Top 7 Leadership Traits of an Effective Leader

A true leader embodies leadership qualities that motivate and inspire others. Have you ever wondered what leadership qualities people around the world value most? It’s a popular topic of research to uncover the traits that make a truly great leader. 

In this article, we’ll break down some of the most admired leadership traits. We’ll delve into the published literature on leadership to identify the most important leadership qualities. Also, explore how you can cultivate these traits in your leadership journey.

Leadership is Taking Responsibility

Let’s begin by defining what leadership is. There is no universal definition of leadership, but one of the most critical aspects of leadership is assuming responsibility for others. Merriam-Webster defines leadership as “the capacity to lead.”

Despite the simplicity of this definition, leadership encompasses more than simply leading. A good leader inspires confidence in team members. An effective leader motivates others to achieve their full potential. How do we know if a person has the ability to lead? Or how can we determine whether a person is an effective leader? 

Lao Tzu leadership Quote

Insights from ‘The Leadership Challenge’

“The Leadership Challenge” “ by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner is a classic research-based leadership book that has become a popular textbook for management students. In the 5th edition of this book, the authors discuss the principles and traits of effective leadership based on their extensive research and experience working with leaders from various industries.

The authors have conducted surveys since 1987 to determine which characteristics people admire most in leaders. Honesty, forward-thinking, inspiration, and competence are the four qualities that people look for in leaders most strongly. 

The leadership model presented in the latest edition of the book focuses on five core practices. They are Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart.

Most valued leadership traits

Even though we may think certain nationalities value certain traits over others, these four qualities are universal across cultures and countries. 

On the other hand, these four qualities are among the most difficult ones to achieve as a leader. Therefore, to become a successful leader, you must work hard to develop yourself in each of these areas. 

Honesty: Honest leaders remain open, straightforward, and transparent about their intentions. 

Forward-looking: Forward-looking leaders are proactive and plan for the future. 

Inspiring: Such leaders motivate others to strive for excellence and reach beyond their limits. 

Competent: These leaders know what they want and how to attain it.

Having these leadership qualities is especially important for C-suite leaders since their actions and decisions affect the entire company. Research shows that CEO reputation contributes significantly to corporate reputation and market value. A highly respected CEO builds trust and credibility with stakeholders.

Top 7 leadership traits


Many surveys say honesty is the most valued leadership trait. Honest leaders are seen as more reliable and trustworthy and can establish strong relationships based on mutual respect, understanding, and trust.

Creating a positive and productive work environment starts with honesty because it builds trust and respect in an organization.

In order to be a good leader, you should have the same standards of honesty that you expect from your team. Honesty isn’t always fun, but it’s crucial.

Owning your mistakes

When you’re a leader, being upfront and taking responsibility for your mistakes will help you show that you’re honest. Honesty can help you make better decisions, enabling you to consider all relevant information and viewpoints. Plus, it inspires others to do the same, creating a culture of accountability and continuous learning.

Leaders who aren’t honest and transparent could lose employees’ trust. Dishonesty can negatively impact teamwork and undermine confidence since employees feel they can’t depend on their bosses.

Dishonesty erodes relationships

Besides that, as a leader, if you aren’t honest and transparent and you’re making false promises, it always destroys relationships and erodes trust. No one enjoys being lied to or misled, so honesty is the key to any successful leadership strategy. 

In the end, honesty is what makes a leader effective, as it strengthens relationships with team members and fosters trust. 

Honesty is the best policy

As the saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy,” and honesty is the cornerstone of a leader’s credibility and integrity. If you are honest as a leader, others will accept responsibility for their mistakes.

Honesty Leadership Trait


Being a leader means anticipating what will happen in your company and preparing for it. First, you got to have a clear vision of where you want to go. Then, you must communicate this vision to your team because it gives them direction and motivation.

Getting your team on the same page

Keeping everyone on the same page and working together is important for forward leadership. Make sure your team knows what’s expected of them and how their work fits into the bigger picture. 

