What it Means to be a Leader: 5 Powerful Traits

Anyone can be a leader regardless of your job title. Learn how to cultivate and apply effective leadership skills.

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Recent technologies, hybrid working, and increasingly complex social issues are reshaping the modern work landscape, making leadership at all levels crucial for driving organizational success. While traditionally, top managers held the leadership roles within organizations, nowadays, leaders can emerge at any level and even within teams. 

To become a leader, you need to work hard, never give up, and have the right attitude. Even if you don't have a big title, you can lead by example—by doing your work well, meeting goals, and helping others. Leaders take on challenges and work their way up from small tasks to bigger ones. 

Our 2024 Course Trends & Skills Outlook Report indicates Leadership is one of the most in-demand course categories on findcourses.com. Every year, we connect thousands of learners to leadership-related education, courses, and insights. Keep reading to learn more about what makes a leader and how you can become a better leader for lifelong job readiness, no matter your job title. 

Why is (good) leadership important?  

As AI increasingly influences our daily interactions and decision-making, the nature of leadership will evolve, placing greater emphasis on human qualities.  

Leaders are crucial as they provide direction, inspiration, and a clear vision for achieving goals while motivating others to work toward them. A good leader utilizes soft skills to coach and empower individuals, helping them discover their strengths and contribute their best efforts.  

Effective leaders are instrumental in attracting and retaining talent, as people often leave companies due to poor management. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 75% of Americans say their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.” 

An example epitomizing this stat comes from an annual LinkedIn post many come to look forward to every Valentine’s Day. In it, leadership expert and best-selling author, Todd Cherches, shares his "love letter" to the quintessential example of a "bad boss.” Spoiler alert: Cherches gets a box of pens thrown at his head! 

Being a leader means people around them feel inspired and supported. (In Cherches’ case, he ultimately left that job even though it was his dream. What does that say about his manager?) It’s well-established that employees want a manager committed to their professional growth and personal advancement. They are then more likely to stay committed and engaged, which contributes to the organization's success. 

 READ MORE:The Value of Being a Leader vs Boss

What makes a good leader? 

"[L]eadership is not about you, it's about the people you lead,” emphasizes Cherches.   

Effective leadership, as Cherches suggests, centers on prioritizing the growth and well-being of team members. The best leaders foster a culture of continuous skill improvement and encourage advice-seeking for professional growth. 

This focus on team dynamics underscores leadership's vital role in creating an atmosphere conducive to growth and collaboration. According to a McKinsey Global Survey, a positive team climate, where members appreciate each other's contributions and prioritize well-being, ensures psychological safety.  

Good leaders will model positive attitudes and behaviors, empowering every team member—regardless of formal authority-- to contribute to cultivating psychological safety.  

In fact, our most recent data shows a substantial 133% increase in interest in the leadership subcategories Emotional Intelligence and Motivational Intelligence indicating that leaders are making personal efforts to foster motivation, resilience, and excellence in teams. 

Recognizing the significance of leadership qualities is crucial for personal development in your career and understanding what it means to be a leader. Setting a positive example is essential and a true mark of good leadership. Consider these essential leadership characteristics on your path to leadership development. 

  READ MORE: 6 Secrets to a Successful Coaching Mindset for Every Manager 

5 Characteristics of a Good Leader

1. Integrity and authenticity:  

Effective leadership begins with prioritizing the well-being and interests of team members, and demonstrating a commitment to ethical principles, honesty, and values-based decision-making. For example, leaders who emphasize the importance of work-life balance should ensure that their policies and practices support employees in achieving that equilibrium. 

Furthermore, leaders should foster open and honest communication with their team members, even when delivering difficult news or acknowledging mistakes. This entails admitting errors and taking responsibility for them, rather than deflecting blame onto others. By prioritizing the needs of the team over personal gain or ambition, these leaders earn the trust and respect of their colleagues, thereby cultivating a culture of transparency and mutual respect. 

Authentic leaders prioritize nurturing meaningful connections, and facilitating personal and professional growth. Through sharing beliefs, emotions, and vulnerabilities, they forge powerful connections that cultivate an environment where team members feel valued, understood, and motivated to excel. 

 WATCH: Why Leading with Kindness is the Next Best Leadership Approach 

Authentic leadership skills teach a leader to: 

  • foster trust by being genuine and transparent in interactions 
  • inspire others 
  • cultivate meaningful relationships 
  • lead with integrity 

2. Vision and goal setting: 

Exceptional leaders not only have a clear vision of the future but can articulate it in a compelling way that ignites passion and commitment. By painting a vivid picture of what success looks like, these leaders instill a sense of purpose and direction, empowering individuals to see themselves as integral parts of a larger, collective journey. 

Great leaders also skillfully set ambitious, yet achievable goals that are aligned to the vision to instill focus and drive. It’s an art to carefully craft goals that challenge employees without eroding motivation or confidence. 

