What are the qualities of a good leader? We all have our opinions. But what does the research say?
There has been a recent explosion of research exploring the qualities of good leaders. For example, researchers have published more papers in the last 7 years than in the 20 years prior1.
A Snapshot of the Qualities of a Good Leader
Researchers have found that successful leaders:
- Have A Strong Sense of Purpose
- Want to Lead
- Show Integrity
- Make Intelligent Decisions
Furthermore, good leaders are:
- Positive & Energetic
- Driven to Succeed
- Emotionally Mature
- Good with People
- Great Communicators
These qualities are a blend of largely inherited traits, conscious choices and learned behaviors.
1 A Strong Sense of Purpose
The best leaders have a strong sense of purpose that underpins everything they do. And, they are willing to make personal sacrifices in service of their cause. For example, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.
While leadership in organizations is different to leading a social cause, the principle remains the same. You need to know what you care about, especially as it relates to the organization or unit that you lead.
Followers admire leaders with a strong sense of purpose. And, they often view such leaders as being charismatic. In turn, research2 shows that charisma is linked to effective leadership. Therefore, a strong sense of purpose is the first quality of a good leader.
Integrity is the foundation of trust. And trust expands your influence beyond your formal authority. So, integrity is one of the key qualities of a good leader. Research3 confirms the critical role that your integrity plays in your success as a leader.
The supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity.
But what does integrity mean? People with integrity are honest and open in their dealings with others. Integrity is also linked to a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose helps you know what you stand for. Integrity involves living up to these standards.
3 A Desire to Lead
Renowned psychologist, David McClelland found that successful leaders had what he called a high need for power4. Yet, this name is misleading. It doesn’t refer to a desire to be a self-serving slave-driver who wants to force others into submission. Rather, it refers to a desire to have a positive impact on others and the collective results that you achieve.
Research5 also shows that effective leaders are dominant. Once again, the name may sound ominous. But it generally refers to assertive people who are happy to step up and take charge when needed.
So, the third quality of a good leader is a desire to lead. When this quality leaders let their strong sense of purpose and integrity guide them, the desire to lead can be a potent force for good.
4 Intelligent Decision Making
Leaders often must size up the situation before them and make intelligent decisions about how to best proceed. Hence, intelligent decision making is one of the essential qualities of a good leader.
Intelligence is the bedrock of intelligent decision making. Research6 confirms that successful leaders tend to have above average intelligence.
But the link between intelligence and leadership has its limits. Research7 also shows too much intelligence can hinder your leadership. This happens when a leader is far more intelligent than her followers.
Research8 also shows a strong and direct link between skilful decision-making and effective leadership. Moreover, you can improve your decision making and problem-solving skills.
5 Positive Energy
The best leaders are both positive and energetic. So, positive energy is one of the top 10 qualities of a good leader.
A leader’s mood is contagious, so being positive is paramount. Research9 confirms that being positive is linked to successful leadership.
Energy turns your positive mood into enthusiasm. It also helps you deal with the many demands and challenges you face as a leader. And, there is evidence10 that energetic people make better leaders.
6 Driven to Succeed
A drive to succeed is another one of the qualities of a good leader. Effective leaders want to succeed. So, they set high standards for themselves and those they lead.
Delivering results is a core aspect of leadership. Research11 supports the idea that a desire to succeed motivates effective leaders.
Furthermore, such leaders don’t wait for success to come their way. Instead, they are confident in their own abilities12, they seize the initiative13, and they work hard14 to get the results they desire.
Effective leaders are open and honest, but that is not what openness means here. Rather, openness involves being open to new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities. Open leaders tend to be informed, creative and imaginative. And, they can see patterns in data and think abstractly.
So, it is not surprising that openness made it into the top 10 qualities of a good leader. Or, that research15 shows that openness is linked to leadership effectiveness.
8 Emotional Maturity
Emotional maturity is another one of the top 10 qualities of a good leader. Emotionally mature leaders are not quick to anger, and they don’t worry over small things. Nor are they moody and they don’t get stressed easily. Instead, they tend to be relaxed and generally happy people.
The evidence supporting emotional maturity mainly comes from research16 showing the negative impact of its opposite – neuroticism.
9 Being Good with People
Leaders achieve many of their results through the impact they have on the people they lead. People are therefore an essential part of a leaders’ work and being good with people is an essential quality of a good leader.
Research17 shows that extraversion is linked with effective leadership. Extraverts are comfortable around people, even larger groups of people they don’t know well. This doesn’t mean that introverts can’t lead well. Rather it simply means the extraverts find the people aspect of leadership easier, less draining and less daunting.
Other research18 shows that learnable interpersonal skills also have a strong link to your effectiveness as a leader.
A third body research19 shows that a lack of interpersonal skills is a common cause of career derailment for many would-be leaders.
10 Being Great Communicators
The most effective leaders are great communicators. They are masters of words and at delivering those words in compelling ways. Therefore, great communication rounds out the top 10 qualities of a good leader.
Research20 confirms that successful leaders have fantastic communication skills – both oral and written.
Qualities of a Good Leader: A Summary
Good leaders are likely to have a range of qualities that help them to lead well. These qualities are a blend of traits, choices and learned skills.
The 10 qualities of a good leader listed above are backed by research. You don’t need to possess them all, but the more you have, the easier you will find it to lead well. And, you can choose to develop qualities that don’t come naturally to you.
There are other qualities that good leaders may possess. Qualities such as self-awareness and humility. However, I found the above 10 to have the most robust and most consistent relationship to effective leadership.