Business Leadership Today

7 Important Leadership Qualities


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

To be an effective leader requires tailoring your approaches as the situation demands and as the needs of team members change. 

Some employees require more feedback and coaching to reach their full potential on a daily basis. Others perform better with more autonomy and less oversight. In difficult times, some team members may need more reassurance about their duties, job expectations, and long-term goals. 

There are many leadership qualities that can make a person good at managing others—strategic thinking, delegation, time management, and conflict resolution are just a few.

But to be an effective leader requires a combination of soft skills and other qualities that may take a little while longer to develop, but anyone can develop them if they work at it. These qualities are a must-have for leaders to build influence beyond positional authority and establish trust-based relationships with their team members. 

Seven important leadership qualities that help leaders build influence and trust with team members are accountability, adaptability, authenticity, good communication, compassion, self-awareness, and flexibility. These qualities enable leaders to forge strong connections that result in exceptional performance. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how these seven important leadership qualities are essential for team members to thrive. 

1. Accountability

Part of being a good leader is being a good team player. One of the best ways to be a good team player is by taking ownership. In other words, tomorrow’s good leaders don’t throw their teammates under the bus for the team’s failures or take sole credit when the team does great work. 

According to the Partners In Leadership Workplace Accountability Study, 85% of the professionals surveyed aren’t clear on their company’s expected results. 

The study also found that 93% of respondents weren’t able to align their work with expected results or take accountability for them, and 84% of respondents faulted leaders’ behavior as the biggest factor impacting responsibility in their organizations.

Leaders are responsible for their teams and guide them toward achieving goals. When those goals aren’t met, leaders can help their teams course correct and hold themselves accountable by taking ownership of their role in both goal setting and goal achieving and viewing mistakes as learning opportunities. 

The most effective leaders don’t punish employees for failing to achieve expected results. Instead, they focus on ensuring there is clarity in job expectations, goals, and the role employees play in achieving those goals. 

And they don’t just react when teams fall short of expectations; they consistently recognize employees’ contributions when they do achieve the expected results. 

2. Adaptability

Great leaders help their teams to thrive, even during difficult times, and during times of change. As constant change is the only thing any leader can be sure of in the business world, adaptability plays a significant role in determining how successful an organization will be in the future.

Change is inevitable, and leaders need to be able to adapt if they expect their employees to adapt. Adaptable leaders really shine in times of uncertainty. So do their team members.

Adaptable leaders are flexible, creative, and adept at problem-solving. As situations change, they roll with the punches and help their employees adapt and maintain high performance, even in trying times. 

Agility in adapting helps us not only to survive, but to thrive in times of change. Leaders are better able to do this and help their teams do this when they bring employees into the process because it provides them with a variety of viewpoints and approaches to adapting.

Leaders who embrace change and demonstrate an ability to adapt quickly, but also in an intentional way that doesn’t lose sight of long-term goals, help employees feel a much-needed sense of stability in potentially challenging times and can help them adapt more easily. This can also create an environment that is conducive to innovation. 

I recently sat down with Dr. Ciela Hartanov and discussed the relationship between innovation and stability and why it is important to help your team maintain a level of stability if you want to generate innovative ideas.

Dr. Hartanov says, “The reason why innovation can often lead to burnout is that you say ‘be innovative, run experiments’ but then you hold metrics over them. That is very stressful and is the opposite of creating space for innovation and learning.” 

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Adaptable leaders are able to learn from mistakes and have an improvement mindset that facilitates innovation. They are able to maintain a consistent work environment to make employees feel psychologically safe, and they can guide employees as they adapt, making them less fearful of the future and more positive about facing challenges. 

3. Authenticity

Authentic leadership is transparent and ethical leadership behavior that encourages openness in sharing the information needed to make decisions, while accepting input from others.

Authentic leaders are passionate about the work they do and committed to the organization and its employees. They are strongly guided by values, are true to those values, and are true to themselves.

Authenticity is key to establishing and maintaining strong, trusting relationships with employees and helps leaders build influence with those they lead because it conveys honesty, transparency, openness, and consistency. It also demonstrates to team members that their leaders are comfortable enough with them to show them their true selves. 

Self-awareness, which I’ll cover later in this article, active listening, self-management, empathy, and humility are all part of being an authentic leader. To hone these skills and become a more authentic leader, be mindful of your core values and intentional about how you represent them to your team. 

I recently interviewed author and Business Leadership Today contributor John Spence about how important it is for leaders to live core values to help employees find an authentic purpose in their own roles: 

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Spence says, “ Maintaining a constant recognition of the values ensures that no one, no matter how junior or senior, is unaware of what the values are. Also by continuously communicating the values, you also communicate how important the values are to yourself and the company. Being a living example not only helps guide your employees as to how they are expected to act and perform, but it also proves to your employees and customers that you genuinely believe in the values of the company.”

4. Communication

Part of a leader’s job is to communicate information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s core values, mission, and vision. This guides employees in their actions and behaviors.

Leaders also clearly communicate goals and objectives to provide the clarity their team members need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence. Good communication is particularly important when it comes to clarifying expectations for our teams. 

In this video, Dr. Paul Marciano, acclaimed author of Let’s Talk About It: Turning Confrontation into Collaboration at Work, talks about how to set performance expectations for your employees and why it is so important to be clear in communicating expectations as well as following up on them.

