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9 Essential Qualities of Good Leadership at Work

Posted by Andy Agouridis

Director of CareerHigher

Last Updated 25 June 2021
|6 min read

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence” according to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Leaders have had a great impact on humanity since the beginning of time, driving change in every aspect of our lives.

When it comes to the world of work, leaders are accountable for running their organisations, enabling them to achieve their mission and vision while operating in line with their values. However, not all leaders make the same impact, which signifies the need for good leadership.

Why is good leadership important?

With great power comes great responsibility, as the popular saying goes. Business leaders can literally make or break an organisation. According to research, high-performing leadership is associated with strong profits, while leaders who are underperforming are proven to incur losses. This is not surprising considering that the very nature of a leader’s role is to bring everything together, like a maestro with their orchestra.

While each business has different leadership needs and every leader is unique in their own way, we’ve created a list of characteristics shared by most successful leaders. These qualities consist of a combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and values that enable leaders to add value. On a related note, this article covers the key leadership styles, another important element for leaders. Without further due, here are our 9 leadership qualities for 2021:

  1. Vision
  2. Strategy
  3. Communication
  4. Delegation
  5. Decision making
  6. Integrity
  7. Empathy
  8. Accountability
  9. Confidence

What are the qualities of good leadership?

1. Vision

According to Jack Welch, “good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion”. The reason that vision plays such a central role in Jack’s definition is that it encapsulates what an organisation stands for and it can act as a compass, guiding the workforce towards the right direction. However, a vision means nothing without key stakeholders to translate it from a concept to reality.

To illustrate this with an example, think of some of the most successful leaders: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa. While these individuals were vastly different from each other in some ways, they were all visionary leaders who devoted their lives to making this world a better place. Similarly, a good business leader maintains a long-term focus on the organisational vision regardless of any short-term distractions.

2. Strategy

While leaders are typically supported by a team of doers who are responsible for the execution of day-to-day business operations, they still need to maintain accountability for the organisation's strategic planning. Strategic planning is the process of designing an organisation’s direction, which should be inextricably linked to its vision. Therefore, it’s a skill that is required to realise the vision, which we’ve established as a key leadership element.

Strategic planning can provide a direction, especially during times of uncertainty, challenge, and crisis, when organisations are most at risk of getting derailed. Strategic planning is a skill that we can all learn, although some of us may be natural planners.

3. Communication

Charisma, ability to influence and negotiation skills are just some of the byproducts of effective communication. Communication skills are the cornerstone of leadership, as they are required in everything a leader needs to do. Apart from being crucial, communication skills are also very wide, as they encompass various activities.

A leader needs to have strong verbal communication skills, which they can use to inform, motivate, and inspire their audience. They also need excellent writing skills, as they need to create, review or advise on important pieces of content. However, communication also includes active listening skills, which can enable successful leaders to understand issues and leverage opportunities. Many prominent leaders, including Richard Branson, believe that communication is an art and is the most important leadership skill.

4. Delegation

Time constraints can be one of the biggest challenges for leaders. To put it simply, the day has only 24 hours for all of us, which makes it impossible for leaders to deliver without help from their teams since they have such a wide remit. This is why leaders who use the power of delegation effectively can operate efficiently, while micromanagers struggle to deliver.

While vision, strategy, and communication are the foundations of good leadership, delegation is the driving force that enables leaders to execute. Apart from adopting a delegation-focused mindset, leaders need to create, motivate, and develop their teams to enable them to deliver. Other than that, delegation also requires strong working relationships based on trust between leaders and their workforce.

5. Decision making

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”, said Theodore Roosevelt. Decision making is about being decisive and making the right decisions, both of which are rare qualities, especially in challenging times. This is why decision-making is one of the most pivotal leadership elements.

Effective leaders embrace the concept of calculated risk and do their best to make informed and timely decisions, understanding that sometimes they will be wrong. Legendary athletes, like Michael Jordan, and prominent businessmen, such as Jack Ma, have proven that failure is part of the game and sometimes required to succeed in the long run. Leading decision-makers know this and evaluate each decision as part of the grand scheme of things.

6. Integrity

Various prominent business leaders have highlighted ethics, honesty, and integrity as key elements of success. Integrity is so important as it makes the world a better place while enabling good business. Some of the benefits of leading with integrity include sticking to the organisational values and doing the right thing regardless of the consequences.

The above comes with a long list of valuable byproducts, including being seen as trustworthy and reliable by the workforce. Leaders with high morals are seen as competent, as research revealed that workers perceive integrity as the top leadership quality.

7. Empathy

It’s not surprising that the US army lists empathy as an essential leadership quality. Empathy is a central component of emotional intelligence, which is a requirement for any business role, let alone a leadership one. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, which can enable empathetic leaders to connect with their people at a deeper level.

8. Accountability

Leaders are expected to hold others accountable, however, this can’t happen unless they hold themselves accountable first. Ownership, accountability, and responsibility are central in any leadership role. In practice, accountability means facing the consequences of your actions, including not only your successes, but also your failures.

Some of the benefits of accountability include a strong company culture, higher individual performance, and an improved bottom line. Therefore, accountable leaders perform better than others.

9. Confidence

According to Harvard Business Review, “very few people succeed in business without a degree of confidence”. This holds true, especially for senior leaders, as it’s hard for others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself first. Leadership is about changing the world, which is not possible without a bold vision and the confidence that you can achieve it.

Successful leaders combine confidence with humility without getting arrogant, which can be catastrophic for a business. This requires being level-headed and adopting a balanced approach, which can keep you grounded and not let you get carried away by success.

Summary

Leadership is essential in business, however, only good leadership can drive positive change. While a one-size-fits-all approach is not suited to leadership, there are some qualities that can always be valuable, enabling leaders to be successful. These characteristics empower leaders to achieve greatness, achieve bold goals, and adopt the desired behaviours.

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