Are people born with leadership qualities? Or can they be developed over time? I think the answer is that it’s a little bit of both.
People are born with a personality or qualities that may make them better leaders. However, our character and the type of person we are develops over time, shaped by our experiences. This is good news, because it means we can develop better leadership qualities over our careers.
In this article, I’ll talk about the top leadership qualities that I feel create better, more productive work environments for our people. Of course, I’ll also cover how you can start to build them into your leadership too.
Thoughtful Leader’s Leadership Qualities List
To shortcut the process, I’ll start with a list of my top leadership qualities. They are linked below if you want to jump straight to the relevant section:
- Emotional Intelligence: The ability to work with and understand your own emotions, rather than reacting to them without thinking.
- Adaptability: The ability to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances is critical in this topsy turvy world!
- Empathy: Being able to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”, thinking from another perspective than your own.
- Patience: Good things come to those who wait, and patience is a virtue. Sometimes, good results take time and leaders can benefit from waiting, before making knee-jerk decisions.
- Confidence: Confident leaders breed confidence in others. If you seem uncertain or worried, other people might think there’s a big problem!
Now, let’s expand on these and look a bit deeper into why they really matter for you, your leadership and your team.
Learn More: Top 5 Leadership Skills for Career Success.
1. Emotional Intelligence
Coming in at number 1 on our leadership qualities list is our old friend, Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is also known as the Emotional Quotient (EQ).
If you have ever come across a leader who often has emotional outbursts in the workplace, there is a good chance they don’t have very strong Emotional Intelligence.
Why? Because they have never learned to properly understand or manage their emotions.
As we all know, workplaces can be stressful, leading to frustration, anger and fear. If we aren’t able to identify these emotions in ourselves, or what triggers them, we may fly off the handle easily.
When the pressure rises, leaders with low EQ are likely to show unproductive behaviour first. Conversely, leaders with strong EQ understand their emotions, including what situations might trigger them.
This means that these leaders remain aware of and manage the situations that may cause them to lose control.
How to Develop the Leadership Quality of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence cannot be built in a day. It takes practice, like many aspects of leadership. However, the best way I’ve found to build EQ is by taking time for introspection.
Follow these simple steps to start being more introspective:
1. Think of a situation where you have become upset or had an unwanted emotional outburst.
2. Answer the question “Why did I feel that way?”
3. Go deeper until you find what you think could be the root cause of the problem.
This is an important step. Many of us stop at the surface level of the issue. For example, if somebody spoke over you in a meeting, you may say that you became upset because it was rude behaviour.
However, if you dig a little deeper, you might find that the source of your frustration was because you feel like you aren’t respected in your leadership role at work.
4. Now answer the question “How could I have responded in a more constructive way?”
5. And lastly, think of an answer to “How could I prepare myself better to handle that situation next time?”
I’ve found that taking the time to work through this five step process is extremely beneficial. Take time out to take a stroll and think it over.
What you’ll find is that over time, you’ll become more aware of your emotions, including what triggers them.
Instead of reacting and then regretting it, you’ll start responding in a more calm and reasonable manner, which will build you credibility and respect.
Listen to this related Podcast Episode: #83: Handling Emotions in Leadership.
When I first started my career, I wouldn’t have put adaptability in my list of top leadership qualities. But as time has moved on, the pace of change has increased.
Technology has advanced rapidly, along with growing competition in every industry.
The way we work has changed, and we now demand flexibility and autonomy where we never had it before.
Consumers are demanding our organisations to be socially responsible more than ever.
Adapting to change has become such an important part of leadership that the Adaptability Quotient or AQ has been created to measure it.
In your leadership role, you probably find that you’re always learning. You need to take on a new side-project, roll out a new system in your team, or create a brand new product that’s cutting edge.
Most of organisational change is stressful, and hardly anybody likes it. That’s why as leaders, we need to show the way, to be able to remain composed and resilient in the face of change for our people.
How to Improve Your Adaptability
Adaptability is about mindset. If you have a mindset that things need to be perfect or always go to plan, you’ll struggle. Here are some ways to improve your adaptability, and role model it for your team:
- Acknowledge change: Openly speak about change, and how it can be stressful. Acknowledge that it’s difficult and uncomfortable. Understand that it’s normal.
- Keep learning: Great leaders need to keep learning new skills and ways of working. Devoting time to develop your skills and experience in your working week is a great way to embed it as part of your normal way of operating.
- Make a plan, then adjust it: As the saying goes, “Planning is valuable, the plan is worthless”. In other words, you should make a plan, but it will often need to change. Just because things change is no excuse for failing to plan. The planning process is valuable to help you set a direction and get moving, but don’t expect a plan to stay the same.
- Manage your time effectively: Change is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean you need to make it worse. Work efficiently and prioritise, so you have capacity for unexpected change that comes your way. If you need help, try my Time Management Online Course.
- Find support: Find a coach, a mentor or a trusted colleague to help you manage in times of uncertainty. Test your thinking and make sure you’re on the right track. Be there for your team in the same way.
Investing in your ability to adapt is well worth it in your leadership journey. Being adaptable will help you to remain calm, composed and resilient in the face of constant change.
Embrace change, respect it and learn to like it.
