8 Traits of Effective Leaders You Should Develop and HOW to do it!

8 Qualities of Effective Leaders
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Do you want to have more influence? To be the kind of person others follow and look up to? 

Let’s face it:

Whether you like it or not, there are certain skills that enable some people to quickly move their careers and lives ahead, while others stay stuck for long periods of time.

You may have more degrees or technical skills, but still end up falling behind people who possess the right skills.

Leadership is one of them.

In the workspace the ability to effectively lead people and get the absolute best out of them is invaluable. However, the qualities of an effective leader will help you in a lot of other aspects of your life.

You may ask yourself:

What qualities make someone an effective leader?

We’ll get into these character traits, but that alone isn’t very useful. Instead in each section, I’ll cover how to develop the skill so that you can become a more effective leader yourself!

Also if you want more influence, try out these 5 influence hacks.

Leadership Trait 1: Honesty

This one is a no-brainer!

Whether it’s your employees, the local football team you coach, or your own kids, there needs to be mutual trust!

It’s the cornerstone of any kind of relationship. Dishonesty and a lack of integrity won’t go unnoticed, and guess what once people know you’re a lying bastard?

It’s game over!

They won’t trust you. They won’t be open and honest to you either because of it. No, they won’t break through brick walls for you, like they would for a great leader.

You just lost all your credibility and authority with them!

How to Develop this Leadership Skill:

Do I really need to tell you this?

Be honest, and have integrity! When you say you’re gonna do something, you stay through to your word and do it! 

Recommended reading: You might do with some “Radical Honesty” in your life. It’s a book by Brad Blanton, a psychotherapist. While this may be taking it to the extreme, some degree of this help you be a better leader. 

Leadership trait 2: Decisiveness

There is a huge difference in the decision making between highly effective (and successful) people, and those who don’t seem to get anywhere fast.

Can you guess what it is?

Most successful people make up their mind quickly, then change their mind slowly. Unsuccessful people make up their mind slowly, then change their mind quickly.

It’s why people get started with something, give up, and go do something else.

As a leader it’s even worse!

You are the person people depend upon to make decisions!

If there is an obstacle in the way, the leader is the first person people turn to for advice and guidance. It may be tough but your people are looking at you to decide the next step of action.

If you don’t take action to resolve things, the problem stays. It actually grows because the people around you become demotivated.

Here’s an example of how a good leader should and should not lead:

At our sports club I was talking to a friend of mine with whom I also coach a youth team together.

Her own team just lost an important game by 1 point. Even though they (as a team) played well, she felt she played badly that game and was feeling down in the dumps about it.

At one point her coach sat with us for a minute.

And so, she asked her coach what they should have done differently.

This is one of the cases where the people you’re supposed to lead turn to you with an issue. As a leader (or coach in this case), they want you guide them forward, for which you need to be decisive!

In this case, that did not happen…

The coach gave her a blank look at first and told her she didn’t really know what to do either…

Ouch!

After her coach left, she looked at me with a face full of defeat and said:

“Ugh this sucks!” and shook her head.

Then, she continued:

You know, when our kids (the ones we coach) struggle with something, we tell them what to do differently, and they’ll do better after that.

What are we supposed to do if even our coaches don’t know?!”

The look on her face said it all…

It tells the complete story of what your people are going through when their leader can’t make up his or her damn mind and come up with a plan of action!

Even when it may not be the best solution, a good leader offers guidance and a course of action.

How to Develop this Leadership Skill:

The first key point is to know your shit!

  • As a sports coach, you need to know the game well to come up with a tactic to win.
  • As a manager, you need to know the business, the team’s task, and the possible methods for getting the desired result!
  • As a fitness instructor, you need to know what exercises and routines will get your clients the results that they want.

Without this, everything fails!

If you don’t know your area of expertise well enough to create a decisive plan of action, you’re not going to be effective. It’s like the coach who doesn’t know either.

Next there’s your key principles or your company’s principles.

Your (or your company’s) principles are a set of guidelines that help you in your decision making. They are the things that are most important to you and affect your decision making.

For example:

Your choices will vary depending on whether you’re part of an environmentally friendly company or a company who merely cares about profits.

Got a plan to build a new, high-polution factory?

For the environmentally friendly firm, you can give a resolute “No!”, because it’s against the company’s principles. For the other company, you’d look at the numbers and say “Yes!” if the profits are good enough.

See how that works?

