101 Best Leadership Skills, Traits & Qualities – The Complete List
I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
Being a leader is one of most difficult AND rewarding positions in the world.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an industry veteran, knowing which traits effective leaders should have is a integral part of your success.
That’s why in this 6,500+ word article, I am going to list over 100 crucial leadership qualities and characteristics along with some of my favorite leadership quotes.
(Click any of the links below to jump to each category)
- Section 01: Personality Traits
- Section 02: Self-Awareness
- Section 03: Communicate
- Section 04: Delegate
- Section 05: Agility & Adaptability
- Section 06: Cultivate Wisdom
- Section 07: Effect Change
Motivated leaders desire to achieve above and beyond expectations.
This comes from their passion, pride and desire to become better and the motivation to do things better than everyone else.
To succeed as a leader, you need to be motivated, and no one else can do that for you except your self.
Nothing will work unless you do. – Maya Angelou
Related: Traits of a Motivated Leader
Leaders hold them selves and the people around them to a higher standard than most, both on a personal and professional level.
Leaders understand that in order to achieve higher standards, they need to have strong values, hold themselves accountable for their words/actions and never make excuses.
Remember you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Unfortunately, confidence can be one of those things you either have or don’t have, but I believe that it can be practiced and learned.
Confidence has to do with your inner perception of your ability to fulfill a particular role and is built through your experiences and dealings during your life.
To build your confidence you need to be open to new experiences and be willing to fail or you’ll never grow and find the strength needed to push the limits of what you’re capable of.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. – Eleanor Roosevelt
4. Optimism & Positivity:
Where others might think a project or task is too difficult, leaders face those challenges with energy and positivity.
Positivity is contagious, so be sure to focus on your attitude and understand you set the tone for your business and the people around you.
Being accountable means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you, both good and bad.
You don’t blame others. And you don’t blame things that were out of your control.
Until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And being a victim is the exact opposite of being a leader.
Great leaders take initiative to influence the outcome and take responsibility for the results.
Aristotle called courage the first virtue, because it makes all of the other virtues possible.
Leadership sometimes involves making unpopular decisions which requires a certain level of bravery.
If you want to be more courageous you need to try new things, have more trust and confidence in others, as well as be able to raise difficult issues that others would leave unresolved.
Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others. – Robert Louis Stevenson
Related: 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders
Great leaders are able to focus their attention on the problem at hand without being distracted.
Even when your extremely busy, you need to make sure that you’re participating in the process with team members and not giving orders from the sideline.
Personal Story: There’s a local Mexican restaurant that I love, not only because the food is awesome, but I love how it’s run. The owner brings food/drinks to customers, answers the phone and everything in between. He even makes sure to say hello to every person that comes into his door, even with over 100 packed tables. Now that’s an engaged leader!
Leaders are well defined and have unique personas that make them one-of-kind.
They are full of personality and are not afraid to stand lone and be different.
They understand that the things who make them different are the things that define their character.
Many leaders are perfectionists, which tends to make them critical of themselves and the people around them.
But let’s face it, what can go wrong, usually will go wrong. That’s life!
You should have a healthy sense of humor about life and not take your self too seriously (which can be difficult when you want others to take you seriously).
However, leaders who take them selves too seriously risk alienating people.
Effective leaders have the ability to laugh at them selves and understand that they are only human and can make mistakes like everyone else.
Passionate leaders often have a strong, uncontrollable desire that pushes them forward.
The amount of passion you have directly affects your attitude, energy and that of your followers as well.
Use your excitement and to ignite the passion pf your followers!
You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out. – Steve Jobs
Having strong moral values is an important leadership trait because it will allow others to clearly identify with you.
Having sincerity and honesty in all your dealings assures your followers of your intentions.
Enticing a deep sense of admiration and loyalty in your followers in key to successful leadership.
Being respected makes it easier to put your plans in action and have others quickly buy into your vision.
Leaders garner respect by letting their actions speak louder than their words.