Visionary leadership skills teach a leader to: 

  • paint a picture of attainable success 
  • link individual success to team success 
  • inspire others while cultivating confidence 

3. Communication skills:  

A good leader who can communicate well fosters transparency, builds trust, and encourages open dialogue within the team. They can convey their vision clearly, rally support, and mobilize collective efforts towards a common purpose. Moreover, agile communication skills allow a good leader to provide constructive feedback, facilitate collaboration, and navigate challenges smoothly and effectively.  

By consciously communicating and honing their skills, a good leader cultivates a positive work environment, empowers team members, and drives sustainable growth. 

 TEST YOURSELF: Communication Skills Assessment  

 WATCH: Insights into Communications 

Communications skills teach a leader to: 

  • listen attentively to understand others' perspectives 
  • demonstrate empathy 
  • ensure understanding and alignment for ideas and instructions 
  • address conflicts constructively and de-escalate tensions 
  • influence and persuade others to gain buy-in for ideas and initiatives 

4. Emotional intelligence:  

Self-awareness is crucial for effective leadership, involving reflection on strengths and areas for growth to set specific goals aligned with aspirations. However, emotional intelligence encompasses more than self-awareness alone; it extends to self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence... Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” 

Leaders with strong emotional intelligence can adeptly navigate interpersonal dynamics, resolve conflicts, and inspire trust among team members. By understanding others' feelings and needs, they foster a supportive work environment, a skill not easily replaced by technologies like artificial intelligence. 

Emotionally intelligent leaders, furthermore, excel at making informed decisions, adapting to change, and effectively motivating teams-- all while leading with empathy, authenticity, and resilience toward team success.  

Imagine a leader who notices a team member struggling with a heavy workload and showing signs of burnout. Instead of delegating more tasks or ignoring the issue, the leader takes the time for a private conversation, expressing empathy and offering support. This proactive approach not only alleviates stress and prevents burnout but also strengthens the bond between the leader and their team. 

 READ MORE: 7 Leadership Habits to Create Psychological Safety 

Emotional intelligence skills teach an individual to: 

  • recognize and manage their own emotions 
  • understand and empathize with others 
  • navigate and resolve interpersonal conflicts 

5. Adaptability and resilience:  

Navigating challenges with grace and determination requires a leader to be adaptable and resilient. As the recent past few years have shown us, the ability to adapt to unprecedented change in our professional and personal lives is vital.  

Resilience is a vital skill for effective leadership as it empowers leaders to navigate challenges, setbacks, and uncertainties with determination and grace. In the face of adversity, resilient leaders maintain a positive attitude, inspire hope, and persevere toward goals despite obstacles. They see failures as minor setbacks—and most importantly, model how to be resilient to the team.  

Resilient leaders demonstrate adaptability, problem-solving, and resourcefulness, enabling them to lead confidently in times of change and uncertainty. By embodying resilience, you inspire trust, instill confidence, and expertly guide teams through challenges. 

 READ MORE: Resilience: the Power Skill of the 2021 Workplace 

Resilience skills teach an individual to: 

  • form and maintain positive relationships 
  • self-regulate emotions 
  • maintain a positive view 

Tips to Develop Your Leadership Potential 

Continuous learning is essential for aspiring leaders, whether through projects, education, or mentorship. Embracing these opportunities can help you overcome fears of failure or imposter syndrome. 

  1. To establish yourself as a leader, no matter your title, begin with small roles and progressively take on more significant responsibilities. Volunteering for projects is one way to not only get noticed for your skills but to also underscore your commitment to team success. 
  2. Seizing growth opportunities demonstrates readiness for leadership and propels your career forward. Craft a roadmap with clear goals, perhaps with the help of a mentor, to keep you focused on development.  
  3. Making learning a priority in a busy life can be challenging. Seeking feedback, attending workshops, and exploring diverse resources like books, TedTalks, and podcasts are effective ways to prioritize learning. 

In simple terms, leadership matters for everyone in today's businesses, not just top managers. Anyone can be a leader, even without fancy titles. It's all about dedication, hard work, and having the right attitude.  

Leaders set a good example by doing their best, reaching goals, and helping others. They don't give up when things get tough; they keep going and take on challenges, starting from small tasks. No matter where you are in your career journey, aspiring to leadership requires prioritizing growth and development. Being a leader means embracing every opportunity as a chance to learn and grow.  

Aspiring to lead, regardless of your job title?

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Rama Eriksson

Digital Content Editor (more)
Rama Eriksson is a Digital Content Editor at findcourses.com. Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals. Rama has Masters degrees in both law and business. Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010. (less)


Rama Eriksson is a Digital Content Editor at findcourses.com. Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals. Rama has Masters degrees in both law and business. Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010.