Your principles are a cornerstone by which you can make decisions quicker and more consistently. Knowing what you stand for goes a long way here!

Finally don’t change course too often.

This shows that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Of course things change and you may need to adjust your strategy accordingly, but do it too often and you’ll be making things worse for everyone.

Leadership Trait 3: Confidence

This is an incredibly important trait for a leader to have.

In order to get the best out of people, they need to feel confident. While some people just have this quality naturally, it’s certainly not the case for everyone.

As a leader it’s your task to empower the people around you and give them the confidence to do their absolute best.

We’ll come back to inspiring your team later on. For now, there’s another potential problem that a good leader has had to overcome.

Their own confidence!

Part of being a good leader is to have the right personal character traits. You cannot instill confidence in others if you come across as insecure yourself, it just doesn’t work that way.

Remember that good leaders lead by example!

If you’re not feeling that confident in certain situations, one of the first things to do would be to start developing confidence.

How to Develop this Leadership Skill

Confidence is a tough skill to master if you don’t already have it. The problem with a lack of confidence is that the reasons you’re not feeling confident are often deeply rooted and you’re often not aware of them.

Here’s what I mean:

Perhaps you’re not confident speaking up at meetings or giving presentations.

Here’s a possible cause:

In high school you were in a class full of assholes.

People who would laugh and make mean remarks when you went to present. Maybe your parents were hard on you, so they unintentionally made you feel like you weren’t good enough.

It’s these kind of things that still roam your unconscious mind, causing you to not feel confident.

Luckily, you ARE confident. Even if you don’t think so.

It’s what we like to call topical confidence.

Going back quite a few years in time, I was the bullied kid, the insecure kiddo with low self-esteem and little confidence. When I got home from school I’d often turn on the PC and play games for hours on end.

A way of escape back then of course.

But here’s the thing:

Put me in front of a keyboard and suddenly I was full of confidence! I knew how the game was played, what to do and how to outsmart my opponents. It was my zone where I had topical confidence.

There’s areas like that in your life as well, for sure.

Think of the situations in which you feel confident:

  • How do you feel in that situation?
  • How do you speak?
  • How do you act?
  • How do you walk?

Here’s an exercise for you:

Here’s what to do: 

What I want you to do is to close your eyes. Think about a time when you felt incredibly confident, and in control. Take a few seconds to picture the situation vividly.

Then stand in the way you stood back then. 

Yes, physically do it!

Stand tall like you stood when you were feeling at your most confident moment.

Perhaps you have a broad stance, have your chin and shoulders up, or maybe you’re making a certain gesture that signals power to you. Whatever it is, stand up tall in a way where you feel extremely confident!

Keep your eyes closed and really feel that confidence flow through you.

Now, what I want you to do next, is this:

Without changing anything about your posture and the way you stand, try to feel timid and notice what happens instead.

If you’re like most people, you’ll either notice it’s pretty hard to do it, or you automatically shift your body away from the confident state.

That’s the great part about body language!

If you’re feeling confident, your state and feelings will have you carry on with more confident body language. However, the reverse is also true, where shifting your body language changes your state of mind!

with the right state, you can affect your mind using your body.

It’s a quick way to “hack” confidence!

However, this does require you to consciously act, stand and behave in a certain way. For a permanent change, you need to have confidence in an unconscious way.

The best way for this is with what I like to call confidence through competence.

Think of the things you are great at:

When you’re doing those things, you feel confident about doing them! You know that you have the knowledge and skill to do an amazing job at it, so you feel confident in that situation.

That’s what you want.

Yes, it will take longer to develop, but once you get to the point where you know you can ace that presentation, be charming on that date, or do an excellent job in a certain situation, you will be confident there!

Bonus:

Check out this video. It will go deeper in how your body language and behavior can help you feel and be perceived as more confident.

You can watch it here, if the embed does not work.

Leadership Trait 4: Being Down to Earth

Ever had a manager or co-worker who was just a little bit too full of him/herself?

Obviously a big ego is not a sign of a good leader. 

The best leaders are humble about themselves. They’re not arrogant about their skills or abilities. Instead they recognize the efforts made by the team, praise the team and celebrate the team’s success.

For one, being arrogant will at some point invoke resentment in the people around you.

Nobody likes somebody who treats others as if they’re inferior to them. Even if you have a higher position (manager for example), it’s never an excuse to put others down.

How to Develop this Leadership Skill

Get off the damn high horse!