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Many leaders know that employees need feedback to do their best in their jobs. In fact, a lack of regular feedback ranks high on the list of reasons employees leave their jobs.

Employees need feedback on a regular basis to excel in their roles and build the kind of engagement needed for retention. It provides not only job clarity, but also helps employees course correct when needed, develop an improvement mindset, and build confidence in their work.

But, to be most effective, it needs to be a two-way street, with leadership being open to feedback from employees. This gives employees a voice and helps them to build trust with leadership, which increases employee loyalty. 

Part of a good system of feedback includes coaching and mentoring employees through regular 1 to 1 meetings to help them do their best work and live their best lives. Leaders can provide actionable steps that help employees improve their work life and maintain a good work/life balance.

The goal of this feedback is to help employees to do their best work, do it well, and better serve their co-workers. When done correctly, it should also boost employees’ level of job satisfaction and overall well-being.

5. Compassion

Compassionate people have positive intentions and genuine concern for others. Compassionate leaders are perceived as stronger and more competent than leaders who aren’t compassionate. 

Compassion takes us beyond empathy. When we empathize, we understand and share the feelings of another person. Compassion is more proactive because it helps us to actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. 

In leadership, compassion creates strong, trust-based connections between leaders and their teams which facilitates successful collaborative efforts. It is a particularly valuable skill for leaders to have due to the potentially negative effects power can have on us. 

Research has shown us that power can impair our mirror-neurological activity, which is the neurological function tied to our ability to understand and interact with others. This leads to a phenomenon known as hubris syndrome, which is defined as a “disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years.”

Greater responsibilities and the resulting pressure of taking on those responsibilities can rewire our brains and cause us to stop caring about others as much as we used to. We may find it more difficult to empathize with others when this happens. 

Hubris syndrome can lead us to put profits over people. According to Piyush Patel, thought leader and author of the Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, this is not a winning leadership strategy. 

Patel says, “Management stepping over employees to create resolution for customers breaks trust between employees and management. Short-term thinking and focusing on profits will ultimately lead to lack of compassion for your employees. As soon as that happens, the quality of your service will begin to decline.”

Developing compassion can help us avoid hubris syndrome and helps us maintain authentic relationships with our teams. In short, it helps us to be more effective, more caring leaders. It can help us to engage and retain talented employees because it creates a positive work environment where employees feel truly valued. 

6. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness refers to a person’s ability to accurately perceive their emotions and remain aware of them as they occur. This is a valuable skill for anyone, but a surprising number of people actually lack this skill.

Research from Dr. Tasha Eurich, author of the book Insight, found that while 95% of people think that they are moderately or highly self-aware, less than 15% of people are actually self-aware.

Self-awareness fosters good communication, builds trust, and increases accountability. It also helps leaders process their emotions in a more positive way that enables them to address challenges more effectively.

For author and Business Leadership Today contributor Laurie Sudbrink, self-awareness is one of the most important qualities a leader can have because it affects so many different aspects of an organization—and how we lead is determined by how well we know ourselves. 

This is because self-awareness is strongly linked to authenticity.

Sudbrink says, “So much of it is about our mindset. So with that first truth, the self-awareness and acceptance of being solid with ourselves. That helps us to be more confident, genuinely confident. And that confidence is what inspires other people. Integrity is what action you are taking. But before we can really start to look at our actions, it’s our thoughts and beliefs that drive our actions, it’s what is underlying. Being aware of our thoughts and actions is really critical.”

A leader who not only knows themselves really well, but is also sensitive to the emotional needs of others and acts on the knowledge gained through self-awareness and social awareness by leading their teams with tact, diplomacy, and poise will find that they are leading highly engaged employees who feel a sense of purpose in their work and take pride in it. 

7. Flexibility

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, effective leadership requires tailoring your approaches as the situation demands and as the needs of team members change. This makes flexibility one of the most important qualities a leader can have. 

It’s grown increasingly important over the last few years, with more and more workers seeking jobs that offer greater flexibility. A recent survey of HR managers found that 70% of respondents cited flexibility as a driver of resignations, the most cited cause in the survey.

Unfortunately, many businesses do not want to forever leave behind the kind of micromanaging that characterized the “old normal” when it comes to flexibility and independence for their employees.

For many workers who worked remotely during the pandemic, this is the kind of flexibility they’d like to retain going forward. Offering remote and hybrid work options where feasible is a great way to meet an employee’s psychological need for independence.

Some leaders may be wary of offering their employees this kind of flexibility in their schedules long-term, but, remember, fostering a high level of trust with employees is essential to build influence beyond positional authority. It is also essential to helping team members do their best work. 

Schedule flexibility can provide more structure around work, enhance focus, increase productivity, and improve well-being and work/life balance by reducing burnout due to stress. 

Employees also crave flexibility in the form of more autonomy. The goal of giving employees autonomy is that it meets an employee’s need to work in more self-directed ways when it’s possible. 

By giving workers the tools they need to work with greater autonomy, you are forging strong, trust-based relationships with your employees and, at the same time, encouraging employees to be accountable and take ownership of their roles, laying the groundwork for top performance. 

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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