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The 10 Qualities All Successful Leaders Have in Common

Entrepreneurs need these leadership qualities to grow their business

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Not all clever entrepreneurs have the qualities of a successful leader. This will be apparent the moment they hire staff.

That's when a lack of self-awareness, team building skills or any other of the key leadership qualities that attract and retain the best people could cost them their business.


Free Download: 10 Leadership Qualities That Will Help Solve Challenges in 2022


The PwC Pulse Survey in 2022 found 48% of surveyed leaders say finding enough people to hire is the biggest risk to their business achieving its growth targets (PWC, 2022). 77% said hiring and retaining talent is their most critical growth driver.


With remote and hybrid work here to stay, leadership qualities like the soft skills of empathy and communication are more helpful for attracting followers and adapting to change than traditional leader qualities like charisma or confidence. Like the type of leadership style you choose, your leader qualities matter.


“Think of it as a little less bluster and charm and a little more focus and care for your team,” says Takako Hirata in The Virtual Leader.


As leadership development experts, we offer you this unique list of the top 10 qualities drawn from our interviews, masterclasses and events with global thought leaders and leading business book authors. Our Leadership Pass members and ticketed guests have access to these brilliant minds in live weekly learning sessions.


Whether you're an entrepreneur, a team leader, or a CEO of a large organisation, you'll need to develop these 10 qualities all successful leaders have in common:

1       Self-awareness -Know your impact

2       Empathy - Love differences in others

3       Vulnerability and humility - Trust and be trusted

4       Team builder - Empower others

5       Growth mindset - Keep learning

6       Communication - Be clear and positive

7       Commitment to improvement - Be a better you

8       Scientific thinking - Question assumptions

9       Active listener - Stay curious longer

10   Digital competency - Keep up, and then some

Let’s hear what some of our global speakers say about leadership and these leadership qualities in more detail.


What is quality leadership?

Before you begin to think about leadership qualities it might be helpful to define quality leadership. In August we host the world-first Good to Great event Jim Collins - How to Develop Level 5 Leaders in Your Business that will go into this in detail. But to define leadership, the American researcher, speaker and consultant on leadership and business management says this:


"Leadership is the art of getting people to do what must be done."


It sounds so simple yet becoming a great leader who can inspire others to do their best work takes continual learning and practice (tens of thousands of leaders now do this weekly with their Leadership Pass – see below).


Qualities needed for Level 5 leadership – the top leader level

All of the leadership qualities you need to succeed can be summed up in Jim Collins's descriptions of a Level 5 leader - especially their combination of "strong personal humility and professional will." In other words, they are incredibly driven and ambitious, but they also maintain a healthy sense of self-awareness and are able to put the needs of others above their own.

Jim says Level 5 leaders can be developed, but the quality of their leadership is "far more than simply the sum of its parts."


"They are a study in duality: modest and willful, shy and fearless. They lead in a spirit of service, putting the needs of their team and company first," he says of these high-quality leaders.

level-five-pyramid-of-hierarchy


Leadership Qualities: What Makes a Good Leader?   

The reason you became a leader in the first place will impact on the leadership qualities you develop. In his book The Motive, Growth Faculty speaker Patrick Lencioni describes two types of leadership;

·       Reward-centred leadership. Reward-centred leaders believe leadership is a reward for hard work and so it should be pleasant and enjoyable.

·       Responsibility-centred leadership. Responsibility-centred leaders believe leadership is a responsibility and they expect the leader experience to be difficult and challenging (as well as personally gratifying).  


The qualities of the responsibility-centred leader are what’s required for the success of an organisation. For example, a responsibility-centred leader knows 'being a good communicator' means having hard conversations, as well as the upbeat, motivating ones. Being a team builder may mean letting the wrong people go. Being self-aware can call for self-criticism.


10 Key Qualities All Successful Leaders Have in Common 

Hundreds of our speakers and authors have inspired our unique list of 10 qualities common to all successful leaders. We’ve drawn this list from interviews and masterclasses with former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, DELL founder and CEO Michael Dell, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Atomics Habits author James Clear, Dare to Lead author and speaker Brené Brown, and Virgin Group founder and CEO Sir Richard Branson, to name a few. 


All have had direct experience of leading teams themselves and/or researching leadership and would agree a good leader isn’t born with these qualities, you can cultivate these skills over time. But all the qualities they exhibit or recommend do come from knowing their purpose.


As Julia Gillard told us in her interview on Women In Leadership:


“Be clear about the sense of purpose that drives you – it should be written down and carried with you day by day.”


 So, let’s look closely at the 10 key qualities that all successful leaders have in common.


Self-awareness 

A 5-year Harvard research programme discovered that although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are!

Without self-awareness you fail to see the patterns in your behaviours and thinking. You struggle to regulate your own feelings.

·       An HBR survey found 99% of employees reported working with at least one person who had “a complete lack of insight into how they came across”.


