully is imperative to effective leadership.  This creates an example for others to follow. 

People take heart in knowing they serve under a capable leader.  By getting things done effectively and efficiently, you will be setting a sterling example.  People under you will take notice and try to emulate your success.

One of the most important aspects of self-management is regulating your time and emotions.  Remaining in full control of one’s self means ignoring the small stuff, while focusing on the most important tasks of the day.

It must be said that leading others is often an intensive affair.  Time is undoubtedly the most precious commodity in this regard.  You’ll have to delegate tasks and utilize your own efforts carefully.  Always aim to focus on having the maximum impact.  Leave the secondary tasks for later.

As difficulties and stresses mount, you must always be able to maintain your own composure.  The most destructive thing a leader can do is to become irate toward their subordinates.  Being overly reserved or awkward is also to be avoided. 

Actions such as these are not only a display of unprofessional misconduct, but they will also alienate the most important resources at your disposal – your own people.

Workers who feel you are not adept at your position will be unlikely to help you move forward.  They may even actively withhold important information from you.  Avoid this scenario by always maintaining the best intentions and displaying the utmost professionalism. That way, even when things become difficult, you will still be in an excellent position to find actionable solutions.

Strive to balance your own abilities with your delegating of tasks to subordinates.  Set an example by “getting in the trenches” with your people. 

Remain flexible, and you will always find the best solutions going forward.

3. A Trait Of A True Leader - Be Confident

An important trait of any leader is that they can lift the morale of their people.  A leader’s very presence often has a calming effect which others react to.  

A leader who lacks confidence will soon find themselves alone and without momentum.  Conversely, a leader who can inspire others through their words and actions, can bring about heightened rates of productivity. 

However, while it is never a good idea to be abrasive, or to act cocky, it is certainly ideal to encourage others with your own strength of purpose. 

If morale is low, try to reinforce the importance of the task at hand.  It can at times also help to remind everyone of how far you have come, both as a team and an organization.

Workers who know they can rely upon their leader to see them through the day, will inevitably perform their roles better.

By remaining calm and confident, you can become a rallying point for the efforts of those around you.

Trait of a Leader

"The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority."

-Kenneth Blanchard

4. Think Strategically And Act Tactically

A cunning approach is always better than none at all.

When planning for the future always try to maintain an open mind.  Seek inspiration wherever you can, and develop unique ideas in turn.

Leaders who try to see as many ends as possible are often able to develop important insights.  Through careful observation, they can deduce information that leads to better processes, new products, cheaper suppliers, or engrossed customers.

Researching and developing a strategic mindset that improves the outcome, is a hallmark of an effective leader.  This can take several forms:

  • Avidly learning about your company’s industry and the business landscape it inhabits.
  • Creating new approaches, mindsets, and ideas to further develop a business model.
  • Carefully considering the future prospects of the company.
  • Analyzing and improving operations and processes.
  • Creating the conditions by which the organization as a whole may thrive.

5. Trait of a Leader - Inspire Everyone

A key trait of a leader is their ability to inspire others to follow them.  Often, this is done by developing interpersonal relationships that are rooted in mutual respect.

Also, when a leader develops themself to the point of being highly efficient and effective at their position, they can easily set an impressive tone for others in the workplace.  This effect is especially important when things become difficult. 

It is always during the most trying times that workers will look to their leaders for guidance.  Moreover, it must be considered an imperative for the leadership to follow through with good practices, no matter how difficult the road may be.

When workers see a leader who handles difficult situations effectively, they gain a budding sense of respect for that individual. 

As Brian Tracy so eloquently put it, “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.”  This mindset is imperative.  It leads to an inspired workforce that wishes to see their organization thrive.

A leader who can inspire others so effectively in this way, will be safeguarding the enterprise he or she serves.

6. Communicate Effectively And Listen Patiently

The most capable leaders are always meticulous in how they communicate with others.  They take the time to carefully articulate the importance of tasks, metrics, or strategies. 

However, it is also imperative that a leader listen with absolute attentiveness.  A trait of any leader who listens well to others, is that they can extrapolate the most important information and deduce the best course of action going forward.

Your best resources are your own people.  The frontline workers will always know the most about what is happening in your core business.

By communicating effectively, you can create a heightened level of productivity, while also promoting powerful professional relationships. 

Listening to others carefully will ensure you are safeguarding your interests from potential hazards.  If ever there is a significant issue, the patiently listening leader will be the first to know of it.

Trait of a Leader

"A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position."