In some cases, leaders are respected for their negative qualities.
That’s why it’s important that you not only seek to be respected, but that you are likable as well.
It’s very obvious, people want to work with and be around people they like and distance themselves from people they don’t.
Personal Story: The first job I ever had was taking foreign exchange students to California attractions like Disneyland and the beach. Awesome right?! Well my manager was a huge jerk, which made an otherwise perfect summer job completely miserable. Even though I was only 16, it wasn’t difficult for me to see why his turnover rate was so high. I bet you can guess why I quit too.
When dealing with tough (sometime moral) decisions, great leaders should do so in accordance with their own values and ensure their actions are positive, not damaging.
Also, when you govern the moral principles of the people you are leading, you can establish an unspoken ethics code that helps better guide their decisions and behavior.
When we are talking about loyalty and leadership it’s usually about the followers, but loyalty is not a one way street.
You need to give and show firm, constant support to your followers if you ever hope that they will give the same to you.
Successful leaders are magnetizing and charming which inspires devotion in their followers.
This charisma can be difficult to learn, it usually requires most people to go outside of their comfort zone by speaking with more strangers as well as learning how to command the attention and speak to a group of any size.
17. Appreciation/love for your career:
It might be cliché, but you really should be doing what you love and what you’re passionate about.
If you aren’t doing something you love, you’ll never find the drive to push your self to be better.
18. Emotional intelligence:
The ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you is crucial.
People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.
For leaders, this is essential for success.
19. Emotional control:
Similar to emotional intelligence, once you can understand your emotions, you can learn to control them.
The ability to stay calm, assess your self, then make adjustments comes down to simple self-control.
If you can control your emotions and reactions to the world, you can better control the outcomes.
Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it. – Charles Swindoll
20. Understanding of opportunity cost:
Leaders know that many situations and decisions in business involve risk and there is an opportunity cost associated with every decision you make.
An opportunity cost is the cost of a missed opportunity. This is usually defined in terms of money, but it may also be considered in terms of time, person-hours, or any other finite resource.
Great leaders understand the consequences of their decisions before making them.
Leaders should be humble by seeking out feedback and focusing on the needs of others.
You need to be open to people’s feedback and criticisms and know how to admit that you’re not perfect and when you’ve made a mistake.
There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self. – Henri Frederic Amiel
Discipline in leadership is less about punishing and rewarding others, but rather having self-control, inner calm and outer resolve.
A high level of determination and willpower play a significant part in your ability to be self-disciplined.
Sometime the best solution is right in front of us, but we are too close to see it.
Leaders know how to remove them selves from a situation and observe it from multiple perspectives with a open mind.
Unless you know the road you’ve come from, you cannot know where you are going. – African proverb
24. Risk management:
You need to identify, evaluate and address risks so you can positively affect the outcome by handling that risk in the best-suited way.
They often say, “there is now reward, without risk.”
But smart leaders know which risks to take and which to guard against.
25. Time management:
Great leaders know that time is their most valuable asset.
Leaders need to know how to effectively plans their time by knowing when and where to spend it; on your self, your business and family/friends.
Every road to success to filled with people who will find any reason to give you why it won’t work.
You need a healthy level of self assurance that gives you a practical (sometime impractical) sense of faith in your cause that drives you forward with no excuses, roadblocks or negativity holding you back.
Contrary to popular belief, age is not a measure of maturity.
I’ve worked with young leaders who act like men and old men who act like teenagers.
Maturity comes from being courteous, knowing how to communicate like an adult and being the bigger person in difficult situations.
Also, your confidence in your self and your ability to follow through without excuses are strong indicators of maturity.
28. Lead by example:
Actions speak louder than words. The people around you will notice if you are dedicated and working hard to grow your business.
But if you’re lazy and don’t care, your team will note and follow suit.
Great leaders always lead by example.
Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer
29. Relationship building:
“It’s all about who you know.” Smart leaders know that there is a lot of truth to that saying.
Leaders understand the value of building long-lasting relationships with people in their industry and make a point to pursue partnerships whenever they can.
