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Qualities of a leader: 17 traits of effective leadership

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia Raeburn
February 11th, 2024
9 min read
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Leaders aren’t just born that way. Most develop and hone skills ‌anyone can learn. These 17 traits are the core leadership qualities to develop if you want to become a better leader, both personally and professionally. In this article, you’ll learn what these leadership qualities are and how you can implement them in your own life.

Leading a team is no easy task. Just look at some of the most inspiring leaders, like Arianna Huffington or Rosalind Brewer. Despite the hard work, there’s something so inspiring about a leader that empowers their team. Good leaders are self-aware, communicate effectively, delegate work, encourage strategic thinking, and motivate the team to do their very best. 

If you’re looking to expand your leadership style and skills, you’re in luck. By demonstrating these important leadership qualities, you too can become an effective leader that inspires change.We’ve put together a list of the 17 most effective qualities in a leader. By learning traits like strategic problem-solving and active listening, you too can inspire those around you. 

1. Empowers team members

Empowering others should be one of your most important objectives as a leader. Your job is to help your team learn and succeed. That starts with daily motivation, relationship building, showing respect, and co-creating solutions to problems when they arise. 

Teams should feel empowered by your confidence in them and industry know-how. When they’re empowered, great work can be created. You can foster team empowerment by:

  • Encouraging team members to take on new challenges

  • Motivating your team to get back up when things go wrong 

  • Being a kind but honest communicator

When your whole team is empowered, individuals can shine in their roles and contribute their expertise to shared success.

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When everyone on a team is empowered and trusted to manifest their full potential, each person becomes capable of so much more, which makes the company capable of so much more. Our experience is that, with the right team, distributed authority results in organizations that are happier and more effective in accomplishing their most ambitious missions.”
Justin Rosenstein, co-Founder of Asana
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2. Focuses on team development

Sharing your wealth of knowledge is just one of the many traits of strong leadership. A good leader not only develops themself but also helps others grow. This could be in the form of trainings, lunch and learns, or even co-creating solutions to problems with team members. 

Not only does it help those around you continue growing their careers, but it can teach you things along the way as well. You can work on developing others by:

  • Paying attention to what team members want to learn

  • Using mistakes as teachable moments

  • Giving constructive criticism even when it’s hard

The important thing to remember is to encourage and train others the way you wish you had been in your career.

Read: Begin with the end in mind: How to conduct a project premortem

3. Communicates effectively

Communication is a key piece of any successful team, especially as it pertains to great leadership skills. There is a fine line between too little and too much, but it’s always better to err on the side of too much. A lack of good communication skills can result in poor performance or lack of organizational clarity.

Leaders communicate effectively

Your communication also needs to be effective, meaning it’s delivered in a direct yet personal way. This includes communicating about projects, as well as connecting as a team. You can work on your communication skills by:

  • Asking your team for feedback

  • Listening before speaking

  • Answering questions directly

  • Tailoring your message to your audience

The best part: effective communication skills can easily be taught and learned.

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While working remotely, we’ve had to re-learn how to communicate in many ways. Slack, Asana, and integrations between these tools has replaced or supplemented a lot of in-person ways we used to communicate.”
Casey James, Head of Creative Operations, JKR Global
Read: Jones Knowles Ritchie designs brands for scale, disruption, and good with Asana

4. Shows high emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to control and express your emotions, as well as handle interpersonal relationships. Why is that so important in the workplace? 

Strong leaders inspire and guide others rather than direct. This means it’s crucial to be empathetic toward teammates so they feel comfortable and open around you. You can work on your emotional intelligence by:

  • Considering how your team members may be feeling

  • Examining how your words or actions might affect others

  • Holding space for how others may feel about a situation 

  • Responding versus reacting to a conflict or difficult situation  

When in doubt, it’s okay to ask teammates how they’re feeling. A simple “How are you today?” can go a long way.

5. Possesses problem-solving skills

Of all the essential leadership qualities, having problem-solving skills is one of the most important. Team members will likely come to you about problems that need solving. It’s your job to be prepared with strategic advice for whatever comes your way. 

This doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers all the time. Instead, you should be prepared with resources that can empower your team to resolve the problem on their own. You can work on your problem-solving skills by:

  • Backing your advice up with data or an experience

  • Asking questions that lead your teammates down the right path

  • Providing multiple solutions for your team to try out 

  • Being an active listener to gain clarity 

In short, you don’t need to have all of the answers. You just need to give guidance. Letting a decision linger for too long is draining, so don’t let perfectionism keep you from providing input.

Read: Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz shares his lessons on leadership

6. Respects others

Respect is something everyone deserves—whether you have 30 years of professional experience or three. Showing others respect can help create a healthy team dynamic based on mutual respect. 