A leader without self-awareness will lead to employee stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of their leaving their job. Conversely, a leader with self-awareness inspires others by aligning their words with actions, and regulating their feelings by showing self-control, especially when challenged or stressed.


They lead by example, and demonstrate the behaviours they wish others to follow Entrepreneurs with their heart and soul in their organisation should ensure they are self-aware enough to show compassion towards others and allow in their divergent ideas and influences.


Self-awareness requires high emotional intelligence, flexibility, resilience, and adaptability.

Professional development training will often focus on personal development of the leader because of this important self-awareness piece of the puzzle.  


Empathy

At our Singapore event with former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, the author of Becoming shared the story of receiving empathy from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

“I confessed…my feet were hurting. She confessed that hers hurt too. We looked at each other then with identical expressions, like, when is all this standing around with world leaders going to finally wrap up?

A leader with the quality of empathy is perceptive, notices how others are feeling, and shows that person that they are seen, appreciated, and understood.


Empathy is how good leaders signal “belonging cues” – behaviours that create safe connection in groups. Daniel Coyle, interviewed by us on his book The Culture Code, outlines how leaders show people they belong:

·       Energy: They invest in the exchange that is occurring

·       Individualisation: They treat the person as unique and valued

·       Future orientation: They signal the relationship will continue.


Empathy is saying ‘I’m willing to connect with you’ and ‘I understand your perspective.’ Without empathy, people feel unsafe, alienated and demotivated. Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organisation says humans need lots belonging signals, ‘over and over.’

“Given that our sense of danger is so natural and automatic, organisations have to do some pretty special things to overcome that natural trigger.” - Amy Edmondson


Vulnerability and humility

Research professor and author of Dare to Lead Brené Brown told us being vulnerable is what helps humans plan, communicate, and work together. Vulnerability leads to trust, not the other way round. And trust is the essential building block for teamwork, feeling safe, and being productive.

Brené Brown says being vulnerable is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.

"True belonging," she explains in her book Daring Greatly, "only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. This takes courage, vulnerability, and humility."


As we saw earlier, humility is also the ‘X factor’ in Level 5 leaders, according to Jim Collins.

“Level 5 leaders are those who exhibit a combination of strong personal humility and professional will,” says the world-renowned leadership researcher.

This combination of humility and professional will keeps the team united and working towards the same goal – the success of the company.


Team builder

Many elements combine to form the leadership quality of ‘team builder.’ The ability to inspire people with a clear vision (your “why”) pulls a team together to achieve team goals. But first you need to hire the best people for the team.  

Jim Collins calls this “The right people on the bus” in Good to Great. He writes: “... the single biggest constraint on the success of any organisation is the ability to get, and to hang on to, enough of the right people.”


Sir Richard credits “fantastic people” for keeping Virgin Atlantic alive when the pandemic forced planes out of the air for 18 months.

“With fantastic people you can survive the bad times and enjoy the good times.” he told Growth Faculty.


A team building experiment

An experiment that tested a leader’s ‘team building qualities’ makes a fascinating story in Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code. Observers watched how leaders behaved when their team included a ‘jerk, slacker, or downer’ employee. One leader ‘Jonathan’ was able to keep the team engaged and on task simply by making the room a safe space.

“Nick behaves like a jerk and Jonathan reacts instantly with warmth, deflecting the negativity and making a potentially unstable situation feel safe,” recounts Coyle. Jonathan also drew others out, listened intently and responded.

“He radiates an idea that is something like ‘Hey this is all really comfortable and engaging and I’m curious about what everybody has to say.’”

Coyle says we don’t normally think of safety as being so important, but he says it’s the foundation on which strong culture is built.


As well, exceptional team leaders keep their team free of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team set out by Patrick Lencioni, one of our most popular Global Headliner speakers. These dysfunctions are an absence of trust, a fear of conflict, a lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

Team builders don’t avoid the hard stuff yet they inspire their team to achieve their vision.


Growth mindset

A key quality of successful leaders is having the right type of leadership mindset, the term coined in 2006 by Carol Dweck in Mindset. It can be a fixed mindset or growth mindset. A fixed mindset sees leadership as something you’re born with. A growth mindset believes leadership is a learned skill.


Leaders with a growth mindset are ‘glass half full’ leaders. Faced with ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity, they roll up their sleeves and get learning. A great leader is always looking to further improve their leadership skills.

Studies show that workers who maintain their ability to learn outpace other professionals. (McKinsey).


As Dell founder and author of Play Nice But Win Michael Dell told us in interview “Success is not a straight line up. It’s fail, learn, try again, then (you hope) succeed.”

If you wish to improve your leadership skills, demonstrating this growth mindset, you can join our guided weekly learning community of Leadership Pass holders.  


Communication  

Being an effective communicator is one of the core qualities of being a good leader. It can make or break the workplace environment, team culture, and the organisation’s bottom line.

