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What are the qualities of an effective leader?

Most of us have worked for managers but relatively few of us have had the honor of working for a true leader. As a leader occupying a management role, you may be wondering what the distinction is and how this discussion pertains to you.  

In a nutshell, people work for managers but they follow leaders. Put another way, while managers ensure day-to-day operations are running smoothly, leaders successfully communicate a vision that people can understand, believe in, and get behind.

To run a lucrative business, it’s necessary to be both a skilled manager and a strong leader. Ineffective leadership can cost companies in more ways than one. Research from Gallup shows 24% of employees are disengaged due to poor management.

This leads to lower productivity and profitability, and higher turnover, which ends up costing close to two times the yearly salary of each employee who leaves.  

But what exactly makes a good leader? 

What makes for an effective leader? 

Top leaders across industries generally have certain qualities in common. For instance, they tend to have integrity and treat their employees with respect. In fact, one can recognize integrity in part because it inspires mutual respect.

A Robert Half survey found that 75% of employees ranked integrity as the most important quality in a leader. Additionally, strong leaders are skilled at the art of delegation and therefore have time to keep the bigger picture in mind.

But the skill which is perhaps most fundamental to strong leadership is the ability to communicate fluidly with a wide range of people. Leaders with this skill are self-aware and empathetic.

The better you understand your own motivations, the better you’ll be able to understand what it is that gets your employees out of bed every morning. And the better prepared you’ll be to engage them. That’s effective leadership.  

It’s also worth noting that successful leadership is a collaborative, ongoing process. In other words, no matter how well-liked you are, remaining humble is key to achieving team goals.

Your leadership training has no endpoint. Rather, it is a skill you’ll need to work on throughout your career. 

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6 must-have traits of an effective leader  

When developing leadership skills, consider honing in on the following must-have qualities of an  effective leader: 

1. Influential 

Leadership is all about knowing how to influence people by exercising genuine authority rather than trying to manipulate them. Build authority by becoming the person to talk to about a given topic.

Since influencing others also requires building trust, practice active listening. When you listen it not only makes your team feel heard and involved, but it also equips you with the knowledge you need to make effective change. 

2. Transparent 

Being transparent means being open and honest about your company’s overarching goals and challenges. Ultimately, it’s about building trust.

When employees better understand their role in the grand scheme of things, they have a clearer sense of purpose, which leads to higher levels of engagement. While transparency should be mutual, however, avoid infringing on employee privacy. Your team should feel you trust them. 

3. Innovative 

Innovation is key to gaining and maintaining a competitive advantage. Quality leaders promote and facilitate the risk-taking necessary to any meaningful innovation. In doing so, they build a creative company culture unafraid of failure, and one in which employees feel free to voice new ideas or approaches.

This can ultimately become a very rewarding type of environment to work in, a workplace known for valuing its employee intelligence. By viewing failure as valuable information, you pave the way for larger breakthroughs to happen. 

4. Resilient 

Because not all decisions are met with success, any leader open to innovation must possess a good dose of resilience.

The ability to take failure in stride while keeping your team focused on achieving those big-picture goals is a sign of true leadership. Effective leaders own every decision regardless of the outcome, keep an overall positive mindset, and stay focused on moving forward.  

5. Ethical 

Having integrity means having a strong ethical compass. A leader who is committed to a clearly communicated ethical value system is a fair leader. Fairness, in turn, inspires confidence that all parties are going to adhere to this ethical system—a shared understanding.

Employees who feel safe and respected in their workplace tend to have leaders who understand that doing right by employees is also doing right by the business. Good people will always be your most valuable asset. 

6. Decisive 

Conducting business in our modern world means knowing how to engage with complex and rapidly evolving circumstances. This means being able to make strategic decisions on the fly. 

Leaders skilled at delegation tend to be more decisive in general and can see the bigger picture in part because they carve out time in their day to think about it.

Decisions that take both long-term goals and short-term opportunities into account are strong ones. While doubting the occasional decision is human, stick with your choices unless you have a clear reason to change them. 

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Assessing your leadership strengths 

No one becomes an effective leader overnight. Getting there may require you to assess your strengths and get to know yourself. Once you understand what motivates you at a core level, you’ll be better equipped to lead a team.

According to a study by the Korn Ferry Institute, the most lucrative companies tend to employ people who demonstrate a high level of self-awareness.  

Here are a few ways you can assess your effectiveness as a leader: 

Do a self-assessment 

When it comes to recognizing your behaviors and gaining insight into how you govern yourself and others, a well-designed questionnaire can be surprisingly useful.

The Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) and the Personal Values Questionnaire (PVQ) are two among many you might try. By digging deeper and answering questions honestly, you learn to channel your emotions to build a leadership approach that’s truly solid. 

Observe yourself critically 

Sometimes being able to see ourselves is illuminating. You might accomplish this by recording a video of yourself so you can have an outside look at your personal leadership style.

How do you present yourself?

What kind of impression do you have on others?

Do you inspire people with an approach founded on transparency or is your style grounded in faith?

All leaders have personal flair, and the best way to get to know yours is to observe yourself and see where you might improve. 

Solicit feedback 

Don’t stop at giving yourself feedback. Actively request feedback from your team. By asking those you work with closely for input on your effectiveness as a leader, you can more easily identify gaps in your own awareness and ultimately work to get better.

Soliciting feedback also creates a culture of clear communication with your team, integral to building trust and keeping performance levels high.  

Network 

Leadership is a skill to be perfected in the long term. Work to build a strong, diverse, and engaged network you can turn to for information, support, fresh perspectives, and the most up-to-date opportunities.

A strong network can be a powerful resource that drives your personal growth and the success of your company. 

Bottom line

It’s possible to become an effective leader at any phase of your career. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Start with knowing yourself and use the points above as a rough guide. You got this!

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The PurelyHR Team

PurelyHR is powerful modular software for your everyday HR. We want to give you more time by providing industry-leading tools for essential tasks like time and attendance tracking, performance reviews, infraction tracking, and more. The PurelyHR blog is your resource for the latest in HR, workplace trends & culture, and product updates.