The HR Advisor

The 6 Leadership Characteristics Which Define True Leaders

business leader in front of her team

Nothing impacts an organisations' culture more than the behaviour of its leadership. The way leaders conduct themselves has a direct influence on how employees behave and can significantly impact the performance of a business.  But what is it that makes a good leader? And can this be taught?

Leaders are skilled at engaging people to connect with the bigger picture and vision of the organisation. That way, everyone is focused on the now while also being aligned on the promise of the future.

They are professionals at being able to self-motivate, motivate others and confidently guide people through periods of change and uncertainty. Doing this well is not easy. There are particular qualities and attributes that leaders must possess if they are going to be truly successful leaders.

1. Exceptional communication

Great leaders are exceptional communicators - they communicate authentically and often. They also have very high levels of emotional intelligence and harness emotions to motivate themselves and others. They are empathetic and develop strong interpersonal relationships with their teams.

These leaders communicate clearly, calmly, consistently and concisely – even when under stress. They are assertive and articulate their vision, wants and needs in a respectful way. Their team members know what’s expected of them, where they’re headed, why they’re going there, what they need to do, and how they’re tracking. The entire team is on the same journey and wants to get where the leader is taking them.

2. Ability to consciously build trust

Employees need to know that you have their back. Demonstrating that your self-interests and desires will never take precedence over team or organisations goals will create trust and focus.

Building trust starts with being open and friendly and showing that you genuinely care about your employees as people. People are more likely to trust you if they have a personal connection with you. It is also crucial to be able to align your words with your actions. This is a key pillar for building trust in the workplace. What leaders say and do has the most impact on employee’s perceptions of an organisation. When there is a disconnect between a leader’s words and actions, employees are less likely to become engaged and committed and more likely to move on.

Trust can also be built by:

  • Showing support for your team members, even when they make mistakes
  • Listening to and respecting people’s ideas and opinions
  • Balancing the need for results with caring about how decisions will impact your team

Trust must be earned over time by listening, talking, asking questions and “walking the talk.” Leaders are judged on what they do to win trust, and the sincerity and consistency of their effort to retain it.

3. A positive and enthusiastic style

As difficult as it can be when times are tough, it is critical that leaders are upbeat, optimistic and inspiring even through challenging times. If a leader is temperamental, flat or negative, their attitude will quickly be absorbed by their team, and this will create a downward trajectory in outlook and subsequently in performance. 

While messages still need to be realistic; difficult news can be delivered in an encouraging and supportive manner. The great leaders of the world know that enthusiasm is contagious. As your team members begin to share your excitement, they'll also start thinking about what else they can do to help turn your vision into a reality. Ultimately, the shared enthusiasm and positivity results in all involved striving harder to reach the end goal.

4. Encouragement of two-way feedback

Top leaders understand that feedback is a two-way street, and they actively encourage their team to provide them feedback on how they are tracking as managers. They are not afraid to have difficult conversations and welcome constructive criticism as they see these as opportunities to learn and further build their skills.

By actively soliciting feedback from their employees, they open the door to more honest discussions. This provides an opportunity to role model how to deal with constructive feedback.

5. A coaching approach

A coaching approach to managing your team is essentially the difference between being a Manager and a Leader. A coaching approach provides guidance rather than dictation.  The real magic of coaching is when the manager takes a non-directive approach by asking challenging questions and listening as the employee works on solving his or her own problems. 

When employees come up with their own solutions, they are more committed, and the fixes are more likely to be implemented. Additionally, this problem-solving experience helps employees develop the self-confidence to solve similar problems on their own. 

Managers who are coaches help minimise the “noise” and distractions that are getting in the way of someone’s ability to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it. They know how and when to ask the right question, when to give feedback, when to advise, how to get the employee to focus, and how to gain commitment.

6. Actively empower their team

As a Manager, you quickly come to realise that it is impossible to oversee every task and be around for every decision. Good leaders identify the strengths within their team early and leverage these to enable the leader to step back and watch their team flourish.  This not only allows the leader to focus their efforts on business growth and strategic activities, but also ensures that their team is fully utilised and challenged, which helps to keep engagement at healthy levels.

Great management is essential to your company's bottom line, but leadership skills are often considered to be inborn. The fact is, though, that these attributes can all be identified and strengthened.

Have a good look at yourself and your leadership team and do some honest evaluation. Chances are you are probably already nailing some of these, so find your gaps and start working on them.

There is a plethora of leadership development tools and training available, and these are proven to be very effective in building the critical leadership skills required for success. Remember, great managers listen, so don’t be afraid to ask your team for feedback on how you are doing. Demonstrating a willingness and commitment to developing your leadership skills will earn you the respect of your team and motivate them to also be the best versions of themselves.


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