Don’t act like you know everything and your way is always the best. Ask for input from the team, as they’ll feel heard and it shows you care about more than your own opinions on the matter.

Also, actually use their input.

If you listen to what the team has to see, but then you ignore everything and do what you were going to do anyway, it doesn’t work! It shows that you’re not valuing their input.

What if you make a mistake?

The poor leader would think too highly of himself to admit it, and will probably blame it on someone else, circumstances, or whatever they can think of. Because: “I’m so great, I can’t have possibly screwed it up, right?”.

No! Just no!

As a good leader you admit when you messed up, you’re open about it (see point 1), and lead with how you’re going to solve the problem. You’ll avoid the resentment that comes from blaming other, and you’ll gain the respect from your team.

And most importantly:

Whenever somebody else makes a mistake, they’ll be way more likely to speak to you about it. Instead of trying to hide it (which often makes the problem worse), that person will have the honesty and confidence to admit that he or she messed up. 

Problems get into the open, problems get solved. Together!

Leadership Trait 5: Diligence

I’ve said it earlier and I’ll say it again:

Good leaders lead by example! It’s one of the best leadership traits there are.

Imagine if you and your coworkers were asked to put in a couple of hours per night for a week in overtime.

You’ll do it because you want to help the company, because it pays well, or in hopes of getting a promotion. Whatever the reason may be for accepting the overtime.

Now how would you feel if you’re putting in an extra 4 hours per day, while the management team goes home at the regular times, or just put in 1 hour extra?

Resentment?
Feeling of unfairness?
Bit of anger maybe?

A great leader won’t ask their team for things they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves.

You need to be working hard yourself, even harder than you’re expecting others to work. If you say you expect X level of effort, but you don’t put AT LEAST that amount in yourself, you’ll see others slack of as well.

How to Develop this Leadership Skill

Be willing to work harder than you expect your team to work.

If there is something that needs to be done, or there are circumstances that make the work worse (overtime, rain if you’re outside, etc.). Be there with the team to do the work! Of course your tasks will very, but you should be besides them.

To give you an example that demonstrates the power of “suffering” along:

As I’ve spoken about in this article I’ve coached a sports team for many years. It’s outside and the Netherlands isn’t exactly known for the great weather.

As a result it’s regularly cold, raining, windy, or a combination of those.

And guess what I see when I look across the field?

Most trainers and coaches of the other teams are standing there in raincoats, with umbrellas. Meanwhile the kids are in their regular sports outfits, as a coat would prevent movement in the upper body which is needed.

Of course there would be a lot of complaining from the kids pretty much the entire right?

Yes of course, but it’s noticeably less for the teams I coached.

It’s not because the kids are such die-hards, they do complain as well! The difference is that we don’t put on a coat or get an umbrella, we’re there in our own sports outfits just like the children. 

They’ll complain. Logically, who likes rain?

That’s when you address an issue instead of ignoring it: 

“Yes, it’s an inconvenience. No, we don’t like it either. But there’s nothing we can do about it, so let’s just continue and do your best nonetheless” Or something along those lines.

I’m sure the other trainers would say something similar.

But….

The other teams look at them, and they’re like “Yeah, that’s easy for you to say! You’re the one under the umbrella while I’m getting soaked!”. That’s the difference between doing what you expect others to do yourself, and not doing it.

Can you guess which team continued practice (with the occasional complaining) and which teams stopped to go inside?

Exactly, I rest my case!

Leadership Trait 6: Communication

As you may notice the leadership traits above are personal traits.

Personal in the sense that they’ve got to do with you as a person, rather than skills focused around other people and communication. In my humble, but accurate opinion, these skills are more important than the social skills.

They’re about being the person people can look up to and follow.

Nobody is going to want to go the extra mile for somebody who’s dishonest, insecure, and unwilling to go the extra mile himself while asking you to do so.

You need good communication too of course.

Now let’s focus on the skills that help you effectively communicate with other people, influence them, and lead them in a way they’ll appreciate.

The term “communication” may seem a bit vague, since it’s very broad. The Oxford dictionary defines communication as:

“The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium”.

In easy terms:

Communication is all about how you get your message across to other people, both verbally and nonverbally. You’ll often need to tell people what to do, so your communication needs to be clear and effective.

How to Develop this Leadership Skill

Some people are naturally great at communicating with others. They feel how the other person is feeling and can automatically adjust their communication accordingly.