While respect comes from a variety of sources, it’s important to begin by treating everyone as equals. Additional ways you can work on showing respect are by:

  • Communicating with team members as equals regardless of position

  • Listen to someone else’s perspective even if you disagree

  • Give recognition for a job well done

  • Have a positive attitude

Good leaders know that positivity and respect go a long way. A good rule of thumb is to acknowledge that everyone is a partner in what you’re trying to accomplish.

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As a leader, I know it’s my responsibility to set the tone for our company culture.”
Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder and CEO of Asana

7. Prioritizes personal development

Personal development is an important part of career growth no matter where you are in your professional journey. Developing your skills can help you lead better and, by default, help your team feel secure in their work.

It’s also a good idea to have regular checkpoints for self-reflection. Where are you in your personal development journey, and how does that connect to the good of your organization? This can help both your personal and professional growth. You can improve your personal development by:

  • Attending industry-relevant conferences

  • Taking courses

  • Collaborating with other departments 

Pursuing personal development will help you network with like-minded individuals and bring new, high-impact ideas to the table.

8. Encourages strategic thinking

Leaders are constantly looking for ways to keep their team and organization moving forward. This can be anything from internal processes like roadmaps and technological advancements to external factors like SWOT analyses and product offerings.

Leaders encourage strategic thinking

From brainstorming techniques to prioritizing project tasks, a good leader motivates their team members to think strategically as well. You can practice strategic management by:

  • Listening to all ideas, whether you agree with them or not

  • Hosting team brainstorming sessions

  • Giving feedback that is backed by data 

  • Letting your team carry out their ideas and learn from mistakes 

Thinking strategically is important for both your own self-awareness and your team, so make it a priority to encourage new ideas.

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It’s harder for remote teams to get recognized for their work—out of sight, out of mind, unfortunately. Be really deliberate about finding opportunities for your remote teams to present at company- or team-wide events (such as an all hands meeting) and make sure you’re looking for ways to get them visibility via team awards or shoutouts.”
Jessica Gilmartin, Head of Revenue Marketing, Asana
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9. Actively listens

Being a leader means listening more than speaking. It’s your job to pay attention to organizational problems and your team members’ thoughts in order to become a changemaker. 

It’s also important to listen to those around you to show respect and empathy. You can work on active listening by:

  • Giving team members full attention when they come to you with input or feedback

  • Asking questions before speaking your mind

  • Scheduling recurring times to check in with the team 

  • Attending meetings that your team leads  

Being a listener is an important, yet often overlooked, part of being a leader. Finding the right balance of inspiring with your words and inspiring with your ears is the difference between a good and great leader.

Read: How to build expert power (and become a better leader)

10. Delegates work

Most of us have had first-hand experience overcoming the challenge of delegating work. There’s a fine line between letting your team take on additional responsibilities and letting them take all the responsibility. 

A good leader knows that delegating work can help grow their team’s skill set and keep projects moving forward. After all, you can’t do everything all the time. Rely on your team and they’ll do the same for you. 

You can work on better delegating work by:

  • Asking your team members what projects they want to work on

  • Providing an outline or brief if the project is complex 

  • Giving honest feedback that improves work and skills 

  • Fostering time management skills to get work done on time

Not delegating enough is bad for both leaders and team members who could be growing with more autonomy. Your first instinct might be to get involved when work isn’t up to your standards, but it’s important to let your team members learn from their own mistakes.

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I think of teamwork as a ship moving through an unlimited ice sheet. In this metaphor, the ship is the team, the ice represents possible problems to be solved, and the destination is always out of sight and unclear. It’s a manager’s job to figure out what to do with the ice we break—where to put it, how it impacts the plan and team, etc. It’s a leader’s job to clarify the ship’s direction and why it’s worth breaking all of this ice to get there.”
Scott Carleton, NY Site Lead, Asana

11. Takes accountability

While it’s necessary to let your team take ownership of projects, that doesn’t mean you’ve given up all accountability for their work. It’s important to support your team by taking accountability when things don’t go as planned.  

Leaders take accountability

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that goals won’t be met all the time. Not meeting expectations provides opportunities for growth—both personal growth and for your organization. 

You can work on taking accountability by:

  • Taking action when goals aren’t met and providing solutions

  • Explaining where expectations weren’t met and why

  • Regularly monitoring the progress of key initiatives 

Taking accountability means owning up to things that could have gone better and working on problem solving with your team. Remember, we’re all in this together and a growth mindset can help you and your team learn from mistakes.

Read: What is a crisis management plan? (6 steps to create one)

12. Shows deep passion for their work

The most successful leaders are the ones who are passionate about what they do. To put it simply, an executive role doesn’t make you a leader. Your knowledge, passion, and teamwork are what make you a leader. 

True leaders are the ones who motivate you to do better—even in the face of big challenges—pave the way for you to do great work. 

