15 Qualities of an Excellent Leader

Do you have your sights set on a leadership role in your industry? Whether you envision yourself in a supervisory role, somewhere in upper management, or even running your own company, you’ll need to have the traits and characteristics to lead teams of all sizes.

But what exactly makes a strong leader? Is it the ability to inspire and motivate others? Is it a dominant, confident presence? There’s a lot that goes into effective leadership, but there are some characteristics of a good leader you should strive for in your own career.

The Importance of Leadership in Business

Let’s begin with a better understanding of why leadership matters so much in the business world. The reality is that without strong leaders, teams have little to no sense of guidance or motivation. On the other hand, studies have found that companies with respectable leadership are up to 13 times more likely to outperform their competition. In this sense, leadership can make or break a business. This is true not just at an organization’s highest levels of leadership (such as president and CEO) but also throughout middle management and beyond.

Characteristics of a Good Leader

While everyone has their own unique leadership style and set of leadership skills to bring to the table, there are some qualities of a good leader that anybody in this position should aim for.

High Integrity

Integrity is a must-have trait for true leaders. Specifically, integrity refers to being both honest and reliable as a leader. This means having clear principles and beliefs that you follow closely as well as a sense of accountability. Leaders with integrity are also the type to lead by example, practicing what they preach for the betterment of the entire group.

Effective Communicator

Great leaders are excellent communicators, too, so they can connect well with others while sharing information in a meaningful way. Of course, communication isn’t just about speaking. For a leader, it also boils down to active listening. Taking the time to talk with members of a team (and truly listen to what they have to say) could reveal valuable insights that leaders can then use in their own work.

Not Afraid to Delegate

A smart and realistic leader will understand they can’t clone themselves or be in multiple places at once. They’ll also understand that to do the most important aspects of their job well, they must occasionally pass off some of their own work to others. The ability to delegate tasks as needed is a trait many fledgling leaders would benefit from striving toward. Effective delegation increases a leader’s own productivity while keeping them focused on what matters most.

Culturally Aware

Cultural awareness has become increasingly important in the workplace over the past several years—and it’s especially critical for anyone in a leadership role. Consider, for example, that surveys have found that diversity is a primary deciding factor for 67 percent of today’s job candidates.

More than ever, people want to work in places where diversity is not only accepted but also celebrated. Having strong leaders who are culturally competent can help ensure everybody feels welcome and empowered in the workplace, which cuts down on conflict, promotes a sense of positivity, and keeps everyone focused on their work rather than dwelling on their differences.

Earns Trust Easily

In addition, an excellent leader should be able to gain people’s trust relatively quickly and easily. This can be easier said than done, particularly in a leadership position where people are quick to make assumptions or otherwise skeptical of those in power. There are plenty of ways to go about earning trust as a leader, starting with open and candid communication. Likewise, being authentic and transparent in dealings with your team can go a long way here.

Shows Empathy

Empathetic leadership is crucial if you want employees to trust you. When employees feel that leaders genuinely understand their needs and struggles, they are better able to build strong and meaningful relationships. Also, when leaders listen and act with a sincerely empathetic ear, they can create a more positive work environment. All this is a win-win for everybody involved.

Able to Adapt

No matter what level of leadership you find yourself in, there’s a good chance you will have a wrench or two thrown into your plans at some point. This is where your leadership skills will really be put to the test—as the most effective leaders are those who can think quickly on their feet and adapt to changing circumstances. Being flexible and resilient helps you bounce back when things backfire, which motivates your team to do the same.

Strong Decision Maker

Solid decision-making skills are also an absolute must when functioning in any kind of leadership role. Sometimes, you’ll have plenty of time to weigh your options and make a decision. In other cases, you may need to make choices on the fly with minimal time to ruminate over different options. Regardless, a great leader can take the necessary information into account to make wise and impartial decisions for the good of the company.

Transparent When Needed

Think back to your experiences as an employee. Who were some of your best leaders? Your worst? More than likely, the strongest leaders you had were transparent and open with you and your team. Meanwhile, some of your worst experiences with leaders may have involved people who seemed cold and distant.

Respectable leaders understand when they need to be transparent with their teams to build trust and maintain relationships. Knowing when and how to share pertinent information can help build rapport with your own teams and become one of their favorite leaders in the process.


At the end of the day, being an excellent leader boils down to having respect and understanding for everyone. All too often, people believe they deserve respect simply because they have been hired into a leadership position. In reality, respect is always earned and never something to which you are entitled (regardless of your job title).

Of course, respect is a two-way street. In order to gain respect, you need to give it first. This applies to both those above you on the corporate ladder as well as within the teams you manage or supervise.


Self-awareness is a characteristic many leaders struggle with. If you don’t have a realistic understanding of how you are perceived by the people you are supposed to lead, you’ll have a hard time improving. Great leaders, then, should work toward self-awareness by maintaining a growth mindset and holding themselves to a high standard of accountability. Likewise, leaders should understand that they are always a work in progress, showing humility in their own work and their dealings with others.

Encourages Innovation

One of the worst mistakes you can make as a leader is sticking with the same way of doing things simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” In reality, the best leaders are those who constantly encourage innovation. When an employee comes to you with a new idea, don’t brush it off right away; take some time to really listen to the ideas and suggestions your team members have. You might be surprised at what you could learn.

Takes Accountability

Nobody’s perfect. A strong leader will accept this as fact, understanding that leaders can make mistakes just as easily as anyone else. With this in mind, leaders should be quick to take accountability when they do make an error in their work. Doing so demonstrates to team members that they not only are just human but also are able to own up to a mistake when they do something wrong. This, in turn, can build trust and a sense of authenticity that boosts your leadership authority.

Well Organized

Staying organized as a leader can be difficult, especially when you have so much on your plate at any given time. Developing strong organization and time management skills can require considerable effort. However, organization is key to avoiding mistakes while keeping projects on track, so this isn’t a trait you’ll want to overlook.

Lifelong Learner

True leaders understand that they don’t know it all. They turn to their own employees when they need answers to or assistance with something—and they’re not ashamed to admit when they don’t have the answers. Strong leaders are motivated to constantly learn new things, whether that means attending a professional development workshop or picking up a new skill that will serve them in the workplace.

Tips for Improving Your Leadership Skills

Becoming a great leader is certainly not something that simply happens overnight. It takes a good deal of proactive effort to start honing these skills, but the work you put in will be worth it when you’re able to lead your team with confidence.

Looking to take your leadership skills to the next level? Excelsior University can help. Explore our Master of Science in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Technology and Data Analytics. This degree program prepares you to lead organizations through transformational changes—with course topics ranging from project management and organizational behavior to data-driven decision-making and ethical leadership.

Learn more about this graduate program by requesting information or get started with your application today!