Top 10 Qualities of the Most Effective Leaders

By Kate Eby | December 14, 2022

Interested in becoming the most effective leader possible? Of course you are – who isn’t? But leaders aren’t created overnight. In fact, most leaders develop and refine their skills over the course of their career.

What’s the secret sauce to becoming the best leader? In this article, we’ll walk you through the top 10 traits that strong leaders possess. Then we’ll give you actionable steps to help you become the most effective leader possible.

What Defines a Good Leader?

A good leader is someone who not only gets things done, but is also confident in their abilities, communicates clearly, motivates those around them, and encourages growth and opportunity through trial and error.

Think of someone who you consider a good leader. Odds are, they possess most, if not all, of these traits. Steve Jobs didn’t build a worldwide device empire by happenstance, nor did Martin Luther King Jr. lead a fundamental movement that inspired the world by sitting back and letting things happen. 

That’s not to say that you can’t be these types of powerful, effective, world-altering leaders, too. In fact, anyone is capable of building these qualities through concrete practices modeled by Jobs, King, and the like. 

Let’s dive in.

Top 10 Traits of an Effective Leader

Most effective leaders share a handful of qualities that make them efficient, trusted, and inspiring, as listed below:

  1. An ability to empower and nurture others
  2. A clear and consistent focus on communication
  3. A high level of emotional intelligence 
  4. Superior problem-solving skills
  5. General respect and empathy toward others 
  6. An unmatched ability to actively listen
  7. The foresight to take on work – and know when to delegate
  8. The ability to be flexible and adaptable – while also taking accountability 
  9. A force when it comes to staying ahead of the curve
  10. An open-minded and clear-headed attitude 
Top 10 Traits of an Effective Leader

Now, let’s dig deeper into each of these traits.

An Ability to Empower and Nurture Others

The ability to empower others to learn, grow, and succeed is arguably one of the most important traits of a good leader.

To be an effective leader, you must invest in your relationship with others, consistently motivate those around you, and show the utmost respect for the work they’re doing. Providing motivation is especially important in moments of setbacks or failure, which are inevitable. A strong leader will tease out the lesson within the challenge and nurture each person through their journey.

You’re also responsible for serving as a problem solver when issues arise and are always transparent, which helps empower others.

A Clear and Consistent Focus on Communication

To be effective, great leaders have to be great communicators. Beyond being clear and consistent in their own communication, they’re also able to listen to others and take meaningful action based on what they hear.

You should always ask for feedback and answer questions directly, which allows people to learn and grow from you. That said, you must also read the room — implicitly — and tailor their communication to meet people where they are.

For example, when talking to your direct reports, you might be more relaxed and casual. But when engaging in a roundtable discussion with C-suite executives, you’d be more buttoned up and formal, getting to the point and highlighting key takeaways right away.

A High Level of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is defined by the ability to know, control, and express emotions with empathy and judiciousness. It’s a key factor in successfully managing both personal and professional relationships.

As a solid leader, you should be extremely emotionally intelligent. You must be able to inspire, guide, and empathize with people, and always consider how your thoughts and actions might affect others.

In professional situations, leaders are responsive to conflict, not reactive. You handle tricky situations with ease and grace, and allow others to express their thoughts on how things should move forward.

Superior Problem-Solving Skills

In any project, hiccups are inevitable. But great leaders handle issues as they pop up and give clear, strategic advice — that’s what differentiates great leaders from not-so-great leaders. 

You, as a strong leader, should typically provide multiple solutions for a single problem and can back up their advice with data, personal experiences, or anecdotal evidence.

Although you don’t necessarily need to have all the answers, you should be able to provide direction in terms of resources to leverage or people to consult in order to get the project back on track.

General Respect and Empathy Toward Others 

Related to emotional intelligence, the best leaders always show respect and empathy for others — this helps foster a healthy dynamic among their team and the larger organization.

You should treat everyone on your team as equals, regardless of their role, level of seniority, or background. In a similar vein, you should hear out everyone, recognize good work when it’s due, and listen and respect everyone’s perspective.

All in all, you should cultivate a culture of mutual respect among everyone in their orbit. This enables everyone to have a positive attitude throughout their time together.

An Unmatched Ability to Actively Listen 

Good leaders follow a very simple rule: Listen more than you speak. Not only does this show respect for those sharing their thoughts, it also gives team members a chance to feel heard and appreciated.

