While our sense of humor and charming personalities are hereditary, our leadership skills are not. Not all leaders are simply born with innate leadership characteristics and skills—to be a good leader, many of us have to actively cultivate and improve our leadership roles and traits in order to succeed.
The best companies to work for have good leaders at the helm who define clear goals, show appreciation to employees, take responsibility for failure, and encourage innovative thinking. If you’re on the path to management or aspire to be a leader of your own company one day, take a deeper dive into these nine characteristics that all good leaders share and learn more about the women who’ve embodied these traits throughout history.
9 characteristics all good leaders share
Courage is one of the most important qualities to possess as a good leader. Courageous leaders understand that leadership isn’t a popularity contest—their success depends on being open and humble, sharing their values, and being brave enough to stand up for what’s right. Ultimately, leaders that lack courage produce burnt out teams because they fail to provide the support their employees need in order to get their work done, so good leaders can cultivate courage by being vulnerable and leaning into difficult conversations.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “I think everything is contagious. Our fear is contagious, but our courage also is. And our courage makes other people be able to be more brave…and come out of their shells, and out of their fear.” In other words, courageous leaders have the potential to influence their employees to be more fearless themselves.
Everybody receives negative feedback at some point in their career, and resilient leaders are better able to cope with those critiques. Jean Chatzky, CEO of HerMoney, says that resilience isn’t a single skill: “It’s a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive.” So, instead of only experiencing the inevitable negative emotions that come with failure, resilient leaders view adversities and mistakes as lessons to learn and grow from. And it’s beneficial for leadership’s bottom line—resilient workplaces enjoy higher employee productivity and decreased turnover.
Read more: 37 Quotes About Resilience from Women—Mostly
Self-aware leaders are emotionally intelligent and are able to interpret their individual actions, feelings, and thoughts objectively. When leaders can see themselves clearly, they’re more confident and creative, and they make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. Plus, self-awareness can impact a company’s bottom line—companies with strong financial performance tend to have good leaders with higher levels of self-awareness.
While good leaders know that they’re intelligent and capable, they also understand that they don’t always have all the answers. They actively seek opinions from others, they’re open to learning from others, and they’re willing to leave their comfort zone. A true thought leader views an issue from every perspective, collaborates to find the best solution, and takes risks in order to better the lives of others. Research has even revealed that because open-minded people perceive the world in a different way, they have higher levels of creativity and happiness.
Gratitude is essential for creating a happy, healthy company culture. Bad leaders take all the credit for their company’s success and fail to see the strengths and value of their team’s contributions, whereas good leaders show appreciation and recognition for hard-working employees and offer opportunities for growth. Plus, gratitude in leadership reinforces positive qualities like self-control, patience, and honesty, and psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky and her research team found that gratitude and humility have a “mutually reinforcing” relationship, creating an upward spiral of personal and professional growth among leaders.
Authentic leaders bring their whole, genuine selves to work. The majority of workers—75 percent—want to experience more authenticity at work, and studies have found that when leaders are authentic, it helps to create an inclusive, psychologically safe workplace where all employees are encouraged to speak up and communicate their ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Authentic leadership builds a culture of belonging, and belonging in the workplace is linked to increases in job performance, drops in turnover risk, and reductions in employee sick days.
At work, transparent relationships between leaders and teams can create an atmosphere of safety and trustworthiness. About 80 percent of workers want to know more about how decisions are being made by their employers, and studies have found that transparency is the number one factor contributing to employees’ overall happiness. When leaders are more transparent and honest about issues like compensation, sexual harassment claims, mommy tracking, or diversity, equity, and inclusions policies, they’re better able to show accountability and take ownership of fixing problems.
Good leaders hold themselves accountable for both business performance and company culture, clearly communicate collective goals and objectives, and accept responsibility when things go awry. Research has proven there’s a connection between strong leadership accountability and organizational performance, and now more than ever, accountability is needed to steer through such uncertain and evolving times. What’s shocking, though, is that 72 percent of business leaders agree that accountability is critical for business success, but only 31 percent are satisfied with the level of leadership accountability they see in their organizations.
Decisiveness is key to building credibility as a leader. All leaders have to make time-sensitive decisions at some point in order to achieve their goals, and good leaders are able to weigh all of the information at hand carefully and come to a clear, final decision. Research has shown that decisiveness in leadership is of utmost importance in the workplace, especially during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.