Successful leaders are typically measured on the goals they achieve for their organization. However, achieving results is only part of what makes a great leader.
There are many different definitions of what makes a great leader, but the best leaders exhibit certain traits that make them extraordinary, effective, balanced and connected. A well-balanced, centered leader uses a combination of leadership styles depending on what forces are involved with the people they are leading, the situation at hand and the directive required. However, regardless of style, great leaders also focus on their behavior amidst the risks, issues and stress. They continuously improve their ability to lead themselves before others, and develop key traits that create a positive culture in their organization.
Here is a list of the top 10 traits that apply to both corporate leaders and entrepreneurs. These traits can make a significant leadership difference in any type of organization – small or large, and can be practiced by any business professional who wants to shift from being ordinary to becoming an extraordinary leader regardless of their role.
1. They have a vision, they set goals and focus on achieving results to meet their goals.
Successful leaders and entrepreneurs start with a vision and know how to turn that vision into a strategy, a set of goals and an action plan to achieve it. Too many times, the vision and strategy end up being a planning exercise that never gets executed, or isn't executed in a way that achieves the results desired.
Successful leaders and entrepreneurs realize that it takes a detailed, methodical process to make it from Point A to Point Z. They also realize how important it is for their teams to understand the bigger picture and how they contribute to the vision, goals and the strategic initiatives that align to those goals.
2. They are innovators and forward-thinkers.
To be successful in whatever you want to accomplish, you need to keep looking ahead and identifying needs and new ways of applying better solutions to meet those needs. You need to understand where you’re going and how to best accomplish getting there. That requires innovation and forward thinking. It requires taking initiative and possessing the discipline to take those ideas and integrate them into a plan. Everyone today has the capability of thinking innovatively.
Leaders can play a significant role in increasing innovation and forward-thinking both in themselves and with their teams and partners.
Innovation can be defined as a new idea, something original that builds on an existing idea. It does not have to be an invention. Disruptive innovation on the other hand, is something more drastic in helping a business create a new paradigm or break into a new market to gain competitive advantage.
3. They are effective communicators and focus on building meaningful relationships that are truly collaborative.
Leaders in every capacity know that to succeed, they must surround themselves with the right people that bring different perspectives to the team. They communicate and create unity with their teams even during the toughest and most stressful situations. They possess an uncanny sense of talent in dealing and collaborating with people with the goal of building strong bonded teams. They know how to harness energy for the greater good. As capable, even extraordinary communicators, successful leaders build valuable relationships and give as much, and usually more, than they receive.
Great leaders and entrepreneurs seek out their customers and industry experts to learn more about their needs and opinions. They value the input from their teams and actively listen to their feedback. They empower people to take ownership and lead their own effort and are empathetic toward their team members. They understand that burnout can affect everyone, so they take steps to prevent it.
They are always positive and find the opportunities when problems arise. They lead through example and inspire others with their actions, ideas and integrity. They treat people with diginity and respect especially when they disagree. They focus on their behavior with others, and recognize achievements in rewarding ways.
4. They take calculated risks and mitigate their risks effectively.
Prospering entrepreneurs and successful corporate leaders can spot trends and seem to have an intuitive ability to see into the future. But that vision often requires taking on risk to fuel its future reality.
Leaders who know how to bring out energy and passion from their team to create a plan of action aligned to everyone's vision are those who feel the most comfortable taking on calculated risks. They are the leaders that are both transformational and resilient. They understand that no new ground opens until you take the next step. And once they take that next step, they know how to manage and mitigate that risk to minimize the impact and increase their success rate.
5. They have high emotional intelligence.
Success requires a high level of emotional intelligence. Great leaders recognize their own emotions as well as the feelings of others. They are great listeners and are aware of the social environment around them and how to create an atmosphere that energizes their people not deplete them. They have learned how to manage their feelings in tough times and guide others to apply their emotional reactions toward positive actions and problem-solving. They can shift their thinking from being problem-focused to being solution-focused through innovative thinking and collaboration without getting bogged down in negativity.
6. They are abundance thinkers and problem-solvers.
Successful entrepreneurs and corporate leaders bring passion to their organization and to the initiatives they lead. That passion drives them to succeed. They maintain a positive attitude and can find a silver lining in most every circumstance. They are persistent and committed to their goals and always find ways to address the issues and barriers that come in the way of achieving results.
Great leaders and entrepreneurs see problems as opportunities, not as obstacles. They use these opportunities as the steps toward success. They have an abundance thinking mindset where they consistently strive to grow, rather than a scarcity mindset of people who think small, avoid risk, don’t drive change, fear failure. They focus on thriving vs. surviving. They strive to develop extraordinary thinking vs. ordinary thinking.
7. They seek change and persistently strive for continuous improvement.
Extraordinary leaders are flexible and seek change to continuously improve. They question the status quo and understand that success in the past does not necessarily yield to success in the future. As Einstein once stated, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” To get different results requires change.
As they seek to improve, successful leaders are also willing to step outside their own comfort zone. They continuously sharpen ther own skills and focus on their own personal development - both in terms of soft-skills and hard skills. Extraordinary leaders are always open to personally learning and growing. They lead by example and foster a culture within their organization that focuses on growth and continuous improvement for all.
8. They are always humble and poised.
Successful leaders are self-assured and confident without being arrogant or egotistical. They are self-aware and carry themselves with an air of authority that is both dignified and graceful. They test their humility and poise especially when things get tough and issues arise. They keep themselves constantly in check in how they communicate, and ensure they always come across humble and respectful at all times - in the words they use, in their tone, and in their body language.
9. They are self-accountable and demonstrate exemplary behavior.
This is a really important point! We know that without results no organization can survive. However, what distinguishes purely results-focused leaders from great leaders, is that great leaders focus on how they behave and treat people in order to achieve those results. They personalize the human connection and gain an understanding and appreciation of their team members' needs.
They earn the respect of their team and understand the importance of trust by supporting their teams through thick and thin. They do not use accountability as a stick. Instead they empower and treat each team member like a leader of statute. They truly support their teams especially when there are problems that risk achieving the needed results. They take on that same accountability and demonstrate the behavior that make their teams feel that they are all in it together. If someone on the team is not performing, they have a candid and open conversation to find out the problem and agree on what is needed to fix it.
10. They value and enjoy the journey.
Success for some leaders is financial, for others it is advancing their career, making an impact on the organization, fulfilling their goals and/or helping people. Whatever one’s definition of success is, we all need to consider success as a journey, not a destination. It is pathway of continuous achievements, learning, and experiences that requires time, hard work and challenges along the way. Therefore, it is important to make the most out of that journey and to celebrate and grow along the way so the road to success can be meaningful and enjoyable to all.
Although these traits have been identified for extraordinary leaders, anyone who makes this "extra" effort, can exemplify extraordinary leadership in whatever role they are in. .
Rania Kort is an Independent Management Consultant and Business Advisor with more than 20 years’ experience helping Fortune 100 companies successfully implement strategic initiatives. Rania has managed large-scale programs and programs, established and run PMO's and implemented process improvement in many different industries. She ran and grew an IT Management Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers for more than seven years managing over 300 consultants. Currently, she serves as an independent consultant focusing on achieving results through collaboration and a team leadership approach that ensures alignment, accountability and trust to develop high-performance teams.