To encourage active listening, set up recurring times to check in individually with each team member. Use this opportunity to listen to their thoughts and feelings, both in professional and personal realms.

This not only helps build relationships, but it also provides a chance for people to get feedback and hear input — which contributes to a larger culture of constructive criticism.

The Foresight to Take on Work – and Know When to Delegate

Good leaders step up to take on work as the opportunity presents itself. That said, strong leaders are all extremely cognizant of their — and their team’s – bandwidth and know when to delegate work.

As priorities change and new projects come in, prioritize the most important work, and pass off work that is better suited for someone else, both in terms of skills and availability. 

Ensure you have a good handle on what your own team members are most interested in so that you can make executive decisions that benefit the whole group. Truly, you are considered a time management master and can decipher what you can take on, when you can do so, and what you realistically need to hand off in order to deliver projects on time.

The Ability to Be Flexible and Adaptable – While also Taking Accountability

A great team leader should be the first person responding to any changes or issues that arise. The leader’s responses and actions should be well thought out, logical, and informed to the best of their ability.

When you, as a leader, embrace a flexible mindset, you can quickly adapt to shifting work and go with the flow. This is important, as too much rigidity can cause more stress and friction or interfere with other ongoing work. 

Related to many of the traits above, such as the ability to problem solve and communicate clearly, you should remain flexible, but also take accountability for issues as they pop up and solve them quickly.

A Force When It Comes to Staying Ahead of the Curve

Strong leaders are trendsetters. A confident, informed leader will take it upon themselves to stay up-to-date on the most innovative trends hitting the market or new products that could help boost their effectiveness.

To that end, you should research market trends, talk with technology leaders, and even attend conferences and other networking events that are related to the work you – and your team – are doing on a regular basis.

That way, your team can feel confident in you and rest assured that you’re making the best, most well-informed decisions that positively impact the business as a whole.

An Open-Minded and Clear-Headed Attitude 

Last but not least, a leader must remain open-minded and able to view things from many different perspectives and angles. This is especially important since they work with so many different types of people and stakeholders.

Go into new projects with a clear and open mind, ready to take on challenges and approach new programs with enthusiasm. This will encourage others around you to do the same, which creates a positive, welcoming, and productive environment for all.

Steps to Become a More Effective Leader 

Now that you know what qualities a good leader possesses, let’s go over some actionable steps you can take to become a better, more effective leader.

  1. Engage in honest and open communication with team members: Allow space for team members to come to you with questions, concerns, and general feedback so everyone feels heard and respected.
  2. Encourage constructive criticism: A regular feedback loop is beneficial to everyone, as it brings new ideas to the table and sheds light on things that may have originally been overlooked. As they always say, two (or many!) heads are better than one.
  3. Practice what you preach: If you ask your team members to be open, honest, respectful, and enthusiastic, then you must embody those traits, too. Take the lead on how you want others to be treated, and you will form a positive, effective team. 
  4. Listen more than you speak: Active listening is key to everyone’s success. Ask questions, request feedback, and encourage others to share their thoughts before you decide on next steps.
  5. Delegate work: No leader is capable of doing everything, so make sure you’re handing off work when it’s appropriate, and perform regular gut checks to make sure everyone – yourself included – is working toward the goals that matter most.
  6. Always remain flexible: Remember that things will inevitably shift. Projects will hit roadblocks, and resources will change. Instead of remaining rigid in your approach, take these changes in stride and update your plans accordingly.
  7. Be proactive in learning and taking on new approaches: Take it upon yourself to continuously educate yourself and stay up to date with new trends in your industry. You, your team, and your work product will all benefit from this approach.
  8. Remain open-minded in your problem solving: Leaders aren’t expected to answer every question and solve every problem thrown their way. But so long as you remain open-minded and leverage resources effectively, and ensure you’re taking everything into consideration, you’ll end up making the best-informed decisions.

Go Forth and Become a Great Leader

Now that you have a solid understanding of what defines a good leader and the traits they embody, you can use this article as a stepping stone to shape yourself into an effective leader, too.

Take the top 10 traits outlined above and start applying them in your day-to-day professional life to ensure you’re consistently putting your best foot forward when it comes to becoming a solid, impactful leader.

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When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free today.

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