-John Maxwell

7. Be Both Committed and Passionate

Committing to your business mission with passion and dedication is key to any effort.  The teams that serve under your guidance and leadership will always watch your example eagerly. 

A trait of true leadership is the executive who digs into the trenches alongside his subordinates.  He never falters for a minute, and is always eager to hear the words of his team members.

Infusing morale in this way, a leader can help their people perform better.  Enabling others is a key aspect of what makes any organization function.  Always try to remove barriers that get in the way of progress.

Conversely, an ineffective leader would shrink from the chance to help his or her team.  This can utterly cripple workplace morale.

By cultivating your own commitment and passion, you will inevitably gain the respect of your peers.  If you treat them the same way as you treat your work ethic, they will follow you into almost any business situation, believing that they will ultimately prevail.

8. Always Be Accountable

True leadership is about taking accountability for everything your team does.  The most successful teams today are built by leaders who exercise their authority for the betterment of all.

When things take a turn and difficulty arises, those same exemplars of leadership are the first to shoulder the blame.  They look to immediately audit the process, not the people.   

For an accountable leader, the primary concern is always the well-being of the organization as a whole.  Rather than seeking to arbitrarily diminish any individual, they will find a way to prevent problems from happening in the future.

A trait of a true leader is to assign credit by looking outwards at their subordinates.  They remain humble no matter their own accomplishments.  To accept their fair share of the credit would be to pass up an opportunity for bolstering the confidence in others.  

True leaders always strive first and foremost to find a better way forward, while encouraging those around them.  It keeps them accountable no matter the circumstances.

This form of business stewardship is an increasingly rare commodity in today’s business world.  It demands that your own personal needs are secondary to the needs of the organization you serve.

For those that can master it, the rewards are rich indeed.

9. Set Attainable Goals – And Achieve

Another trait of a leader is the setting of attainable goals.

In setting goals, a leader must realize how to best raise the bar.  Placing standards too high can create a sense of defeatism.  Especially when a particular goal seems out of reach. 

However, by setting a challenging yet attainable goal, a leader can propel a collective organization to new heights.  Workers will bask in the collective glow of their own accomplishment, even as the next plateau is being targeted.

The purposeful act of intelligent goal creation, is also known as SMART goals.

An important distinction for any SMART goal, is that it remains…:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

In setting your goals intelligently in this manner, you will be able to create a focused and decisive decision-making metric.  This will help guide your organization into a prosperous future. 

Trait of a Leader

"Just remember that any failure to achieve a goal, is by no means the end.  Persist in achieving your goals and you will eventually reach them in time..."


10. Trait Of A True Leader - Be Decisive

One of the most underrated aspects of leadership is remaining decisive. 

Once you have all of the best and most relevant information at hand, you must make a decision.  Once that decision is made, you must persist in its pursuit until you have achieved your aim.

A failure to reach a decision can create uncertainty.  An organization will flounder in its purpose if it believes its leadership cannot arrive at a coherent policy.

While you do not need to rush your decision-making process, you must certainly still remain decisive and persistent in your execution.

11. Always Have A Vision For The Future

An organization must always have a clear vision statement for its future. 

The most successful leaders today have a deep understanding of the organization that they serve.  It is through this developed clarity of purpose, that those same leaders will create systemic goals that enable their organization to better itself indefinitely. 

An irony in today’s world is that we so often associate enormous enterprises with overnight success.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth. 

Sam Walton who is best known for founding the retail giant Walmart, struggled for years during his early trials and tribulations as a retail businessman in Arkansas.  Yet, based on the dominant narratives within the media, you would almost never hear of these early days. 

In fact, Walmart only drew the attention of mainstream outlets once it had become a commercial success-story.  The dozens of significant articles that peppered prestigious news outlets gave the appearance of what can only be described as the “overnight success phenomenon.” 

In truth, Sam Walton spent years developing his business concepts.  Even more unbeknown to most, was the fact that he was once bought out by a competitor, for what Walton himself referred to as, “A fair price.”

A trait of any true leader is on display here.  The most successful business practices in modern times are founded upon sustainable and long-term thinking.  Sam Walton took years to fully develop his ideas and cultivate a foundational knowledge of the retail industry.

In reality, there is no such thing as an overnight success.  It takes years to develop a business model in any industry.

Creating your organization’s vision for a better future must be rooted in continuous improvement and a will to learn.

If you can make incremental changes that will lead to heightened productivity, do so.  If you can make common an understanding of the changes that are happening within your industry, do so.

