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Diverse and confident team of professionals in a well-lit office, symbolizing effective leadership qualities in action.

The Top 10 Leadership Qualities: Secrets of Exceptional Leaders

How personality traits and your leadership style lift your chances of success

Diverse and confident team of professionals in a well-lit office, symbolizing effective leadership qualities in action.

Leadership qualities are vital for success in all areas of life. But what qualities make you a good leader at work?


Let's think about this.

If someone was to ask you about the leadership qualities of Sir Richard Branson, for example, you’d think of all the characteristics, traits, and attributes that make him a person worth following.

They could include his famed ability to listen and learn, his resilience, his risk-taking, and his passion and sense of fun.


In other words, leadership qualities are those inspiring traits that make Sir Richard (with his humanistic leadership style) effective in attracting followers, achieving goals, fostering teamwork, and creating a positive impact on the people he leads.

So, what about you? What are your leadership qualities, and do they include some qualities that all successful leaders have in common? Read on for some ideas about where to start....

What is a Humanistic Model of Leadership? 


As we said earlier, Sir Richard has a type of leadership termed the “humanistic model of leadership.” This is a great place to start because it's all about people.


Richard Branson told participants at an AICPA & CIMA event in partnership with The Growth Faculty that “with fantastic people you can survive the bad times and enjoy the good times.”


“If someone working on a plane has a shoe where the heel is rubbing then you change out the shoes…it’s these little things that make for an exceptional company.”


Humanistic leadership is placing the needs of people over profit and having empathy and respect for others. (Excelsior University)


It’s a leadership style that is “exceedingly human” as organisational health expert Patrick Lencioni so neatly puts it.


At his Growth Faculty event Patrick asked participants if every employee in their organisation could say:

  1. My manager knows me.
  2. I know why my job matters.
  3. I know if I'm doing a good job.

 If so, it’s a sign that the manager or leader has most or all of the 10 common leadership qualities that mirror Adam Grant's wish for workplace cultures and make for effective leadership.

Actively listening

Actively listening is the first leadership quality we'll look at, and the rare art of listening well is a biggie. Mastering communication skills is a key component of great leadership, and active listening can be powerful.


In his book ‘Think Again’ Adam Grant says that experiments find that when people interact with empathetic, non-judgemental, and attentive listeners they feel less anxious, less defensive and less pressure when communicating with the good listeners.


Anxiety, defensiveness, and pressure can slash away at people’s sense of psychological safety, so you can see how important this quality of active listening is to a team or organisation.


Exceptional leader, former CEO of Ford and Boeing Alan Mulally was known for being a non-judgemental listener.

“Encourage others to talk about themselves,” he said in an interview for a Dale Carnegie podcast. “Show respect for other person's opinions, like, gosh, never say ‘You're wrong!’” (1)

Communicates buy-in

The most successful leaders are great at getting everybody to pull in the same direction. For that you need buy in. The leadership quality of communicating buy in is featured in Patrick Lencioni’s bestseller ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.’ 


He makes the point that weigh in is required for buy in. On a leadership team, everyone should weigh in with their ideas and their opinions.


Patrick says that nobody will commit to a decision if they didn’t passionately weigh into a discussion. As former CEO of Intel Andy Grove was fond of saying: “We are going to disagree and commit.”

Influences Inspiration

Few leaders can make it if they are uninspiring. When asked to finish ‘The best leaders are…….’ participants in our Emerging Leaders Program put forward answers such as inclusive, having a positive attitude, calming, centred, respectful, strategic, emotionally stable, and inspiring.

Put together, these leadership qualities could be said to be “influences inspiration.”


As Adam Grant says, leaders who put other people first inspire more effort, a different level of motivation, and a greater sense of belonging. 


One of our favourite Adam Grant quotes is "Focus attention and energy on making a difference in the lives of others, and success might follow as a by-product." 

Has an Openness to Risk and Innovation

To stay ahead of the competition, you need to both defend the core and generate new growth in your business. These actions call for the leadership quality of having an openness to risk and innovation.


And that requires a leader who accepts that learning to fail well is part of every journey to discover “blue oceans.” 


This leader open to risk and innovation knows that a psychologically safe workplace must first exist for people to feel safe to take risks, and put forward innovative ideas. 


After all, as Kaihan Krippendorf taught our recent masterclass, courage might be needed to ensure your innovation strategy contains the most creative ideas.


Self-aware leaders have a deep understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and emotions. 

Yet, 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.” (2) 


A leader without self-awareness struggles to regulate their feelings by showing self-control, especially when challenged or stressed.


If you were to practice self-awareness right now, what would you do?


“This question stumps most people,” says author of Vertical Growth, Michael Bunting. He says it is mindfulness. Without mindfulness, Michael says, it’s impossible to develop enough self-awareness to reliably transform our behaviour.


“You can’t look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.” – Edward de Bono


Creative people are adaptable people. Thinking creatively is a quality that arms leaders with unusual, original, and innovative solutions to problems. In teams, someone with the characteristics of an entrepreneur is to be encouraged, even if it means odd behaviour.


“Some of the most creative people simply don’t fit into well-behaved moulds,” says Jim Collins. “They’re often rebels, irritating and somewhat out of control.”


Jim says in ‘B.E.2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0’ all people have the capacity to be creative and can be helped with educational training in the creative process.


A culture of accountability is about achieving a results-based mindset versus an activity-based mindset across teams at every level of your organisation.


As author of ‘Creating a Culture of Accountability’ Mark Green says, a leader with this quality is clarity-driven about focusing attention on results, not tasks. 


Instead of finger-pointing, they will make accountability about finding the root causes for issues that impact results. 


They will have high expectations and the courage to show that they’re watching their team, but they won’t name and shame, and this is very important for the team to maintain cohesion.

Ethical and Trustworthy

As Adam Grant says on Twitter: 

adam grant on twitter

No matter what your leadership style, being ethical and trustworthy should be high up on your soft skills list.


In our masterclass with Stephen M.R. Covey, the author of ‘Trust and Inspire,’ we learned that leaders with these highly valued personality traits are the first to talk straight, to be transparent, to do anything difficult, to live the values.



In times of scarcity, what’s one resource you have infinite amounts of?

It’s gratitude. As the authors of ‘Leading with Gratitude’ told us in an interview, gratitude never runs out, costs nothing and has a major impact.


In fact, people in their twenties rate gratitude at work 3x higher than those in their 60s.


Yet, Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick say people are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else. For this reason, it can be the number one reason people leave organisations.


To develop this quality, Elton and Gostick recommend leaders walk in their employee’s shoes. Empathy is a critical driver of performance for managers. Also, look for small wins. It motivates people to move onto the next win.


Resilience against Failure


“Resilience is a skill that helps people to take actions that support their health and wellbeing so they can fulfil their potential” says Kylee Stone.  


In our Emerging Leaders Program, Kylee Stone coached participants on resilience, asking them to remember that ‘life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.


She says 6 areas to focus on are vision (plan the future with wisdom), health (take care of your well-being), tenacity (stay with problems longer), reasoning (being clear on your reasons for doing things), collaboration (ask for help), and composure (keep calm, focused, and present despite difficult situations).


Note: In January 2024 we will interview Thinkers50 #1 ranked management thinker Professor Amy Edmondson on failing well. It’s a free event, so book it in your calendar.


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1.    ‘Working Together’ with Alan Mulally, Take Command Podcast, Dale Carnegie

Tasha Eurich, 2018, Working with People Who Aren’t Self-Aware, HBR

Photo by Parabol | The Agile Meeting Toolbox on Unsplash


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