Professional speech writer and former diplomat Lucinda Holdforth told Growth Faculty leaders mobilise people by inspiring them to act.

“We humans will only offer our full measure of devotion in the service of a cause we believe in, and for people we admire and respect,” she says in her book Leading Lines. “The leaders must shape and communicate a strong overarching story that brings together all the people involved and unites them in a common purpose.”  


This means:

·       Being consistent in messaging.

·       Clearly and succinctly communicating the organisation’s vision, goals, objectives, and tasks in a meaningful, genuine way. 

·       Active listening.

·       Keeping people accountable to those expectations communicated, by using radical candour to offer prompt and constructive feedback. 


Commitment to improvement

Former CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi, one of our Global Headliners in 2022, is a powerhouse of continual improvement. The author of My Life in Full says:

“If you want to lift the performance of the organisation, you have to lift yourself... my message to my team was always meet my bar, and that bar would constantly be moved up.”


New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks are a world class case study in improvement, with a team mantra ‘Leave the jersey in a better place.’

Self-improvement is embedded in the culture, says Legacy author James Kerr in our book club interview. It allows every player to step up under pressure, make good decisions, and execute with accuracy.


Scientific thinking

When you think like a scientist, “You look for reasons why you might be wrong, not just reasons why you must be right,” says Adam Grant in Think Again.

If you view each plan as a hypothesis, you welcome contrary opinions.

In one study, “those entrepreneurs that we taught to think like scientists brought in more than 40 times the revenue of the control group,” he said in our 2021 interview.


Former PepsiCo CEO and Chair Indra Nooyi used scientific thinking to pivot her organisation to healthier products.

“You can either future-proof the company or de-risk it. I started with a look at the megatrends that would impact the consumer products industry,” she told Growth Faculty. “I wrote down the 10 megatrends, then went and talked about what we needed to do differently to continue to be a major player in this changing world, with these megatrends coming upon us.”


Active listener

Many leaders stop listening once an idea, solution, or suggestion pops into their head. We learned this from our masterclass with author of The Advice Trap and The Coaching Habit Michael Bungay Stanier. The leadership quality of active listening is not blurting out your idea or advice but staying curious longer and asking more questions.


Leaders who are active listeners lead from a place that is more empathetic, more mindful, and more humble.


“You can’t be more coach-like if you’re not being curious,” says Michael.


He says active listeners use small words of encouragement, such as uh-huh, yes, nice, great, lovely, excellent, right, spot-on. He says they look for opportunities to use “we” and “us” where appropriate. And, importantly, Michael says, they acknowledge how the speaker might be feeling. It can be a simple phrase like “That sounds hard/difficult/exciting.”


Digital competency

“Digital native” Millennials and Generation Z makeup 64% of the world’s population. So, it’s barely surprising a Forbes study found a lack of digital skills had a substantial negative impact on employees’ perceived effectiveness of their leader.

Poor digital skills were seen as more negative than the extent to which excellent skills were seen as positive.


High competency in digital skills is just ‘permission to play’ for leaders in today’s world. Leaders must be agile on technology, with the ability to adapt to change and seize opportunities when they become available.


As well as having the quality of excellent digital competency, successful leaders try to anticipate the broader impacts of the latest technologies.

Matthew Donald, author of Leading and Managing Change in the Age of Disruption and AI, says:


“It is the hidden effects of technology that should be considered by those leading and managing organisations in the future, as each change in technology may have the potential to transform workplaces or eliminate organisations and whole industries.”


Learn How to Be a Successful Leader with Our Leadership Pass  

There’s a power shift in the workforce, and leaders striving for success know they must master the qualities that attract and retain their so-called ‘A-player’ employees. New employees will have expectations of what an ideal workplace looks like - and what constitutes success at work, says Takako Hirata in The Virtual Leader.


“The best workers are pickier than ever before,” she says. “They demand more from their workplaces - and can afford to do so because they have the skills and can back themselves up.”



To master the qualities of successful leaders, make learning a lifelong habit.

“You’d be surprised how small improvements can turn into major gains,” James Clear, author of Atomic Habits told us.

Effective, successful leadership skills can be developed with consistent and regular high-level training.

At Growth Faculty, we are passionate about helping you become a better leader. With a Leadership Pass you get access to the world’s most successful leaders and their tools, frameworks, and personal stories to help you grow. Our leadership pass means you have unlimited access to our inspiring global events, masterclasses, book club events and leadership library - so you can learn the qualities of successful leaders.  


Related Articles   

From Jim Collins, to Stephen M.R. Covey, to Indra Nooyi, and Holly Ransom, we have learned leadership lessons from hundreds of speakers who understand what it takes to become a great leader. As a sample, read what some of our favourite speakers have to say about team building, the 6 types of working genius, building trust, and future ready leadership.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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