Building a network of valuable people is critical for your long-term success.
30. Social skills:
More often than not, leader are charismatic, outgoing, friendly and approachable.
They have the ability to speak with anyone in a calm, respectful and engaging way.
Both employees and customers want to work for and purchase from people they like, you need to be one of those people if you want to succeed.
31. Public speaking / Speaking skills:
Leaders should not have any issues with speaking in front of crowds.
Situations where public speaking is required can range from just speaking up at a meeting, to pitching a new idea in a room full of people.
Not only is this important for you to be able to get your message across clearly, but it improves your credibility as a leader.
32. Honesty & Transparency:
There are no more secrets today, everything is out there on the worldwide web.
That’s why honesty is the best policy.
People respect those who are able to honestly share and react calmly to good and bad news while being able to quickly put a plan in action to move forward.
We now live in a transparent world, embrace it.
One of the quickest ways to get people to dislike you is to be unreasonable.
That’s why practical leaders are fair, sensible, never make unfound assumptions and have sound judgment when making decisions.
Leaders do not hesitate or appear fearful (even if they are) in all aspects of their life.
They are willing to take the lead and show the way despite possible risks.
The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.– Ayn Rand
In order to give your followers the feedback, support and attention they need to be successful, you need to make a true effort to listen when they speak.
Most people are waiting for their turn to speak, great leaders listen first, speak second.
Listening is more than being silent, you also need to ask the right questions.
True presence is just not about being the center of attention, it’s about observation and seeking/giving meaningful feedback.
You need to be there for your people during important situations as well as help team members across your organization find solutions to roadblocks.
Leaders stay true to the things that make them unique and tirelessly move towards their goals despite outside pressures to change or conform.
Hard-word, dedication, and long-term focus are essential to authentic leadership.
38. Empathy & Compassion:
When you’re laser focused on your goals, it can be difficult to focus on the needs and feelings of others people.
You need to know not only how your actions effect people, but what you need to do in order to show understanding and sympathy for others.
39. Ability to confront others:
Most people go out of their way to avoid confrontation for fear of an argument, leaders know how to approach others in a nice, honest way to address concerns.
Stopping a problem earlier on will save a huge amount of time (not to mention headaches) versus leaving it unresolved.
As a leader, you need to set others up for success by entrusting them to make good decisions.
Empowerment is not just about giving your followers the freedom to make their own choices, it’s about giving them the tools and processes to make those choices effectively and productively.
41. Negotiation skills:
Leaders know how to get what they want and can be very convincing (which can be good and sometimes bad).
They do this by tapping the desires of others and building a sense of trust with people in order to come to a desirable outcome.
From settling differences to overseeing a large deal, leaders should be practical, fair and firm in their negotiations.
42. Social savvy:
Did you know that 71% of all online adults use Facebook? That’s almost 1.2 billion people!
Smart leaders know that their followers’ and potential followers’ habits have changed. They are spending more time on social media than ever before.
When social media is used as a tool to engage, educate and connect with followers, it can have powerful results and attract countless new people to your cause.
When great leaders speak, they are able to clearly relay their thoughts in a way that’s easy to understand.
Then they make sure there are no miscommunications and that their point(s) got across clearly.
This ensures projects and tasks that are delegated get done the right way and without mistakes.
44. Ability to teach:
Leaders need to be able to share the methodologies and processes that make their business run with the people they work with and hire.
If your managers are poorly trained, your staff will be poorly trained and it will reflect in your sales and operations.
Remember the best way to learn something your self is to teach it!
45. Interested in feedback:
In the same way great leaders are able to teach, they also value learning.
That involves being open to honest feedback and the ability to have a positive attitude about that feedback and use it make adjustments that benefit everyone.
46. Trust in your team:
This can be difficult, but your trust in your team largely depends on the people you hire, your ability to train them and the work you delegate to them.
If you believe in their ability to do those things, you need to trust your team to get the results you want and not micro-manage every project.
