Seven traits and skills of an effective leader in business

4 min read
16 April 2021

What makes a great leader?

John Quincy Adams once said, ‘if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.’ And even though President Adams died almost 175 years ago, his words still ring true today. 

Great leadership isn’t about being the ‘boss’, the ‘manager’ or the Chief of ‘insert vague title here’. It’s about empowering others. It’s about being strong and smart. Charismatic and capable.

While some people seem blessed with these traits, others have to work at it.

But make no mistake, you can learn the skills and traits of a highly effective leader. Just for starters, and in no particular order, here’s our top seven traits of an effective leader.

1. Effective Communication

Communication is a cornerstone skill of any great leader. Effective leaders can communicate clearly and easily with employees on all matters, from long term business goals to daily tasks. They can do this in any environment, such as large meetings or more intimate one-to-ones, and via any communication tools used in the workplace, such as a messenger app or email.

But perhaps the most effective communication tool in a leader’s skill arsenal is the ability to know when to talk and when to listen. 

Employees or staff who feel valued and have a voice – and know that their voice will be heard – will be happier, more loyal and more productive.

2. Lead by example

We see it everywhere and in all walks of life. From the politicians who lead us to the people who inspire us. In the modern world, where cancel culture is a real thing, the most effective way to build respect and credibility as a leader is to not just talk the talk but walk the walk.

Be the person others look up to. Show by example that you’re the leader who can muck in and do the hard slog if necessary. It goes without saying one of the traits of an effective leader is showing that your words and actions align. Set a great example and others will want to follow.

3. Self-management

How do you expect to lead or manage a team if you can’t manage yourself? As a leader, you’ll have your own set of goals, tasks and responsibilities, both professional and personal. You’ll need to learn to manage and prioritise.

Have you ever had a leader who never has time for their team? Always buried under a heavy workload, constantly stressed and only surfacing to issue instructions and then disappear once again?

An effective leader will manage their time, emotions and workloads, responding to their teams with strength, compassion and resilience. Self-management is a balancing act between discipline and self-control while taking care not to become inflexible or detached.

4. Act with integrity

In study after study, integrity remains one of the most important attributes employees and staff want to see in their leaders.

People want to feel safe in their work environment. They want to know their leader will go into bat for them, advocate for them and treat them fairly. They want to know their leader is doing the best thing for the business because, if there’s no business, there is no room for growth in your role.

Leaders should also be accountable and responsible for the decisions they make. Even the mistakes. Perhaps especially the mistakes. Strong leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence and integrity. So they are able to communicate openly and honestly, and keep their promises.

5. Team builders

A leader isn’t a leader without a team. And in today’s world, with people working from home for some or all of the time, team building has become more difficult. A leader can no longer just summon everyone into a meeting room, hype them up on cupcakes and coffee while they draw mind maps on oversized post-it notes with whiteboard markers.

An effective leader knows that a strong team is a force to be reckoned with. They work not only for themselves but for their teammates. Each person is valued for who they are and what they bring to the table. They will drive themselves, each other and their leader forward and upwards.

At Kelly+Partners we like to say that it is not an accident who succeeds today, but the deliberate choice of a capable team. A team that is united, led and inspired by a focused leader.

6. Motivate and inspire

The finest leaders motivate and inspire their teams. They propel themselves and their teams towards bigger and better things. A motivated team knows what they have to do and how to do it. They just get on with the job. A great leader will also recognise that a motivated team is likely to need far less management, which in turn makes the leader’s job easier - a win win!

Encourage your team to take control of their own destiny, to relentlessly pursue their own goals and aim high. Be flexible and compassionate, recognising that not all people want the same things from their jobs. Some people will absolutely be gunning for your job, but others simply want to do what they love and be happy doing it.

7. Be a visionary

Great leaders are visionaries. They can look at the future of their business and set clear and measurable goals. Visionaries make decisions while balancing business stability and growth. And they do this with confidence, optimism and enthusiasm.

In the 1980’s and 90’s, Bill Gates saw a gap in the market (software developers being paid for their programs) and, as unpopular as it was with those not wanting to pay for product, he seized the opportunity. Subsequently building Microsoft into a multi-billion dollar company.

This is not dissimilar to the path Steve Jobs followed when building the Apple brand. He even mucked things up a few times. But he never stopped believing in himself and trusting his instincts.

Both Jobs and Gates didn’t set out to make an improvement to a current product, they set out to put the consumer first and as a result radicalised the way things are done in the industries.

Needless to say, these renowned visionaries would have likely had a great accounting team. Possibly even as good as the Kelly+Partners team. If you have a vision for the future of your business and want to make sure everything is where it should be, we’re keen to chat.