It’s this passion that sets a leader apart from an executive. Without it, it’s hard to be the best leader you can be. Leaders who are passionate about their work are likely to answer "yes" to the following questions:

  • Are you excited about your role and responsibilities?

  • Do you get energized about new projects?

  • Does motivating people give you a sense of accomplishment?

  • Are you working for something you believe in?

Reflecting on your passion for your work can help you connect with what truly energizes you and be a better leader in the long run. Additionally, it’s important that everyone on your team shares a common purpose and a clear understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing.

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For me, a leader is someone who helps you understand the Big Picture. What's the vision for the team, and how does that vision connect to a broader set of organizational objectives and mission? A manager is the person who gives you the support and mentorship needed to make an impact in your role and help make that Big Picture a reality. Sometimes the same person will occupy both roles within a team. Sometimes it's multiple people. But both roles are important for the success of any team.”
Jenny Thai, Head of Content, Asana

13. Is a visionary

A visionary is a rather broadly defined term, though you tend to know it when you see it. Visionaries can see the end result before anything tangible has been created. This is why business owners and entrepreneurs tend to be visionaries. They can see a good idea come to fruition before anything has been created. 

Though not everyone is a visionary, you can still practice visionary leadership to motivate your team. Regularly challenge yourself to visualize the future by:

  • Imagining what your team will accomplish in a year

  • Facilitating brainstorming and connecting ideas

  • Motivating others to challenge their thinking

Read: Fiedler's Contingency Theory: Why leadership isn't uniform

14. Cares about others

Caring about others is different from respecting others. The biggest difference is showing you care versus saying you care. Both respect and care are needed for building trust and empowerment on your team. 

To inspire others, it’s important to invest in them and their career path. Without that personal connection, guidance can feel more like a directive. You can work on creating that personal connection by:

  • Connecting with team members about more than just work

  • Asking your team members about their professional goals and interests 

  • Being an empathetic listener 

  • Participating in team building games

Creating personal connections with your teammates can empower your working relationships. It can even help cultivate good communication within teams, strengthening overall collaboration.

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To me, being a leader is about the ability to influence, coach, mentor, and guide others toward an achievement. Leaders provide vision, and their success is defined by the team—not themselves.”
Chris Juliano, Head of Global Business Talent Acquisition, Asana

These days, you have to be tech-savvy and stay up to date with new trends to deliver innovative results. From new software capabilities like business process automation to AI and more, staying ahead of the curve separates a good team from a great one. 

The best part about following industry trends is that there is an abundance of training and information out there. So if you’re not in the tech-savvy bucket just yet, here are some ways you can improve your knowledge base:

  • Dedicate time each week to learning something new

  • Follow technology leaders for industry trends

  • Attend conferences and networking events

  • Connect with a mentor who can teach you

  • Build a knowledge base with best practices and related resources

Due to the ever-evolving nature of trends, it’s good to practice these tips even if you’re skilled in your field. That way you can continue to share innovative ideas that grow your organization to new heights. 

16. Is adaptable

When you’re in a leadership position, you’re the first to know about challenges. You’re also expected to be one of the first to respond. But your response should be logical and thoughtful, not impulsive or based on emotion. This isn’t easy to do. Our natural reaction is often to feel stressed or worried in the face of problems. To build a better response system, practice workplace adaptability.

Building better adaptability in the workplace will help you react quickly to inevitable changes. To build it, you can:

  • Learn to embrace change

  • Practice mindfulness

  • Take risks and move beyond your comfort zone

  • Improve your problem-solving skills

Becoming more adaptable will help you be more comfortable in the face of change. When issues come up, others will look to you for guidance and leadership.

17. Stays open-minded

Open-mindedness helps you to see things from different perspectives. Like all good leadership qualities, becoming open-minded doesn’t always come naturally. It’s hard to view situations or team members without our own unconscious biases getting in the way. But open-mindedness can be developed over time. 

Create a more open mind in any scenario by asking this, not that:

  • “What are the facts?” vs. “What do I think?”

  • “What am I missing?” vs. “What do I see?”

  • “Is there more to this story?” vs. “Can I develop the story?”

  • “Who is impacted?” vs. “How am I impacted?”

By including all potential stakeholders from every vantage point, you’ll be able to see a bigger picture. This will help you to create a more open mind that shows others you’re always willing to see their point of view.

Leading your team to success

By honing the qualities of a good leader, you too can learn how to lead effectively and motivate your team to do their very best work. By working on leadership development and improving each of these 17 leadership traits, you’re not only cultivating leadership qualities and working to continuously improve your own skills, you’re also increasing your impact on your organization. 

For more ideas on how to effectively lead a team, find out if work management software is right for you. 

A leader's guide to change management

Learn how to be the leader your team needs during times of change. Get tips on when to set new business objectives, how to communicate transparently, and how to keep employees engaged.

Change management process article banner image

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