For them, it’s automatic, they often don’t even think about it.

But what if you’re not that kind of person? There are a few things you can do to improve your communication skills:

Preparation.

If you know you will need to give a presentation, give instructions to people, persuade someone, etc., then arrive prepared. Think beforehand about what you want to say and how to say it in an easy to understand way.

Important:

You are NOT your audience!

Even though you have a clear understanding of what needs to happen, do not assume the other person has this same picture.

It would be easy if it worked like this:

Your communication often seems clearer to yourself than to others, because you have everything in your mind already. For others you need to be the one to paint the complete picture.

People regularly use terms like:

“Yeah, that’s what I meant”

Oftentimes this is when they explain something, it wasn’t completely clear, and the other person rephrases it more clearly or explains it more thoroughly.

It sounded good in your head, because you have all the information.

So you might have just communicating enough information to extrapolate the bigger picture, but if that person does not have that picture in the first place, then they cannot do that.

That’s the cause of a lot of miscommunications.

Your effective communication creates the picture in their mind and sees to it that they get ALL of the important information! You are responsible for communicating in a way where others will understand it, not them.

When in doubt:

Think about what you want to say, write it for yourself and read it aloud.

Does it make sense? If possible you may want to explain your idea to someone else to see if they get the same idea you have. It’s a quick test to see how clear your message is.

Of course that’s only part of communication.

As a leader, it’s an important part, but communication goes both ways. Therefore it is important to develop empathy and read how people are feeling in your conversations (this is the harder part).

Imagine this:

You see a note that was slid under your door. You pick up the note and it reads:

“I’m will kill you!”.

You look around, but see nobody.

With no context, you’ll probably take this as a treat and take it damn seriously! Communicating with others works the same way, it’s all about how you carry yourself and what you DO rather than what you say.

Here’s what I mean:

Take the same message from above in 2 different contexts:

  1. You found out your partner has been cheating on you, you found the person he/she has been cheating with. Then with an aggressive posture, you walk towards this person and shout: “I will kill you!”.
  2. Some guy in high school has a crush on a girl but never dared to talk to her. A friend sets something up so they’re pretty much forced to conversate or do something together.

    The guy feels awkward about it, but it’s a great opportunity for him. When they pass his friend, he looks at him, smiles, and whispers “I’ll kill you for this!”.

Same sentence, completely different meaning!

See the point? It’s never just about what you say to people, what’s even more important is your body language and the way you say things. A first important step is learn to read someone’s body language and face.

Bonus: It’s a really long watch, but this video will help you get a way better understanding of how body language works and how to read it.

You can watch it here, if the embed does not work.

If you can see somebody is feeling insecure, it’s your cue to step in and inspire them to get their confidence up. That’s why reading people is such an invaluable skill.

And the other part:

It’s the way you move and act yourself.

It’s the reason why we started with personal leadership skills.

You want to give people around you more confidence, you have great words of encouragement, but if you stand there with your head down, making your body smaller, and a closed body posture, it’s not gonna work very well.

You show you’re not confident yourself, so you won’t inspire it in others either.

Leadership Trait 7: Empowering Others

Fear can be a driving force for many people.

There are definitely quite a few people out there that use fear as a means to try to get others to do what they want them to do.

It’s like a “Do well, or you’re fired!” kind of environment. Perhaps you’ve had (or still have) a boss like this. Fear runs the place, not the desire to be better.

Does someone like this inspire you to do your absolute best?

In some cases it might.

If I put a gun to your head and tell you to finish that report by 5, you will work as if your life depended upon it (because it would). Fear can be a driver.

But it brings along things like resentment and hate.

Long term, trying to get things done by using fear as a tool will not create a healthy environment.

One of the best qualities of a good leader is the fact that they encourage and inspire their people to whatever goal they have. They make people around them feel confident. They bring out the best in others in a pleasant way.

Your goal as a leader goes further than the occasional “Good job”!

The more important part is to help people feel confident and have them know that you trust them.

How to Develop this Leadership Skill

This one can be a bit tricky, since some people will react differently to some forms of encouragement.

I’m personally more of a “I’ll figure it out” type of person, so if you were to tell me to drop by at any time I need help would be ineffective. I likely wouldn’t do it unless I’m really stuck.

Having said that:

Offering someone a lifeline on a difficult task can often work great. If someone is insecure about a certain task, it can give them the confidence to do it. After all they know if they run into problems, the can call for backup.