As a leader, you have to make sure everyone knows where they want to go and how to get there. It helps to align everyone’s efforts toward a common goal. No one follows a person who doesn’t have a clear vision. It can lead to confusion, at the very least.

Planning for the present, future, and beyond

Let’s say you already have a vision, as most leaders do. Still, you can’t ignore short-term and long-term plans if you want to reach your overarching goals. This allows you to encourage innovation and creativity since you’re prepared with your strategic, tactical and operational planning. 

According to a survey, many CEOs think innovation’s crucial to their company’s long-term success. That’s why leadership needs to be forward-looking. Innovation helps a leader stay on top of the game, adapt to market changes, and find growth and differentiation opportunities.

Leadership trait - Forward-looking - Key points


All of us can agree that the world needs more inspirational leaders. But what does it mean to be one?

The truth is that you won’t be successful simply because you wear a futurist hat or because you are honest. To succeed, you have to inspire others to join you, which requires that you articulate your vision and convince your team it’s achievable.

Igniting passion and purpose

When your team is inspired to do their best, it’s easy to create a positive and productive work environment. Likewise, when you are passionate about what you’re doing, your followers will feel inspired to join you.

Inspiring leaders help their teams see the bigger picture by building their beliefs and overcoming obstacles. An inspiring leader can tap into their team’s passions and motivations and channel that energy toward a shared goal or vision. 

This creates a productive work environment where team members are motivated to do their best and are invested in the organization’s success. When a leader is passionate about their work, it is contagious, and team members are naturally drawn to follow their lead.

Driving positive change

Forbes says that inspiring leaders are committed to values, invest in personal development, are authentic, are excellent communicators, are vulnerable, listen empathetically, and are positive. Leadership that inspires creates positive change by being value-driven and responsible. 

Embracing authenticity and vulnerability

Being a leader doesn’t mean you have mastered the art of leadership. Seeking feedback will help you hone your skills. Great leaders are authentic and genuine, and they communicate well and empathically. 

A positive attitude helps motivate themselves and others. They’re vulnerable and open about sharing their struggles and experiences, and they listen to others with understanding and compassion.

Leadership trait - Inspiring - Key points


For a leader, competence is the root of confidence. It helps you to stand strong and withstand challenges. It takes skill, adeptness, and mastery to be a leader, as well as an agile mindset, good judgment, and a clear vision. 

According to Timothy R. Clark in the book ‘Leading with Character and Competence,’ becoming a competent leader involves four aspects. They are Learning, Change, Judgement, and Vision.

The only way to keep up is to stay ahead

The pace of new information and technologies is accelerating, so you need to keep learning. As a leader, you should constantly seek new knowledge and ways to improve yourself. It’s imperative since the times demand us to be agile and adapt fast.

Adapting and building resilience

Competency also means being able to handle change. Leaders have to be able to adapt and build resilience to deal with constant change. You should develop the intellectual and emotional capacity to understand that change is difficult. Build a common understanding that these changes are part of your vision and strategy. You shouldn’t use your authority and influence to smuggle or muscle changes through.

Good judgment matters

Some of us don’t consider Judgment as our strongest suit. However, it’s vital for competent leadership. Thinking through the intended and unintended consequences of different actions helps you see the big picture. You need judgment to choose the right people, develop their skills over time, and delegate tasks appropriately. 

See the future, create the future

The fourth cornerstone of competence is vision. Vision is the ability to see what does not exist. It’s projecting your desired overarching outcomes into the future. Detailed project plans or Gantt charts don’t inspire people, but a well-crafted vision does. It helps you draw strength from difficult circumstances and unshackles you from the status quo and orthodoxy.


We discussed the importance of competence as a leadership skill. To be competent in anything, you need a high level of cognitive ability or intelligence. 

How do you define intelligence? It’s the ability to learn and comprehend new ideas and concepts. And the ability to apply that knowledge to solve problems and make informed decisions. For leaders, intelligence is critical because it allows them to analyze large amounts of data and information, draw insights using data analytics, and identify problems that need to be solved.

