Leaders are a hugely important part of a great many businesses, from small startups where inspiration is essential, to huge multinationals that need direction and planning for the future. But of course, not everyone makes a great leader, and leadership is not the same as management. If you’re not sure how to be a good leader, or you’re hoping to improve some of your skills and qualities, then this article is for you. We’re going to go through the main traits that make for good leaders. This isn’t a comprehensive list of what it takes to be one, but all great business leaders will have them.
Leaders are generally more focussed on the long term than other individuals within the business. They’re there to think strategically about how they can meet long-term goals. As a result, in order to be a great leader, you need to be able to set realistic but ambitious goals, and be able to see a route to achieving them. This isn’t for everyone; some people might get too occupied with the finer details, and others struggle to set realistic goals. Observation is a good way of learning this skill as you progress throughout your career – through experience you’ll discover what’s feasible and what’s not, and what works and what doesn’t.
Leaders, particularly in larger organisations where dozens, hundreds or even thousands of other employees look up to them, must always be aware of their own reputation and image. Self-awareness is hugely important, and leaders must take steps to ensure that they maintain a great image throughout the business. This helps hugely with being inspirational, which is one of the biggest benefits a great leader can give to their business, and can be achieved by successfully showcasing other traits that we’re covering in this article.
One trait that really does help with building a great image is accountability. Often, leaders are seen as a symbol of the business, so trust in them can really help create a great culture overall. If you want to build this, then you must show that you’re accountable for your own decisions and vision. This shows firstly that you have conviction in your own abilities, which is essential if you’re going to inspire others to do better at their own job. However, it also shows that you’re not going to blame others if your own actions and goals aren’t successful. One of the things that angers employees most is when unrealistic goals are set and then not met. If you’re clear that you have a vision and direction, but that if it’s unsuccessful the buck stops with you, then you’ll have a much better relationship with your employees. Of course, this can only work if you are an effective strategist – many key leadership skills are related to one another.
Communication is a skill that just about anyone, in any role within a business, should work on. But for leaders, it’s even more important. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that you need to effectively convey your ideas. Often, leaders will strategically direct the business, and then managers below them will use their own skills to figure out exactly how this direction will work. This can only be successful if the leader effectively communicated their ideas. The other major reason that communication is important is that it helps build good relationships.
The final point that we’re going to look at is one of the more obvious ones – creativity. This is a really hard one to get better at. Generally, creativity is something that comes naturally to people, and it’s something that helps hugely when coming up with those new, big ideas and directing the business. If you feel that this is something you need to work on, then don’t be put off. Often, being more creative is about being more willing to take risks, or worrying less about what others might think, and these are things that you can work on.
For further information on what makes a good leader, and how you can develop those skills, as well as how leadership is different from management, then our Introduction to Leadership course may be of interest.