Another big part is to show appreciation. 

I used to work as an operator for some time. In that work environment appreciation was pretty much absent. You’d often only see or speak to the team “leaders” when a machine broke down, or someone made a severe mistake. 

If things went wrong, you’d know.

However, most days the production ran smoothly for the entire shift. How often do you think we heard someone from the management team say: “Hey, well done today guys!”?

Just a few times per year actually.

This made me and colleagues feel like we’re just a number. A cog in the big bad machine. An unimportant piece that could easily be replaced whenever they felt needed for whatever reason.

You don’t want this for the people around you.

Make your team feel like they really are part of the organisation. Show and tell that you appreciate their hard work. Celebrate milestones with them. A nice gesture often goes a long way. It also builds loyalty as a side effect.

However you do it, make sure your team feels appreciated!

One final thing I’m going to give you about encouraging and inspiring people is trust. It can feel very motivating when you know your supervisor or boss has complete trust in your abilities.

Empower your team.

It can be a huge confidence boost if you can entrust someone with making their own decisions (to some degree of course). Perhaps let someone adjust a marketing strategy for a client as they see fit.

Almost instantly makes the other person feel like they’re doing well. Why else would they be trusted with more responsibility? Doing this can boost someone’s self esteem as well as their confidence.

The Most Important of All Leadership Traits!

Ever heard the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.”?

That phrase holds the key to great leadership.

I’ve once heard this story of a guy (I believe from somewhere in Europe) visiting Japan. Sometime at night he and a Japanese friend we’re waiting at a stop light before crossing the road on foot.

He looked around for a second.

There were no cars or other vehicles coming, so he turned to his friend. “Let’s, just go.” he said. The other guy held him back and told him to wait for the light to turn green. 

 “Why?” asked our western friend. “It’s completely safe.”

“Look around you.” replied his friend while pointing at the apartments around them. “What if somewhere around there’s a child watching us? What kind of example do you think that would set?”.

Let that sink in for a second…

If you can understand the meaning of the words above you’re well on your way to becoming a great leader (if not, keep reading!). As long as you actually take these words and make them a practice of your life.

Hint: This is the single best thing you can do as a parent as well!

The truth of the matter is that people will pick up way more from what you DO rather than what you SAY.

It’s true with your kids, co-workers, employees, sports team, etc. It doesn’t matter as long as they look up to you or respect you.

For example:

If you have small children you want them to use nice language and avoid swearing, right? You constantly tell them not to swear, so naturally they won’t do it right?

Well, not necessarily! 

What do you do when something happens, let’s say you drop a glass.

If your first response is to yell “Fuck!” or do some more creative cursing, your efforts for raising your child just went out the window. A child at young age looks up to its parents, and often learn from mimicking behavior. 

“Mommy does this, so it must be okay”.

That’s probably what would go through their head at a time like that. You can have excellent communication and leadership skills, but if your actions aren’t congruent with how you want others to behave it won’t work!

Yes, I’ve mentioned this before.
Yes, I’m being redundant on purpose.
Yes, I’ll do it again.

The title of this article says the “8 Traits of Effective Leaders”, not the “8 Things Great Leaders Do Once in a While”.

This goes back to clear communication: I revisit certain key points and talk about them multiple times from multiple angles. A different angle or approach can help make it “click” with you.

Repetition is the mother of all skill my friend.

Good leaders lead by example.

What attitude do you want your team to have? How do you want the kids on your sports team to behave during practice? What do you want your kids to pick up from you raising them?

SHOW, not Tell!

How to Develop These Leadership Traits More Effectively

While there are certainly quite a few things that make someone a great leader, this last one is definitely the most important one on the list. Think of it as the foundation of leadership.

Without it, the house is going to collapse.

Don’t get my wrong: honesty, integrity, diligence, confidence, and quite a few more, are important leadership traits! You’ll grow as a person as well as a leader when you improve yourself in these areas.

Don’t neglect them!

Just know that great leaders are people actually worth following!

Here’s how to work on becoming a better leader:

Choose 1 or 2 areas to start with!

If you try to improve on all of these areas at once, you’ll quickly overwhelm yourself! In trying to do so, you’ll most likely end up with not improving on any of those areas!

You’re spreading yourself too thin!

Instead:

Bookmark or save this page somewhere so you can come back to it later to look at the list again and work on another one of these leadership skills.

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