Who do you think of when you think of a leader? Does your manager come to mind? How about the CEO of your company? To most people, the idea of a leader is a person in a position of authority—but having an authoritative role doesn’t always mean someone is a great leader. First, let’s get one thing out of the way: you don’t have to be in a leadership position to be a leader. It’s not about the title you have or the people you supervise, it’s about how you conduct yourself and inspire others to take action. You too can lead—by channeling six qualities great leaders use every day.
The Qualities of a Leader
Desire to Learn
Many self-described “leaders” who are in positions of authority don’t realize that there is always something valuable to be learned from their employees and external sources. These managers feel that they must always teach and never learn, which can prevent them from utilizing their team effectively and constantly improving. Team members on the front lines have great insights to share, and leaders should take the opportunity to learn as much as they can from any relevant source. A great example of this would be business managers who have learned how to leverage technology and data to make better, more powerful decisions.
Occasionally, the temptation to fudge the truth can be strong, but it’s something that true leaders never give into. Transparency and honesty are key to maintaining a strong team and keeping everyone on the same page. Some people in leadership roles attempt to control their team using manipulative tactics, which can result in low morale, lack of respect, and poor productivity—the team and the entire company suffer. Dishonesty can take many forms, but a true leader always takes responsibility for their actions and expects others to do the same.
Transformational leadership is a style of leadership that involves inspiring others. Inspirational people can mobilize a group of people to work toward a larger goal and perform beyond expectations, resulting in better productivity and morale. Inspiring people requires getting to know them and valuing them as people—something that true leaders always make a point to do. Inspiring leaders don’t demand—they leverage their team’s skills and enthusiasm to encourage them to push themselves and achieve more than they thought possible. A leader inspires through their attitude, communication, empathy, and prioritization.
No matter whether you’re a basketball coach or managing a team of engineers, leaders need to be able to evaluate their team members so that they can put them in positions where they will be most successful. Everyone has different “soft” skills in addition to their technical expertise, and using these skills wisely benefits the whole team.
Use Appropriate Humor
There’s professional, and then there’s dull and lifeless. Great leaders know that the workplace needs a little humor from time to time, and they know when to use it. There’s no place for tasteless or offensive jokes in the office, but appropriate humor can make leaders less intimidating and can lighten the mood when the going gets tough.
Listening is a skill that many people struggle to develop, but it is among the most important qualities for a great leader to cultivate. Listening to constructive criticism, employee concerns, and ideas from the team will allow for constant reevaluation of the team’s productivity, workflows, and morale. It is crucial for leaders to listen and apply what they’ve learned to help their team become happier and more productive or to develop ideas and concepts. Growth and improvement is healthy for any team, and listening helps facilitate these processes.
Applying these Skills & Qualities
Becoming a great leader isn’t always an immediate transformation, but by incorporating the skills and qualities listed above, you can work at refining your leadership skills and transforming into a leader other people can respect and value, regardless of your job title. Try interacting with your colleagues using these qualities—they will help you communicate better and form better relationships with those you work with. Though these qualities should be the baseline for any good leader, there are several different positive leadership styles, and it can take some time to figure out how you work best. The most important thing to remember, however, is that no matter how you lead, the true meaning of leadership is based on these skills.