Skills that make you intelligent

It’s no surprise that people around the globe consider intelligence a critical leadership trait. It’s crucial for making informed decisions. According to John Mattone, the author of Intelligent Leader, you need to have a number of skills to become an intelligent leader. The key skills are critical thinking, decision-making, strategic thinking, emotional leadership, and communication.

Being smart isn’t enough

But intelligence isn’t just about being smart. It’s also about playing the long game and having a big strategic vision for your organization. Intelligent leaders keep their eyes on the big picture while paying attention to the implications of their actions. As a result, they can anticipate problems and come up with creative solutions that others might not have thought of.

Time to boost your emotional intelligence

Do you have what it takes to be a successful leader? It’s time to flex your critical thinking and strategic thinking muscles. Let’s not forget emotional intelligence. Self-awareness and empathy will make you a better leader and more likable (which is always a plus).


Having an open mind is universally admired as one quality of a good leader. But what does being open-minded mean? The idea is to be open to other people’s views and opinions, even if they differ from yours. It also means not being afraid to change your mind when fresh evidence comes along.

There’s something we can all learn from each other. Being open-minded lets you learn from your team members, customers, and competitors. It helps you improve and grow as a leader.

Embracing Diversity and Unconventional Ideas

Effective leadership requires understanding how to work with people from different backgrounds and cultures. You need to be open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds and be willing to accept and embrace different views and ideas. 

Getting comfortable with Change and Innovation

It’s a fast-paced world, so leaders need to adapt. Staying ahead of the competition means being open to innovation and improving processes. It also means taking calculated risks and trying new things.

Making Informed Decision

To be open-minded, you don’t have to agree with everything other people say or do. Listening to and considering different points of view is what it’s all about. However, it’s also about making informed, well-reasoned decisions based on what’s best for your company.

Encouraging Open Communication

You can show open-mindedness as a leader by encouraging open and honest communication. The goal is to create an environment where team members share their ideas and express themselves. You also need to be open to feedback and criticism.

Seeking New Experiences and Perspectives

Experiencing new things and seeing things from different perspectives is another way to show this trait. It can be as simple as attending conferences or events, reading books by different authors, or talking to people with diverse backgrounds or viewpoints.

In conclusion, being open-minded means listening to others, considering different perspectives, and being willing to try new things. Then, you’ll be well on your way to being a more inclusive and effective leader.

Concluding Thoughts

Leadership is a complex topic with many facets. Influential leaders, however, possess a few key traits that set them apart.  In a leader, what qualities do people value most? Popular literature says people want their leaders to be honest, forward-thinking, inspirational and competent.

Honest leaders are trusted and respected and build strong relationships with their peers and followers. Leaders with a forward-looking mindset are proactive and plan for the future. It’s easy for them to see the big picture and figure out how to get there. 

The best leaders inspire others to do their best. True inspirational leaders are authentic and vulnerable, making them relatable. Competent leaders know what they want and how to achieve it. They are great at adapting and building resilience.

Cultivating these leadership qualities is especially important for aspiring leaders. It can definitely help you become a better leader. However, if you are already successful in a leadership role, remember there’s always room for improvement, and everyone’s leadership journey is unique.

Related Articles

Strategic thinking helps leaders set long-term goals and create plans for achieving them. Read More here.

A company needs strategic leaders at all levels to grow and innovate. Here’s more about strategic leadership.


Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. “The Leadership Challenge.” How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, Jossey-Bass, 2012 5th Edition.

Growth and Innovation | Strategy & Corporate Finance.” McKinsey & Company.

Mattone, John. “Intelligent Leadership.” What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential, 2013.

Clark, Timothy R. “Leading With Character and Competence.” Moving Beyond Title, Position, and Authority, 2016.

Disela Dassanayake
Disela Dassanayake
Disela is a business analyst with a passion for researching and sharing information on technical topics. He has over 15 years of industry experience in multiple domains, including industrial engineering and information technology. He has a master's degree in Engineering Management from the University of Alberta and a master's degree in Computer Information Systems from Boston University. He currently holds multiple professional designations, including PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA and ITIL.

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