Positive characteristics exhibited by great leaders are important keys to their success.  These characteristics arise from several overlapping and interrelated general areas.  The characteristics leaders select to utilize and portray from within these areas, in conjunction with their personality type, will help define who they are, how effective they will be, and how successful their companies will become.  These general areas of characteristics include each leader’s:

  • Viewpoint. (The “position” from which the leader perceives and approaches the future.)
  • Knowledge.
  • Wisdom.
  • Skill set.
  • Abilities.
  • Beliefs.
  • Emotional intelligence.

They also include how leaders:

  • Are perceived by others.
  • Interact with employees.
  • Deal with situations.
  • Approach their work.

Many leaders employ and master only a subset of the possible characteristics from within these general areas.  Therefore, great leaders, who own an understanding of their inherent strengths and weaknesses, will take steps to hire direct staff members based upon a need to complement their capabilities and leadership characteristics.  Great leaders will also seek to enhance their leadership proficiency over time by improving upon or incorporating additional positive characteristics from within these areas. (A discussion on how leaders may adjust their personality, characteristics, and approach is presented in Focused Leadership, A Mindset on Execution, Results, and the Future.)

This article is specifically limited to exploring the positive characteristics displayed by great leaders.  The discussion of poor, and even toxic, leadership characteristics and personalities has intentionally been excluded.  However, the impacts of negative leadership characteristics are important to point out in passing.  They are potentially catastrophic to everything from employee morale, to product sales, and ultimately to the success of a company.  A leader, harboring toxic characteristics, must either change their demeanor or be prepared to suffer a significant reduction in their effectiveness at bringing their dreams to fruition.

The following is a list of leadership characteristics, by general areas, which great leaders may draw upon in accomplishing their dreams and aspirations.  The article also briefly touches upon why each of these general areas is important to their company.

The viewpoint of great leaders:

  • Dictates “winning is everything” (for the correct reasons).
  • Shapes their mindset.
  • Is directly intertwined with their vision and mission and the perspective required to attain them.
  • Is based in a concept which balances the long-term success of the company, the return to investors, and the well-being of employees on an equal par.
  • Is based upon their personality type.
  • Positions their company to achieve something larger than themselves.
  • Is focused on the future.
  • Positions the company to grow successfully into the future, after the leader is no longer at the helm.
  • Takes into consideration the needs of support entities such as suppliers, distributers, subcontractors, or logistics required for their company’s success.
  • Helps to inspire others.
  • Assists in setting direction.
  • Provides a platform to portray their dreams from.
  • Defines their approach.
  • Delineates tangible results and expected milestones.
  • Aids in setting goals and objectives.
  • Yields the potential to learn from mistakes, build upon successes, and seize opportunities.

The viewpoint of great leaders sets the direction for their company’s journey in reaching their desired future position within their business niche while properly balancing between return on investment, the company’s future, and employee well-being.  Their personality, approach, mindset, and exhibited characteristics will shape how inspirational, rewarding, and successful that journey will become for others who join in.

Knowledge great leaders command:

  • An intimate understanding of their vision and mission.
  • An understanding of their role in the company.
  • An understanding of their personality type and the related leadership pluses and minuses associated with said personality type.
  • Aids in their understanding of human nature.
  • Provides an understanding of what customers want, need, or will fall in love with instantly, once it is on the market.
  • Shapes their strategy and approach toward marketing and sales.
  • Includes details about their product, their company, and their niche.
  • Includes an understanding that employees and organizations do the work while leadership and management only set the tone and direction.
  • Includes a solid understanding of adaptive leadership and management. (Because change is a constant in the business world.)
  • Furnishes insight into the process of financing their vision.

Knowledge and understanding helps great leaders frame how their company’s work will be accomplished.  These characteristics aid in determining the sideboards for the company’s journey toward their desired future position and in adapting to change as needed.

 Wisdom great leaders draw upon:

  • Allows learning from their experiences.
  • Provides the opportunity to learn from other leaders and businesses.
  • Is derived by listening to advice from those who have been successful in the past.
  • Is gained by evaluating what is occurring within their business environment.
  • Is the result of constantly seeking insight, knowledge, and information.
  • Aids in reviewing their position on issues and adjusting said position when needed.
  • Arises from a solid understanding of human nature.
  • Includes their ability to measure and evaluate the inner qualities of others.
  • Improves their ability to size up and evaluate situations faced.
  • Is rooted in common sense and good judgement.
  • Is based upon deeply held personal direction or beliefs.

The wisdom of great leaders yields better decisions, and therefore better results, in moving their company successfully into the future.

