What Are the Qualities of a Leader?

February 08, 2018 by Josh Hrala

The internet is awash with guides about what the qualities of a leader should be. However, if you read most of them, you’ll find that there are common threads stretching through most of these guides that offer a more complete overview of great leadership qualities as a whole.


To examine these trends, we’ve decided to make a little ‘meta-analysis’ of what makes a good, ethical leader to help you create a better leadership development system for your staff members or improve your own leadership qualities, which will help your organization as a whole.

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So, what are the qualities of a leader? What can we ascertain from all of these other articles?

Here’s a brief overview:

Qualities of a Leader

The top qualities of a leader can be broken down like this:

  • Awareness
  • Humility and Empathy
  • Focus and Curiosity
  • Authenticity and Honesty
  • Humor and Personality


Let’s dig into some details. 

A Good Leader Is Aware

The first quality of a good leader is awareness. There are a ton of things that leaders have to be constantly aware of. For example, a good leader is aware of their staff, how they are perceived, how their actions impact the workforce, and have the self-awareness to examine their own actions, feelings, and more.

Basically, a good leader is aware of everything internally and externally.

“There is a difference between management and employees, bosses and workers. Leaders understand the nature of this difference and accept it; it informs their image, their actions, and their communication,” writes Peter Economy at Inc.

“They conduct themselves in a way that sets them apart from their employees–not in a manner that suggests they are better than others, but in a way that permits them to retain an objective perspective on everything that’s going on in their organization.”

Leaders also have to be aware of the business world they are involved in. What the current trends are, how the market is doing, what innovations are competitors coming up with. It’s a lot to think about, especially given how fast things change in the business world.

In all of this, though, good leaders are even more aware of themselves, ensuring that they are performing at their best. This also means that great leaders need to understand their own development so that they can continue learning and evolving.

The Importance of Humility and Empathy

When it comes to leading people, great leaders allow staff members to flourish, realizing that they do not have to know everything or have their hands in literally everything a company does. Leadership is not micromanaging and it’s not being a know-it-all. It’s about leading your staff to greatness and having an ego that can handle them being better than you at certain things.

Good leaders make those around them better. They can’t be self-serving in this pursuit, either. Being humble and empathetic can go a seriously long way.

“Humility doesn’t mean that you’re weak or unsure of yourself. It means that you have the self-confidence and self-awareness to recognize the value of others without feeling threatened,” writes Brian Tracy International.

“This is one of the rarer attributes – or traits – of good leaders because it requires containment of one’s ego.”

This means that great leaders let things go. Ego needs to be harnessed so that employees can shine, which means your business will shine as well.

Humility goes hand-in-hand with empathy because an empathetic leader gives their employees praise while also helping them through their problems, understanding that everyone has their struggles in business and life. These issues shouldn’t be punished, they should be fixed with the help of a good leader.

On the other hand, when an employee does great work, leaders should celebrate them publicly, giving everyone involved a morale boost. Having a leader that has, and shows, both humility and empathy makes them easy to work with and a person that is willing to help employees while keeping their ego out of the equation.

In the end, it’s all about the staff and not the leader.

Great Leaders Are Focused and Curious

The best leaders among us are always learning. Lifelong learning is vital if leaders want to continue staying at the cutting-edge of their industries while also maintaining their own personal development plans. And to pull that off, leaders also need to be focused.

“Every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided,” writes Daniel Goleman with the Harvard Business Review.

Focus can often be misunderstood. The common way we talk about it is that to be a focused person you have to be completely absorbed in tasks, allowing you to shrug off distractions. This isn’t necessarily true, though.

To be a focused leader, you have to know what to focus on – what to give your attention to. We all only have a limited amount of time in the day so it’s vital for great leaders to be able to figure out what needs their attention and what can be handled by other staff members.

When it comes to curiosity, a focused leader can spend their energy learning new things, bringing those new ideas to the organization, and using them to help their staff achieve more. Staying curious and having the ability to focus on what’s important will allow continuous development across the board, making it one of the best qualities of a leader.

The Power of Authenticity and Honesty

No one likes a person that is dishonest, especially when it comes to the workplace. A dishonest boss makes it a lot harder to get tasks done and undermines credibility across the board.

“Strong leaders treat people the way they want to be treated. They are extremely ethical and believe that honesty, effort, and reliability form the foundation of success,” continues Peter Economy from Inc.

“They embody these values so overtly that no employee doubts their integrity for a minute. They share information openly, and avoid spin control.”

This also means that leaders cannot be fake. They can’t try to be what they aren’t because staff members can and will see through the guise. If an employee knows their boss from work and then goes out with them for dinner or to an event and they behave differently, that employee will start to not trust the leader, viewing them as a liar instead of a person to lean on.

“It continues to surprise me how many leaders attempt to be one way at work, while their “true” personality emerges outside of work,” writes Kevin Kruse with Forbes.

“Once a CEO reminded me, “Leadership is acting.” And it surprises me when these same leaders seem shocked or confused when their employees don’t trust them, don’t like them, and can’t really wait to work elsewhere.”

However, if a leader is completely honest and authentic, the staff will be more inclined to view them as a leader and act accordingly.

It’s important to note, though, that being honest doesn’t mean a leader can be downright mean. This is where awareness comes in. If a leader knows how they are being perceived, how their employees see them, they can figure out how to talk with him, give them criticism, and hear their problems. As you can see, a lot of these leadership qualities merge together and center around the leader doing what’s best for the team instead of themselves.

Don’t Forget to Add Some Humor

Is there anything more humanizing than sharing a joke. Laughing together and not taking everything too seriously can go along way if leaders want their employees to feel comfortable around them.

This is because humor is a great ice breaker when done correctly. We’re not saying that you have to be like Michael Scott from The Office who tries – and fails – to always be the funniest guy in the room. What we are saying, though, is that humor – specifically humor that shows you are humble – can go a long way.

“In leaders, humor and humility seem to go hand in hand. They’re like a counterbalance for self-confidence, something that keeps their feet on the ground and their egos in check,” reports Steve Tobak from CBS.

“Just remember, there’s a time and a place for everything. A little self-deprecating humor or a funny quip between executives in private is one thing. Joking at the expense of others or crazy rants that make people wonder what you put in your coffee is another story.”

Like Tobak says, humor is a great way for leaders to be humble. You just have to make sure you are using humor the correct way, which means that making jokes about yourself is generally okay but if you’re trying to roast all of your staff members like a Comedy Central show, you need to calm down.

Qualities of Leaders: What We Can Learn

So, what can we learn from all of these different qualities? Well, it’s obvious that many of these leadership qualities piggyback on one another. For example, in order to be a humble, authentic leader, you need to be aware of how you’re perceived and how your staff feels. This also means that good leaders are empathetic and focused, letting their staff handle their own jobs while knowing what needs focused on.

In concert, all of these attributes point to a person who can enable and empower those around them while keeping their own ego in check. A self learner who knows that they do not know everything, and a person who is willing to work with others through problems while celebrating successes along the way.

If you can pull these qualities of a leader together, your staff will perform better, which – at the end of the day – is what all great business leaders should want. The most important takeaway is to remember that great leaders lead. They don’t make everything about themselves. Your job, as a leader, is to boost everyone around you.

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Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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