Leadership characteristics that contribute to success.

As an executive recruiter with over twenty years’ experience, I’ve learned to spot the qualities of a good leader. Leadership traits are not one-size-fits-all; in fact, research shows that the best leaders tailor their leadership style to the situation. Some leadership characteristics, however, are consistent across the board. Leaders understand what needs to be done and motivate others to work towards a common goal. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best:

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

To complement my own understanding of leadership characteristics, I’ve invited insights from some of my clients and leaders whom I most respect. Across industries and experiences, we agreed that great leaders share these five leadership traits:

Integrity: A good leader acts with fairness, honesty, and commitment. A great leader inspires others to embrace these qualities also. Trust and respect go a very long way; if others see you as a role model, they will follow you. If they suspect that your motives are merely self-interested, they will be less inclined to back you. Be a generous mentor and commit to the success of each individual on your team.

Vision: To lead effectively, you need to define and share your vision. Effective leaders can see the big picture. Learn to communicate why you think the task at hand is important, and why each person’s job is crucial to the group’s long-term success. Set measurable goals and milestones. By articulating your passion – not only when things are going well, but also during times of difficulty– you’ll inspire dedication in others.

Self-Awareness: Knowing your strengths and addressing your weaknesses are crucial leadership traits. Be confident in the things you can do well, and consider the areas where you need to improve. The best leaders admit and learn from their mistakes, and aren’t afraid of being corrected. They know what others think of them, and understand how they contribute to the organization as a whole.

Decisiveness: To state the obvious: good leaders simply aren’t afraid to lead. They make considered, confident decisions, and then they stand by the outcome. They analyze what steps are needed to reach their goals, and stay the course even when obstacles present themselves. Never be afraid to ask for others’ opinions or to seek the help you need, but don’t defer to peer pressure or act against your best judgment.

Collaboration: It’s difficult to lead a team to a common goal unless every team member is engaged. For this reason, great leaders must make their teams feel trusted, valued, and supported. Listen to others and welcome their suggestions. Empower them to speak up and take risks. Encourage open and honest discussion and focus on effective conflict resolution.

There’s no such thing as a “natural leader” – leadership, like any other skill, is an acquired talent. Nurture these qualities, and you will inspire confidence, respect, and commitment in others.

What leadership qualities do you think are most important? What leaders have inspired you to take on new challenges?