The skill set of great leaders includes:

  • A business acumen.
  • Their technical and professional training and background within their industry.
  • Sound, objective interpretation of data, trends, and statistics.
  • The capacity:
    • To facilitate the development of a promising, yet flexible, strategic plan.
    • To evaluate the company’s niche, where it is going, and in predicting the future wishes and needs of consumers.
    • To evaluate risks.
    • To review and comprehend financial options and make financial decisions.
    • To make sound operational decisions.
    • To hire great employees.
    • To tell their company’s story and thus convince potential investors and employees to join up for the journey.
    • To market and sell their product.
    • To coach.
    • To adjust their personality type, if needed, to improve their leadership effectiveness.

The skill set held by great leaders assists in setting direction, goals, and objectives for employees, telling their story to potential investors, and in selling their products to customers.  Their skill set should be grounded in the technical, mechanical, or business management nuances of their company and augmented by their capability to make great decisions.

 Abilities great leaders hold or develop include:

  • To communicate and articulate.
  • To sell themselves, their end products, and the company mission.
  • To utilize an appropriate perspective in their quest to meet their specific vision. (Insight.)
  • To comprehend implicit issues in accomplishing their vision, based upon the size, scope, and complexity of this perspective.
  • To execute their strategic plan.
  • To make sound decisions.
  • To think issues through.
  • To prioritize.
  • To inspire and motivate employees, across the full spectrum of the company, representing differing backgrounds, cultures, and internally held personal motives.
  • To focus themselves and others.
  • To stay on task, on track, and on message.
  • To delegate.
  • To instill confidence in others.
  • To facilitate discussions leading to outstanding concepts, ideas, and solutions.
  • To adapt to change and lead others through the process.
  • To generate a winning, can-do, optimistic culture within the organization.
  • To create a teamwork environment and approach.
  • To listen.
  • To process information quickly.
  • To bring out the best in people.
  • To set the bar higher.
  • To develop and take on a leadership role, attitude, and approach.
  • To transform their personality, i.e., the ability to learn, evolve, change, and improve.
  • To ask the right questions at the correct time.
  • To keep track of the niche their business model resides in.
  • To remain positive, optimistic, and steadfast in the face of setbacks.

Great leaders must possess the ability to: motivate investors, customers, and employees; stay focused; adapt to change; execute and obtain results; and prioritize.

Internally held beliefs of great leaders include:

  • Their core values. (Including transparency.)
  • Their principles. (Winning is everything.)
  • Confidence.
  • Positive outlook.
  • Holding themselves accountable.
  • Accepting responsibility.
  • Holding high standards for themselves and for the company.
  • Good habits.
  • Humility.
  • The “reasons” behind why they provide direction and how they provide that direction.
  • A corporate moral responsibility.
  • Respect for others.
  • Understanding confidence, attitude, and approach are everything in the moment and honesty and integrity are everything in the long run.

The beliefs great leaders display and follow, will convince investors, connect with customers, and gain the trust of employees.  The beliefs, principles, and core values of great leaders will be a driving force in establishing the culture, goals, and objectives for the company and thus setting it up for success.

Emotional intelligence of great leaders includes:

  • Their level of personal emotional and intellectual awareness.
  • Self-understanding, self-evaluation and critique, self-monitoring, self-motivated, and self-controlled.
  • Understanding when their personality type or exhibited characteristics need modification.
  • Knowing how to build confidence within their employees.
  • Understanding trust is earned.
  • An understanding of, and appreciation for, other people’s feelings.
  • Knowing when to appeal to the feelings and emotions of people as part of their approach.
  • Compassion.
  • Nurturing.
  • Mentoring.
  • Understands strengths and weaknesses of both themselves and others.
  • Creating an atmosphere where employees’ strengths and weaknesses become complementary to each other and thus benefiting the company.
  • Understanding CEO leadership is a responsibility and not a right.
  • Understanding the need to keep the company moving forward, to maintain morale, and to remain optimistic.
  • Understanding when they have been wrong on a subject and willing to own up to said error.
  • Understanding wars are not won by strategy and words alone. Sometimes to stay connected, leaders must be hands-on, out in the field, working in the trenches, or getting dirty alongside of their employees.
  • Understanding the increased productivity resulting from employee self-esteem which may be generated through intrinsic values the company adds to society. These values must be engrained as important within the company culture and touted as benefits of the products produced for consumers.

A great leader’s emotional intelligence will assist in communicating with employees, marketing their products, and taking their company to the next level.  It is centered upon a self-understanding of the leader’s personality and their ability to adjust said personality in order to become a more effective leader.

How great leaders are perceived by others:

  • As visionary.
  • Based upon their actions. (Actions speak louder than words.)
  • Based upon the justifications presented for decisions made and actions taken.
  • With a positive and optimistic attitude and approach.
  • As winners.
  • As a result of their persona.
  • As the result of their charisma.
  • As vibrant.
  • As bright.
  • As competent.
  • As outgoing and upbeat.
  • As flexible and adaptive.
  • Because of their ability to connect to people.
  • Because of how they make people feel.
  • As bigger than life.
  • By exhibiting sincerity.
  • As polite.
  • As respectful.
  • As objective.
  • As consistent.
  • As fair.
  • As logical.
  • As inspirational.
  • As open.
  • As approachable.
  • As relentless and determined in reaching their goals.

