10 Traits of Excellent Leaders

What trait do you admire most in a leader and why?

If you are a leader or an aspiring leader, this is an important question to answer for yourself.  When you analyze what you admire, you can consciously adopt those traits and incorporate them into your own leadership style.


In the organizational influence class that I teach, I always start the program by asking participants to answer this question.  It helps when I also ask them to identify what leader, famous or not, exhibits the trait they most admire.  It’s always a lively and fun group discussion, as well as a valuable exercise.

Over time, I’ve realized that 10 traits are consistently mentioned in these discussions.  There’s a good chance that you, too, have known leaders who embody these traits.

10 Traits of Excellent Leaders
1. Trust
Trust, in this case, means being someone who people want to trust.  It also means trusting others (who prove themselves) to carry out their parts of the mission or in the relationship. So it’s being trusting, and it’s being trustworthy.

2. Honesty
Most people agree that if you don’t demonstrate honesty and integrity, then you won’t gain trust.  Being someone who keeps promises also engenders trust.  Some people also add that they admire a leader who “tells it like it is.”  Honest communication inspires followership.

3. Recognizing Others
Humbly acknowledging that, as the leader, you aren’t the only one with knowledge, skills and abilities is one way to do this. However, the fundamental expression of “recognizing others” is simply recognizing the accomplishments of others.  It’s the proverbial “pat on the back.”  Everyone agrees that this kind of morale boosting is a very important trait of an excellent leader.

4. Courage
Some would say “fearless” here, but, actually, it’s not that the leader has to be without fear (in fact, no one can be human without possessing at least a little fear).  Having courage is doing what it takes and standing up for what is right.  Class participants will often cite famous historical leaders who stood with courage in hard times such as Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

5. Vision
Not only do excellent leaders provide a vision for those they’re leading, but they also have a strong personal vision for themselves.  They know who they are, what they stand for and where they’re going.  Their vision provides the foundation for them to be courageous when needed.

6. Humor
Humor under pressure is a hallmark of many great leaders.  For example, while being wheeled into surgery after he was shot, President Ronald Reagan said to emergency-room staff, “I hope you’re all Republicans.” People appreciate when leaders show a sense of humor even when it’s not pressure time.  Humor makes a leader more accessible and relatable, and, when used wisely, it improves morale because of the good feeling it stirs in others.

7. Positivity
Being positive doesn’t mean being unrealistically so.  It means that you are willing to learn and grow from mistakes and challenges rather than let them beat you down.  Also some of the best leaders are win/win focused.  They act from a sense of what is the best solution that benefits the good of all concerned.  They also plan for success and exhibit a healthy dose of optimism.

8. Willing To Work
Many people admire a leader who is willing to step off the top of the ladder for a moment and do the actual work if necessary.  When it comes to crunch time, excellent leaders will ask, “What can I do to help?”  They “roll up their sleeves” and pitch in or work to obtain whatever resources are needed.  A leader who shows a willingness to work inspires others to do the same – he or she leads by example.

9. Listening
Listening well entails being fully present with the person who is speaking.  Excellent leaders practice the skill of active listening, which leads to loyalty by followers who feel respected and relevant.  However, this trait also reflects another aspect that is important to followers.  You should also be open-minded.  Be willing to listen to suggestions and input so that you can be highly responsive to changes and needs.

10. Passion
When you have a vision, you will usually have passion.  They pretty much go hand-in-hand.  Passion doesn’t have to look like Adolf Hitler pounding his fist fanatically during a speech even though that is one way passion might look to followers.  Passion is demonstrated in the sincerity of your words, the consistency of your actions and the clarity of your communications about your vision.  Basically, this trait means that you have to believe in what you’re doing, and the expression of that will come out naturally as passion.

Earlier I used the phrase, “if you are a leader or an aspiring leader…”  I’d like to point out that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes.  Of course, leading typically refers to elected or appointed executives in a government, institution or organization.  However, it also means being a parent; being an older sibling; mentoring, teaching or coaching children or adults; being a volunteer leader; leading a study group or a project; stepping in whenever the boss is unavailable, etc.

Where in your life do you fill a leadership role, even if it’s temporarily?  And how would you answer the question, “What do you admire most in a leader and why?”  I’d love to know if you come up with any other outstanding leadership traits besides these 10.


Angela Loëb helps people rediscover and use their gifts so they can bring who they are to what they do. To learn more, please visit: www.insyncresources.com

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