Practice being highly accountable, adaptable, and capable.  Implement strategies today that will serve you well tomorrow.

12. Become A Problem-Solver

Every organization will face seemingly insurmountable problems.  What makes an organization great, is the capacity for its people and leadership to become problem-solvers.

This is where a true leader thrives.  In a rapidly evolving situation, it falls to an organization’s leadership to realize the best solutions in the shortest period of time.  Remaining adaptable in this regard, is key.

As our workplace environments grow increasingly complex, information becomes the most important commodity available.  Choosing the ideal course of action becomes a matter of deciphering key metrics and data.

Disruptive change should be viewed as an inevitability.  Preparing for this eventuality and being capable of solving problems quickly, will put you miles ahead of your competition.

Trait of a Leader

"A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."

-Rosalynn Carter

13. Develop Organizational Creativity and Innovation

As Steve Jobs put it so broadly, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  Perhaps ironically, the same is true not only for individuals, but for businesses.

What separates a great organization from a mediocre one, is its creative capacity.  This capacity is what allows a business model to create truly unique and innovative products.

A trait of a leader is to develop important ideas and innovations that match the core competencies of a business model.  It is not enough to simply innovate and call it a day.  One must now innovate profitably, for the betterment of their own organization, and to the utter satisfaction of customers.

A creative and innovative product can reshape our world.  Yet they are useless without the guidance of leadership.  Those who can help us recognize, create, produce, and ultimately distribute a prepackaged solution, are the benefactors of future generations.

Mark every creative spurt or innovation within your organization as a possible breakthrough for the future.  Always remain open-minded and assess new ideas with due diligence.  Empower creative thinkers and create bold plans that will propel growth.

In this way, you can make sure that new and inspired products or services will always be within your capability to fully realize.

14. Develop an Empathetic Mindset

Another important trait of leadership is the ability to develop mutual empathy with those around you.

Developing closer connections with people is not only for the sake of improving relations, but also to help foster interpersonal development and growth.

People tend to inspire one another through social means.  By developing an organization-wide empathy, and building social connections, you can create a culture of discipline that thrives in its own productive environment.

To date, most leaders are unfortunately authoritarian.  This is an erroneous mistake. 

Treat others as you would be treated yourself, and you will inspire their unwavering loyalty.  They will remain committed, both to you and the wider organization in which you work.

15. Trait of a Leader - Promote Teamwork

A dedicated and mutually respectful team can change everything.

As Margaret Mead so famously stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Utilize this mindset to promote interpersonal relations and work ethics.  Drive teams to develop heightened levels of productivity and to produce superb results.

A key trait of any leader revolves around this practice.  Successful leadership of any kind is built on an inspired foundation of team building.

Every team in existence is diverse by necessity.  Personalities, skills, and even motivations, work in tandem to drive towards a successful outcome.

Simply consider that a business is essentially a group of people striving towards a particular goal.  You will have already realized the necessity of teams.

By building and fostering powerful teamwork dynamics, your organization can see huge improvements in a relatively short period of time.

Trait of a Leader

"The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly."

-Jim Rohn

16. Develop Resilience At All Levels

Resilience -both personal and organization-wide- is a safeguard against the inevitable tribulations and trials of a globalized economy. 

Great leaders prepare their people by ensuring that they remain rallied around their common cause.

Where many might focus on negativity and the “impossible” nature of problems as they arise, a stalwart leader is already focusing on delivering attainable solutions. 

Moreover, a key trait of a leader, is that they both teach and inspire personal resilience amongst all levels of their organization.

To Conclude

In today’s hyper-competitive business landscape, you need every advantage you can muster.  In following these tenets as actively as possible, you will be setting a heightened standard for your organization. 

This will inevitably grant you the added effect of improving your own capabilities and opportunities – not only in the workplace, but also in life.

There is nothing more valuable to any organization on earth, than a leader who can aptly exercise these elements.  Used in tandem effectively, they can alter companies, industries, or even the entire globalized economy.

A trait of leadership today, is recognizing the importance of each of these elements.  Understanding their use can only come through practice and stalwart perseverance.

For your own purposes, try to deliver on each one every single day.  Even if you falter or fail, you will still be gaining valuable insights into the nature of what it means to be an elite -and true- modern leader.

Success will come after a litany of failures.  The key is to persevere to the very end.  Stay true to your vision of what the future -your future- may look like. 

One day soon enough, you will finally prevail.

Your Business Leadership Story

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