The 10 Characteristics of a Good Leader

Key leadership qualities can be learned, honed, and improved at all levels of your organization.

What Are the Characteristics and Qualities of a Good Leader?

Leaders shape our nations, communities, and organizations.

We need good leaders to help guide us and make the essential large-scale decisions that keep the world moving.

Our society is usually quick to identify a bad leader, but how can you identify a good one? What would most people say makes a good leader?

What Good Leadership Looks Like: 10 Essential Leadership Traits

Based upon our decades of research, we’ve found that the best leaders consistently possess certain fundamental qualities and skills: 

What Good Leadership Looks Like: 10 Essential Leadership Traits

  1. Integrity
  2. Delegation
  3. Communication
  4. Self-Awareness
  5. Gratitude
  6. Learning Agility
  7. Influence
  8. Empathy
  9. Courage
  10. Respect

TIP: Download a visual summary of these essential characteristics of a good leader in PDF format to keep this list at your fingertips as a reminder.

1. Integrity

Integrity is an essential leadership trait for the individual and the organization. It’s especially important for top-level executives who are charting the organization’s course and making countless other significant decisions. Our research has found that integrity may actually be a potential blind spot for organizations, so make sure your organization reinforces the importance of honesty and integrity to leaders at various levels.

2. Delegation

Delegating is one of the core responsibilities of a leader, but it can be tricky to delegate effectively. The goal isn’t just to free yourself up — it’s also to enable your direct reports to grow, facilitate teamwork, provide autonomy, and lead to better decision-making. The best leaders build trust in the workplace and on their teams through effective delegation.

3. Communication

Effective leadership and effective communication are intertwined. The best leaders are skilled communicators who are able to communicate in a variety of ways, from transmitting information to inspiring others to coaching direct reports. And you must be able to listen to, and communicate with, a wide range of people across roles, geographies, social identities, and more. The quality and effectiveness of communication among leaders across your organization directly affects the success of your business strategy, too. Learn how effective communication and better conversations can actually improve your organizational culture.

4. Self-Awareness

While this is a more inwardly focused trait, self-awareness and humility are paramount for leadership. The better you understand yourself and recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, the more effective you can be as a leader. Do you know how other people view you or how you show up at work? Take the time to learn about the 4 aspects of self-awareness and how to strengthen each component.

5. Gratitude

Being thankful can lead to higher self-esteem, reduced depression and anxiety, and better sleep. Gratitude can even make you a better leader. Yet few people regularly say “thank you” in work settings, even though most people say they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss. The best leaders know how to show gratitude in the workplace.

6. Learning Agility

Learning agility is the ability to know what to do when you don’t know what to do. If you’re a “quick study” or are able to excel in unfamiliar circumstances, you might already be learning agile. But anybody can foster and increase learning agility through practice, experience, and effort. After all, great leaders are really great learners.

7. Influence

For some people, “influence” feels like a dirty word. But being able to convince people through the influencing tactics of logical, emotional, or cooperative appeals is an important trait of inspiring, effective leaders. Influence is quite different from manipulation, and it needs to be done authentically and transparently. It requires emotional intelligence and trust. Learn more about how effective influencing can be a game-changer.

8. Empathy

Empathy is correlated with job performance and is a critical part of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. If you show more inclusive leadership and empathetic behaviors toward your direct reports, our research shows you’re more likely to be viewed as a better performer by your boss. Plus, empathy and inclusion are imperatives for improving workplace conditions for those around you.

9. Courage

It can be hard to speak up at work, whether you want to voice a new idea, provide feedback to a direct report, or flag a concern for someone above you. That’s part of the reason courage is a key trait of good leaders. Rather than avoiding problems or allowing conflicts to fester, having courage enables leaders to step up and move things in the right direction. A workplace with high levels of psychological safety and strong conversational skills across the organization will foster a coaching culture that supports courage and truth-telling.

10. Respect

Treating people with respect on a daily basis is one of the most important things a leader can do. It will ease tensions and conflict, create trust, and improve effectiveness. Creating a culture of respect is about more than the absence of disrespect. Respectfulness can be shown in many different ways, but it often starts with simply being a good listener who truly seeks to understand the perspectives of others.

Develop the Qualities of a Good Leader

Download an action guide and summary of these characteristics of a good leader, so you always have a visual reminder of these qualities at your fingertips. 

How to Develop The Characteristics of a Good Leader In Yourself & Others

Our 3 Core Beliefs About Leadership & Leadership Development

At the Center for Creative Leadership, we’ve been researching the qualities of a good leader and the role of leadership for over 5 decades. Here are 3 of our core beliefs about good leaders and effective leadership.

Good Leaders Are Made, Not Born.

First, we believe that leaders are made, not born. Put another way, leadership is a skill that can be developed. Good leaders are molded through experience, continued study, and adaptation. So you can strengthen any of these 10 characteristics of a good leader, if you’re open to growth and you put in the time and effort toward self-improvement. Similarly, organizations can help their people hone these leadership qualities by providing ample opportunities for training, offering support for learning from challenges, and by using experiences to fuel development.

Collaboration Builds Strong Leaders. 

It’s also essential to realize that leadership is a social process. It’s less about one strong or charismatic individual, and more about a group of people working collectively to achieve results together. If you demonstrate several of the characteristics of a good leader, but fail to grasp this key point, chances are you won’t get very far on your own. You may be well-liked and respected, but it will be challenging to accomplish team or organizational goals. At CCL, we like to say that the outcomes of leadership are about creating direction, alignment, and commitment, or DAC, within a group.

Good Leadership Never Stops.

Also, leadership isn’t a destination, it’s a journey — it’s something that you’ll have to work at regularly throughout your career, regardless of what level you reach in your organization. Different teams, projects, and situations will provide different challenges and require different leadership competencies to succeed. So you will need to be able to continue to apply these leadership characteristics in different ways throughout your career. Just keep learning and growing, and you’ll be an agile learner with a long career.

How to Develop the Qualities of a Good Leader

Organizations can strengthen leadership qualities and foster deeper levels of engagement at work through providing a variety of on-the-job learning experiences, mentoring, and formal development opportunities. We have many award-winning leadership solutions and successful partnerships with clients around the world, and we’d be honored to work with your organization as well.

But individuals don’t have to wait to begin strengthening these characteristics of a good leader within themselves.

You can start today, and never miss a single one of our tips on how to be a good leader — just subscribe to our newsletters to get our research-based insights, webinars, and tips on leading effectively delivered straight to your inbox.

And if you decide you want to work proactively on developing your leadership characteristics and skills to become a better leader, here’s how to convince your boss to make an investment in you and your future.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Start building the qualities of a good leader In yourself and on your team. Download our action guide below, or explore  our flagship Leadership Development Program (LDP)®, the longest-running leadership development program of its kind in the world.

Download Now: A Summary of the Characteristics & Qualities of a Good Leader

Keep these qualities of a good leader top of mind in the future: download our action guide summary of this article as a visual reminder of the leadership qualities to nurture in yourself, on your team, and at your organization in the future.

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August 24, 2022
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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