Whether you’re a line-level employee or in the running for a CEO position, it’s worth giving some thought to the qualities a leader needs. If you aspire to leadership roles yourself, focusing on these qualities can help prepare you for the challenges ahead. Even if you don’t see yourself taking the reins at your company any time soon, being able to recognize good leaders can help you identify which executives you want to work under and learn from.
Here are some of the top qualities that make someone a good leader.
Leaders need to be able to imagine how their organization could be better, whether that means generating more profit, building an iconic brand, or going public. Leaders must set goals that are compelling enough that their employees will want to get on board with working toward them.
Once a goal is set, there are usually many possible routes a company could take to reach it. Leaders need to be able to pick a strategy and commit to it, without expressing ambivalence or regrets about their choice. Employees will quickly lose faith in a leader who appears to be waffling over their options, so leaders should be able to set doubts aside and be confident in their plans.
There are always a few high-profile examples in the news of CEOs who have wild dreams, like reinventing entire industries or colonizing the galaxy. While extreme ambitions or contrarianism do sometimes work out for the rare executives who can pull that off, most leaders need to be more grounded. Employees should feel that they’re following someone whose plans are achievable and based on reality. If some laws of physics would have to change before a leader could accomplish what they want, that person’s vision could likely use a healthy dose of common sense.
Leaders should consider the evidence and consult data before formulating a plan. A good leader might examine case studies or read biographies to learn from others’ experiences. They should think carefully about the potential consequences of their actions, and they shouldn’t issue commands on a whim. While a smart executive might sometimes be guided by intuition, they should generally be able to provide some reasoning to support their strategies.
Leaders have to look deeply into the problems their organizations are trying to solve. They need to see things that others don’t see. For example, a smart leader might spot a trend in guests’ preferences for new amenities, or might notice that the local real estate market is undervaluing certain properties. Insight allows leaders to come up with new initiatives before competitors get the same idea and to seize opportunities; just as importantly, it allows them to avoid wasting resources on projects that are out of touch or likely to flop.
Even the best leaders sometimes make mistakes, and employees respect a leader who can admit when they didn’t achieve the results they wanted. Good leaders are always trying to be better, and that means realizing that they have room for improvement. And wise leaders are willing to listen to the suggestions and criticisms of their colleagues and to give them a fair hearing.
It’s unusual for a leader to put together a strategic plan and for everything to immediately fall into place. Maybe there’s a glitch somewhere in the supply chain, or the expected financing doesn’t come through. Something about the market or consumer tastes could change suddenly, and benchmarks might have to be revised. Good leaders have the perseverance to follow through on their plans until they’ve overcome all the obstacles.
These qualities are essential to most effective leaders, but they’re far from the only traits that matter. Every leader is an individual, so you (or a leader you look up to) may have several characteristics that aren’t on this list. Try brainstorming additional leadership skills to clarify your unique conception of leadership.