Empathy comes in at number 3 on the leadership qualities list. In its simplest form, empathy is your ability to think from another person’s perspective.
It’s important to remember that you will never know what another person is thinking or feeling. You aren’t in their head, and you don’t experience their life, so you shouldn’t assume you know what they are going through.
Leaders with low empathy are at higher risk of being blindsided by issues or poor team performance because they haven’t considered how their people are coping within the work environment.
The important part of empathy for leadership is that you make an effort to understand what your team members are thinking and feeling.
This often involves seeking to understand how your people are feeling about their situation at work and outside of work.
For example, you might consider the following aspects of your team members:
- Are they feeling stressed?
- Is the workload too much to bear?
- Do they feel confident in performing their role?
- Are they happy with their career direction?
- Are they experiencing conflict with other people in the team?
- Is there anything outside of work that is causing an impact to their performance at work?
This list is just a starting point. The benefit of empathy in leadership is that you become more aware of the needs, thoughts and feelings of your team members.
Once you have gained an increased awareness, you can adapt your approach or make necessary changes to help your team be more productive and confident in their roles.
I’ve found patience to be a fantastic leadership quality. However, remaining patient is not easy, because many workplaces demand short-term results.
There are many aspects of leadership and team development that can benefit from taking the time to let them build. Making changes to team culture, improving performance and the way your people work or developing skills and experience – these all take time.
Leaders who are under pressure to deliver immediate results may start making decisions that cause longer-term issues. Therefore, it’s important for leaders to be able to keep a calm head on their shoulders in order to maintain their composure in the face of this pressure.
We need to be able to balance short-term results with a longer-term outcome. If we simply keep saying “It takes time”, this can start to wear thin if a team continues to show poor performance for a long period.
How to Build a More Patient Leadership Mindset
Patience is not easy, especially when you’re under pressure to deliver. However, I’ve found that we help our teams improve faster when we give them some time and space to build confidence and skills.
To help you build a more patient mindset, try the following:
- Identify the end goal: Make sure you know what you’re trying to achieve, and when you need to get there.
- Manage your stakeholders: You need to keep the pressure off your team for a little while, in order to give your team space to grow. Setting expectations with your important stakeholders is important. Let them know what you’re trying to achieve, and when you’ll get there. Otherwise, they might be breathing down your neck the whole time!
- Make a plan: Make sure you have a plan in place for what you’re trying to achieve, and that your team are aware of the end goal. You can’t just keep saying “we’ll get there eventually”. You need to be able to demonstrate when you expect improvement. In your plan, build in checkpoints where you’ll review progress.
- Develop supporting actions: You can’t just expect improvements by taking time alone. You need to put the necessary factors in place to help your team get there. For example, this might mean training, coaching, mentoring or providing additional resources.
- Stay the course, then correct: Resist the temptation to jump in and make knee-jerk changes. Stick to your plan until you can see it working… or not. Then make the necessary adjustments. Remember that some things do take time, but you need to balance that with waiting forever to achieve them!
Leaders who are patient tend to instil a sense of calm within a team, because they are willing to invest time to see the team improve. Demanding immediate results can work, but not if your team isn’t ready to deliver them.
Build a patient mindset, and help your team grow into the team you need them to be.
Learn More: 5 Ways Leaders Can Stay Calm at Work.
Confidence in leadership is not to be underestimated. However, confidence is not about having all the answers or being free of doubt. Even the best of leaders doubt themselves from time to time.
Confident leaders instil a sense of calm in the people around them. When a leader looks like they have everything under control, people tend to think it’s true. This has the effect of reducing stress and creates a more productive work environment than one where panic is a common theme.
Ways You Can Build Leadership Confidence
Building confidence takes time, but there are some small steps you can take to build yours. Here are a few ideas:
- Find a sounding board: When leaders go it alone, they feel isolated and exposed. Find a trusted colleague or mentor to help you test your thinking. This will give you the confidence to know that you’re on the right track.
- Get out of your comfort zone: Stretch yourself. Find opportunities that are just outside where you feel the most comfortable, and take them on. You’ll learn new skills and realise that you’re capable of doing great things.
- Keep an achievement or feedback journal: When people give you good feedback, write it down. When you accomplish a goal or finish a project, take a note of it. Over time, you’ll build a list of confidence-building points that you can refer to. If you’re feeling low, doubting yourself or think you’re out of your depth, look back at the list and you’ll start to realise that “I’ve succeeded before. I can do it again.”
- Know your strengths and weaknesses: Our weaknesses erode confidence, while our strengths build it up. Knowing your weaknesses helps you to adjust your approach to cater for them, and reduce their impact. Understanding your strengths helps you to create situations where you can use them for greater impact.
These are some simple ways to build leadership confidence, but if you need more help, try the Leadership Confidence Online Course, below!
Want to Build Leadership Confidence? Take the Online Course.
That’s exactly why I created the Leadership Confidence Online Course and Coaching Program to help leaders like you build their confidence to lead their teams more effectively.
Feel more comfortable and self-assured in your leadership role – click the button to enrol today.
These are some of my favourite leadership qualities that I believe lead to productive and effective teams and workplaces. Luckily, we can all work on them and improve the way we lead!