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Twelve Traits of a Successful Leader


Are leaders born or made? The jury is out on that one with modern theory suggesting a bit of both and certainly supporting the notion that any level of innate leadership can be nurtured and augmented with the right vision, tools and training. While not all people are born movers and shakers who can influence, motivate and inspire by pure gut instinct, everyone can be empowered to tap into their natural leadership abilities to succeed in business and in life. While each leader will have a unique style and roadmap to success, there are some common traits that the most successful leaders share.

  1. Integrity
    Honesty and integrity is the cornerstone of sustainable success. In order for people to want to follow their leader they must have complete trust in his honesty, his dedication, his commitment and his unshakeable ethics and high standards and values. Leaders who are open, truthful and consistent in their behaviors are more likely to inspire trust, loyalty and commitment in their teams.
  2. Willingness to take Risk
    Leaders are not afraid of taking risks or making mistakes. They take calculated as opposed to reckless risks and while they weigh their options and alternatives carefully they do not allow themselves to fall prey to the “analysis paralysis” syndrome. The best leaders learn from their mistakes and emerge from them resilient and ready to take on the next challenge.
  3. Optimism and Enthusiasm
    Leaders inspire others with the very infectiousness of their enthusiasm and their disarmingly genuine keenness, passion and zeal for what they do. Rather than dwelling on problems they are solution-oriented and focus on how to make things work and succeed. They are willing to see the silver lining in every cloud and have a ‘can-do’ optimistic attitude that leaves no place for negativity.
  4. Commitment to Growth
    Leaders recognize that learning is a life-long process and never stop doing what it takes to grow professionally and personally and maintain a grip with emerging trends and tools and business realities and technologies. The best leaders realize that to remain at the vanguard of their particular function or industry requires constant learning, enquiry, exploration and innovation as well as continuous self-scrutiny and analysis.
  5. Vision
    Leaders know precisely what they want and make clear detailed and achievable plans to get there. They are not vague or ambiguous in their goals nor do they leave anything to chance. Leaders are also able to articulate and communicate their vision clearly and in no uncertain terms and inspire and win others to their platform with their vision.
  6. Pragmatism
    While leaders may have lofty visions and ideals, they do not hide their heads in the clouds and are mindful of the hard facts and figures that surround them. They are very realistic when it comes to assessing the landscape they operate in and practical about the decisions they make.
  7. Responsibility
    Leaders can be depended on to take responsibility for their actions and to live up to their responsibilities completely. They do not stand firmly behind the commitments they make and do not let their teams down; nor do they assign or allocate blame to deflect from their own responsibilities. They do not have a victim mentality that holds others responsible for their poor choices and deficiencies but stare challenges in the face and confront them head-on.
  8. Hard Work and Conscientiousness
    Leaders work hard and accept no short cuts. The best leaders lead by their example demonstrating a stellar work ethic by being the first in the office, the last out and the most productive, persistent and dedicated while at work. They have a strong sense of duty and very high standards of excellence and they apply these rigorous standards to themselves first always seeking better, smarter, more effective ways of doing things.
  9. Self-confidence
    Leaders have no shortage of that essential commodity of self-assurance that enables them to risk giant strides, be bold and tough-minded and ‘fall forward’ in the rare instances when they do fall/fail. Leaders generally have little need for approval and are motivated by an inner strength, maturity and drive. Leaders are very cognizant of their inner strengths, weaknesses and the impact they have on others and knowledgeable of what they can and cannot realistically do/achieve/influence. They do not wallow in self-pity or guilt over past mistakes or doubt.
  10. Emotional Intelligence
    Empathy, self-awareness, decisiveness, self-discipline, intuitiveness and social competence are all key to successful leadership and all are associated with high levels of emotional intelligence. Congeniality, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and relate with others, the ability to read between the lines and analyze the pulse of a relationship or situation, the ability to focus on the positive and refrain from negative and self-defeating attitudes and behaviors, are all elements of emotional intelligence that contribute to leadership success.
  11. Expertise in Industry
    While there are many generalists in leadership positions the best leaders become generalists not by knowing a little about many fields but my being experts in a multitude of fields. Good leaders are characterized by a very high level of energy, conscientiousness and drive and spare no efforts to become experts in their field and harness all the information and knowledge and competence they need to maintain an edge over their competitors.
  12. Ability to Engage Others
    A key leadership trait is inspiring, motivating, engaging and bringing out the best in others. The best leaders encourage leadership in all around them and strive to develop and empower others to assume roles of leadership and responsibility. They are able to propel others to elevated levels of performance through their own energy and enthusiasm and insight and can maximize the strengths and capabilities of their team for the benefit of the whole organization.

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