How a leader is perceived will be directly correlated to how they connect, inspire, motivate, and/or captivate the imagination of employees, investors, and customers.

How great leaders interact with employees centers upon:

  • Their ability to motivate, influence, and persuade in unleashing people’s full potential.
  • Their ability to successfully challenge people to rise to the occasion.
  • Their ability to align the internally held motives of employees with the mission of the company.
  • Presenting ideas, concepts, and direction in a distinct, understandable manner which is comprehended, appreciated, and then implemented successfully by others.
  • How they deal with difficult people.
  • How they deal with conflict.
  • How they deal with mistakes and failures.
  • How they accomplish their oversight. (Do they allow people to do their jobs with suggestions or do they micro-manage?)
  • Providing constructive feedback.
  • Abhorring groupthink.
  • Empowering employees.
  • Treating others with dignity.
  • Coaching.
  • Mentoring.
  • Focused on developing managerial and leadership skills within their employees for the future.
  • Listening, and then acknowledging or summarizing, to show they care about what others are saying.
  • Their openness to employee generated ideas, innovation, feedback, and dissenting points of view on issues, in their efforts to reach the best decisions for the company.

How leaders deal with employees will directly influence the level of productivity, engagement, and commitment they obtain from those employees.

How great leaders deal with situations by:

  • Willingly accepting challenges.
  • Embracing the need for change, and in the process, searching for and capturing potential opportunities.
  • Maintaining a deliberate, focused, optimistic approach.
  • Systematically evaluating situations as they arise and developing measured and calculated responses.
  • Making informed decisions.
  • Facilitating the generation of resolutions (strategy) and then leading the implementation of those resolutions.
  • Acting in a timely fashion.
  • Staying ahead of the curve whenever possible rather than operating in a crisis mode.

Great leaders realize every second lost in dealing with issues, allows their competition an opportunity to gain traction on them.  Dealing with foreseen and unforeseen issues is an important role of great leaders.  The faster they identify, evaluate, and resolve issues, protects the company’s bottom-line and their potential for future success.

Great leaders accomplish work through:

  • Focusing on execution and results.
  • A driven attitude and approach.
  • A profound passion.
  • Seeking exceptional solutions.
  • Persistence in solving problems quickly.
  • Remaining mindful of the examples they set.
  • Encouraging and rewarding new ideas and innovation.
  • Tirelessly setting milestones, reaching goals, accomplishing objectives, and pursuing the company mission and vision.
  • Constantly moving forward.
  • Setting priorities.
  • Taking decisive actions.
  • Reaching difficult decisions in a timely manner.
  • Taking calculated risks.
  • Remaining flexible.
  • Announcing, celebrating, and rewarding important accomplishments.
  • Discipline.
  • Dedication.
  • Determination.
  • Approaching issues, and the need for change, proactively rather than reactively.
  • Exhibiting common sense.
  • A focused mindset.
  • Attention to details, data, and analytics.
  • Utilizing feelings and emotions as part of their approach.
  • Finding the good within bad situations.
  • Giving credit where due.
  • Holding people accountable by tying back to the company’s mission, goals, and objectives.
  • Encouraging teamwork.
  • Constantly evaluating opportunities.
  • Turning setbacks into rallying points.

How great leaders work will set the tone and the standards followed by their employees. The approach of great leaders toward their work will also provide the company with a competitive edge within their business environment.  These two factors when combined, will help the company in accomplishing their shared mission, goals, and objectives in staying ahead of the competition.

Conclusions: Great leaders, in moving their companies successfully into the future, exhibit overlapping positive characteristics from several interrelated areas.  A leader’s internal drive, a balanced approach, and a winning viewpoint, coupled with the ability to lead, execute, and adapt to change, will yield exceptional results over the long term.  This is accomplished through fostering teamwork, empowering employees, setting the bar higher, effective communications, and a shared dedication to a strongly held vision/mission.  Great leaders, via their characteristics, create vibrant, optimistic, can-do organizations which build upon their own success and internal culture while standing the test of time.

Feature Image by Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA.  This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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Michael Roney has a Master’s of Science degree from the University of Montana and over thirty-three years of experience in a successful professional career. Nineteen of those years were spent in supervisory and managerial roles. He has been dedicated to studying the role of leadership and management in organizations for over 25 years, in relationship to how work is accomplished and how organizations adapt to change. The single greatest compliment he was given during his career was from an employee who stated he had a “Ph.D. in common sense”. He has worked since the fall of 2013, part-time, as a freelance business writer, providing services to clients from coast to coast. He has completed business related documents covering several areas including: safety management, human resources, driver’s education, agreements, contracts, product descriptions, insurance claim related documents, non-disclosure agreements, business plans, home and business security, resources management, non-profits, child protection, and education.