What are Good Leadership Traits?

February 20, 2020

Consider those thought of as great leaders – too many to name and it depends on your perspective on who you consider to be worthy of such a description but, what is irrefutable is that, whoever the Leader, there are various good leadership traits common to them all.

Good Leadership Traits
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What are the traits of good leader?

In his book The Mental Game of Business, Bill Cole (Founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants in Silicon Valley) offered this list of good leadership traits:

  1. The ability to learn from themselves and others, no matter the situation.
  2. A humbleness that is inspiring.
  3. Integrity, honesty and a strong moral compass
  4. Mental toughness and resilience under adversity.
  5. Capacity for love, compassion, sensitivity and understanding.
  6. Ability to breach the dichotomy between big vision and the smallest detail.
  7. Sincere respect for human dignity and genuine concern for others.
  8. Taking responsibility for themselves and their behaviour.
  9. Inspiring words, actions and emotions that propel others to go beyond their preconceived limits.
  10. The ability to renew themselves and others through story, humour, perspective and reflection.

Now, depending upon your perspective, you may agree, disagree or add more to that list.

What we would all most likely agree on however is that that to be a leader you have create, what I call, Followership. That is to say that, as a leader, we have to bring people with us – i.e. get them to follow us.

How to be a good leader

Throughout my career, probably like you, I’ve seen those who are given the title of “Leader” display some good leadership traits and some not so good. I’ve tried to display the “good” leadership traits myself as a Leader – sometimes successfully! There have been times when I’ve been left frustrated, angry, baffled and downright dis-engaged with my leader.

What occurs to me is that the “good” leaders (or at least those we perceive to be “good”) do indeed have, at their core, a set of traits or behaviours that are common.


they are true to themselves and what they say/do, i.e. they don’t try and be someone they’re not. They do something, for example, that is the RIGHT thing to do (irrespective of other factors) sometimes “against” the Policy, Procedure or wish of the “top person” – they do it because it IS right.

Be the role model

the CEO of an Organisation once said to me that if he “rocked up at 10.00am every day in T shirt and Jeans and went at 3.00pm every day, pretty soon most if not all of the organisation will be doing the same.” He’s right. As Leaders we should be setting the example we want – living the values, behaviours we want etc. because people LOOK TO US to show them how!

Demonstrate integrity

A leader with integrity draws on their values to guide their decisions, behaviour, and dealings with others. They have clear convictions about what is right and wrong and are respected for being genuine (authentic), principled, ethical and consistent. They have a strong sense of character, keep their promises, and communicate openly, honestly and directly with others. Displaying integrity through daily actions will engender loyalty, confidence, and respect from their “followers”.

Communicate Effectively

The ability to communicate clearly, concisely and tactfully is a crucial leadership skill. It’s more than just listening attentively to others and responding appropriately. It also includes sharing valuable information, asking intelligent questions, soliciting input and new ideas, clarifying misunderstandings, and being clear about what you want. The best leaders also communicate to inspire and energise their staff.

Motivate and Inspire

The best leaders drive their team forward with passion, enthusiasm, inspiration and motivation. They invest time in their people to determine their strengths, needs, and priorities. This not only makes them feel valued but also helps to understand the best way to motivate them. It also encourages the development of potential when Leaders agree meaningful goals and challenges with their Followers. Reward with recognition of success completes the picture.

Share Their Vision

effective Leaders who have a vision also have a clear idea of where they want to go, how to get there and what success looks like. They articulate their vision clearly and passionately, ensuring everyone understands how their individual efforts contribute to higher level goals. Couple this with role modelling HOW to get there adds to the notion of “we CAN do this!”

Empower Others

Giving people the autonomy and authority to enable people to take ownership for their work and believe in what they’re doing is meaningful and empowers people to give their best. Effective Leaders challenge their Followers with high expectations and encouragement to be creative and show innovation.

The bigger picture

If YOU want to be a member of that group of “Effective Leaders” you need to have all these good leadership traits. You will have to set a good example for others to follow.  Good leaders always have a vision and purpose. They not only visualise the future themselves but also share their vision with their followers. When their followers are able to see the big picture, they can see where they are heading. A great leader goes above and beyond and explains why they are moving in the direction they are moving and shares the strategy and action plan to achieve that goal.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis

Leadership skills are essential for NGO professionals as we work in dynamic and often challenging situations, sometimes with limited resources. It can be very emotionally taxing work at times, so we need to be coolheaded, professional, manage stress and motive our team, always keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Find out more about our Leadership Development Programme

Written by Darrell Foster

Head of Learning & Development