47. Ability to inspire:
Let’s face it, it’s difficult to love every part of your work no matter what you do.
But great leaders have the ability to inspire their team and make sure they know what they are doing has a bigger impact than they realize.
Nike is about celebrating athletics not sneakers, Apple is about changing the world, not computers. What are you about?
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
48. ID team strengths:
When delegating work, leaders know their team and their strengths inside and out.
They use that knowledge to decide who gets assigned which projects/tasks so that everything gets completed the right way.
49. Sharing your vision:
There are a lot of people out there who think they have the next great idea.
Sadly, as great as those ideas might be, they will never go anywhere if no one else knows about it.
Leaders have the ability to share their vision and get people to buy into their ideas.
50. Turning vision into reality:
Not only can leaders share their vision, they have the ability to break that vision down into steps and a strategy that can be understood by others and executed over time.
51. Get the best from others:
By understanding what people really want, you can help them better perform by properly incentivizing (not only with money) their work and progress towards larger goals.
To get the best from others a leader needs to understand their motivations, be positive, generous, open-minded and be able to control their attitude.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
52. Understand what motivates others:
For better or worse, human beings tend to care mostly about themselves and are motivated by selfish altruism.
Simply put, you need to figure out what people want for them selves: Notoriety? Money? Recognition? Understand that to will be different for everyone.
53. Takes responsibly:
In the same way leaders are quick to give their team credit, they are also quick to take responsibility for negative outcomes.
Great leaders know that when they accept responsibility for their actions, they can postivey effect the outcomes.
A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. – John Maxwell
People often seek recognition from people they follow, that’s why it’s important to reward your team members for their input, especially when they go above and beyond.
Monetary rewards are nice, but thoughtful, personal rewards can be more impactful.
Great leaders are able to carefully and quickly analyze a situation and/or person.
Being decisive doesn’t mean making a decision quickly, it means making the right decisions in a practical, timely manner.
Don’t allow your decisiveness to alienate team members from the decision making process.
56. Conduct effective meetings:
Sadly, most meeting are never as productive as they could be.
After all, if your an entrepreneur, you usually get to work with people that you like which can be distracting.
Effective leadership is about using meeting time as effectively as possible.
Start by having an agenda, eliminate distractions, have a start/end time (no exceptions), encourage everyone to contribute, encourage note taking and follow up after the meeting.
57. Respect for others:
When you show respect towards other people, it is much easier to build meaningful, beneficial relationships.
You need to keep your promises, don’t waste their time, stop gossiping, believe in other’s ideas, stand up for them and truly care about their well-being.
58. Coaching key people:
It’s one thing to identify your top performing employees, but you also need to nurture their success and help them grow within your organization.
In order for you to successfully lead a growing number of people, you need to enable your key people to lead as well and help push progress forward.
Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them. – John C. Maxwell
Related: The Key To Effective Coaching
59. Enable others to act:
Unless their are strict guidelines/regulations or safety concerns, if you don’t allow your followers to make their own decisions they likely will find reasons to disagree with yours.
You can enable others to act by giving them the tools and processes they need to succeed, trust them to handle the rest.
60. Set Expectations:
People don’t like to be surprised, that’s why it’s important to layout and agree to the expectations in place so everyone is one the same page from day one.
To make sure expectations are crystal clear, start by providing structure, clarifying roles, set motivating goals and continuously give/ask for feedback.
Some traits are more important than others.
When it comes to leadership, the ability to judge situations and people with fairness is essential because it shows them how you value them.
There’s many examples in history of leaders who took advantage of the people they were leading, things hardly ever worked out in their favor.
The leaders who are fair to people, are the ones who are loved and remembered.
Agility & Adaptability
The competition doesn’t wait and there will always be someone out there trying to outwork you.
Leaders understand that in most situations it’s about who gets there first which is why they value of both persistence and urgency.
Related: Can Leadership Urgency Be Taught?
Being decisive is not just about making decisions quickly, it’s about fostering a confident and effective way of thinking, deciding, and acting.
In order to make the best decisions possible, understand and assess each option carefully while approaching the right people and resources to help you make your decision.
Don’t let indecision paralyze you.
64. Commitment to vision:
Every overnight success you’ve heard about likely has another side to the story: the long hours, bootstrapping and testing many iterations before finding the right combinations.
Leaders need to appreciate the process as much as the outcome and stay committed to their vision through thick and thin.
Like professional quarterbacks, great leaders follow strict routines to keep their skills sharp and their delivery consistent.
Remember that practice makes perfect and the more consistent you can be, the more efficiently you and your organization will be.
66. Does not fear mistakes/risk:
Failure often provides us with some of life’s biggest learning opportunities.
Leaders embrace this as well as the uncertainty and risk that are inherent parts of owning and running a business.
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan
67. Ability to pivot:
The business world is changing quickly and will continue to do so.
Great leaders have the ability to recognize those changes and guide their organization and team accordingly.
Personal Story: One of the first businesses I started was focused on developing and designing mobile apps for retailers. Unfortunately, we were a little early to the party and found it difficult the line up consistent projects. We decided to take everything we learned marketing our own business (mobile websites, SEO, social media, etc.) and use that to help our clients successfully market their businesses. This pivot saved the business and set us up to do more than we ever thought possible.
68. Open minded:
It’s fascinating how many business owners and managers refuse to change the simplest aspects of their business because they have the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
While that might work for a time, as years pass the business and their leaders who refuse to learn, adapt and grow will be left behind.
To be an effective leader you need to be open to learning about new things and exploring new experiences.
To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did. – Unknown
What can go wrong, usually does go wrong.
Leaders need to face life and business with strength and determination, especially when things get difficult.
When most people might give in, that’s the exact moment you need to push through and overcome adversity.
When faced with a challenge, smart leaders are able to find creative solutions to problems.
Being resourceful involves understand all the resources at your disposal, adapting by applying other experiences, sometimes bending the rules and never being of afraid to ask for what you need.
71. Faces obstacles with grace:
Life will always be full of obstacles, how you choose to deal with them is your decision.
Effective leaders approach roadblocks with a high level of positivity and creative problem solving that allows them to overcome situations that others might give up on.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
72. Street smart:
It’s hard to find a substitute for old-fashioned street smarts.
Knowing how to trust your gut, quickly analyzing situations as well as the people you’re dealing with and knowing how-to spot a bad deal or scammer is an important aspect of leadership.
73. Make good decisions:
When you make good, practical decisions, you build trust with your followers that gives you the power to make future decisions quicker, with less pushback.
Making good decisions involves generating good alternatives and analyzing each option diligently.
Once you’ve made your decision, evaluate then communicate plan and always learn from yours and others’ mistakes.
74. Strategic thinking:
In order to think two steps ahead, you need to develop a long-term mindset, using research to make decisions and take time to reflect on your decisions.
When you plan for the long-term, you can layout, then take small, actionable steps towards a bigger picture.
The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The opposite of proactive is reactive, which means you react to the world around you instead of taking steps to positive effect the outcomes.
Proactive leaders have a DIY mindset and approach new/difficult situations with enthusiasm and energy.
If you want to positively effect you life and the lives around you, start by learning to control (not manipulate) situations to cause something to happen, rather than waiting for it to happen.
People in leadership positions are often gifted with flexible schedules.
Sure, we all work for someone, whether it’s stakeholders, clients or someone else, we usually have the ability to make our own schedules.
Leaders need to use this flexibility the become more available and involved in organization initiatives as well as other people’s lives.
77. Manage setbacks/uncertainty:
After any failure, big or small, you usually have two options: give up or find a better way.
Leaders know when it’s time to double down and when it’s time to fold, they manage uncertainty by making thoughtful decisions on next steps.
You can’t sail your ship if you don’t know where the sail is, likewise, you can’t run your business if you aren’t organized.
Leaders know that value in keeping their personal and professional things (both physical and electronic) in order.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not something people are born with, like many leadership skills it can be learned and practiced.
Go out of your way to explore new experiences, learn new things and practice open mindedness by continually asking new questions.
Personal Story: I believe that creativity in business comes from outside inspiration. For example, I enjoy cooking/grilling, interior design and graphic design (it helps that I have interior design and BBQ retail clients). But I make a point to find time for these creative activities which are not only therapeutic but they can also ignite my professional creativity. What are your creative outlets?
Intuition is to art as logic is to math.
Leadership is often about following your gut instinct.
It can be difficult to let go of logic in some situations, but uncertainty and risk are a natural in business.
Learn to trust your self and not everyone else.
81. Seeks out advice:
Even though leader usually means “the person in charge” it’s important that you seek out the experience and skill sets of trusted advisors, partners, customers and peers.
Outside perspectives are always helpful.
82. Pursue new experiences:
To stay prepared for any road bump in business, leaders actively pursue new experiences that allow them to learn and grow.
From starting a new venture, to coaching little league, challenge your self to be better by enjoying new experiences.
83. Read, read, read:
Read everything related to business and your field that you can get your hands on, both print and digital.
Leaders understand that education does not stop after school, in order to stay relevant, you need to stay informed with both timeless and timely resources.
Personal Story: Growing up I did NOT like reading. But as I got older, reading’s value became very clear. Growing up in the information age enabled me to read anything I wanted, I quickly realized this allowed me to stay ahead of the curve.
Related: Why Leaders Must Be Readers
Leaders are often driven be an insatiable desire to learn, push the limits of what’s possible and explore things other people have or will not explore themselves.
Expanding your mind can often be as simple as reading, asking “why?” more often and enjoying the journey your own.
Competence in most cases refers to someone being properly qualified and educated, but just people some people can learn something quicker than others doesn’t necessarily mean they are more intelligent.
Willpower, determination, consistency and willingness to learn play important roles in your competence as a leader.
Life is full of distractions, great leaders know how to remain on track and block out distractions.
Remaining focused involves keeping your eye on the bigger picture, allocating your time deliberately and training your brain like a muscle to eliminate non-essential work.
A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd. – Max Lucado
87. Intentional Learner:
Leaders go out of their way to stay educated and up-to date.
Intentional learning is a continuous process of acquiring, understanding information with the goal of making your self more intelligent and prepared on a specific subject.
88. Enjoys The Ride:
Smart leaders know that their journey is often more rewarding than their destination.
Which is why they take the time to enjoy life and what they have already achieved because they know nothing can last forever.
When you can enjoy the ride, you’ll be amazed by what you can learn.
89. Improve lives around you:
Leaders working toward a brighter future want to share that future and it’s success with the people they care about.
Business partners and customers, family and friends, employees and their families, etc.
Leaders must act with generosity and gratitude by effecting positive change in the lives of the people around them.
90. Foster potential:
Improving the lives of people around you also means helping them become better individuals.
Help other people grow by encouraging and fostering their potential both professionally and personally and help them learn from your experiences.
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. – Robert Louis Stevenson
91. Belief that success if shared:
Great leaders believe that success is something to be shared with everyone because there is no “I” in team.
When you share your success with others, you build loyalty, trust and admiration that enables you to push the success even further.
Related: Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe
92. Help other succeed:
Giving is always more satisfying than receiving. Leaders find great pride in helping other people succeed and become leaders themselves.
You need to be generous and make sure your team can share the organization’s success as well as grow personally and professionally with your guidance.
Great leaders know where they are going and how they are going to get there.
They convey their mission clearly to followers and posses an unwavering drive that keeps them on track to their goals.
94. Challenge the process:
When leaders ignore the status quo, there can be incredible breakthroughs and innovations.
This is an essential part of achieving organizational growth.
Smart leaders know how to productively challenge the process, find bottlenecks and make improvements.
If you really want the key to success, start by doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. – Brad Szollose