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10 Leadership Traits to Pursue and Develop

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.


November 21, 2023
8 min read

What makes a good leader? Many of us have someone we can point to as an example of someone who’s guidance made a positive impact on us. They may be a coach, teacher, co-worker, manager or other person who inspired us to do better and achieve more. But sometimes it’s not easy to pinpoint the qualities that set them apart from others we’ve encountered. That’s why in this discussion we’re going to talk about 10 leadership traits that you can develop to be an effective leader in any industry or career role.

What Are Leadership Traits?

Leadership traits are the people management skills and personal qualities required to effectively lead departments, teams and projects in the workplace. These mainly soft skills aren’t inherently present in our DNA, nor are they acquired through industry-specific experience or technical training. You can acquire leadership traits by prioritizing learning and professional development, taking on assignments that stretch and grow your abilities, finding a mentor and improving your interpersonal communication skills. 

Leadership Traits to Develop

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) maintains 3 core beliefs about the characteristics of good leadership and leadership development:

  1. Good leaders are made, not born: In other words, leadership is a skill that can be developed. If open to growth and willing to invest the time and effort toward self-improvement, individuals and organizations can develop leadership qualities. They can do this through experience, continued study and adaptation. 

  2. Collaboration builds stronger leaders: Leadership is less about a single, charismatic individual and more about a group of people who work collaboratively to meet goals and achieve success together. Failing to grasp this aspect of leadership will likely result in falling short of one’s individual, team or organizational goals. 

  3. Good leadership never stops: Leadership isn’t a destination, but rather a journey that you’ll be traveling on throughout your career. Because different teams, projects and circumstances will present different challenges, different leadership competencies will be required to succeed. As an agile learner who continues to learn and grow, you will be able to apply leadership characteristics in different ways throughout your career.

Because leadership traits aren’t task or technology-specific and can be developed and sharpened continually throughout your career, they are transferrable to any industry. We’ve compiled a list of 10 leadership traits and the reasons why they are well worth pursuing and developing:

1. Communication skills

Effective communication and effective leadership are closely interrelated. As a leader, you need to think and express yourself with clarity, share ideas and information succinctly and work with small groups or even global audiences.

As one of the most important skills a leader can have, effective communication goes beyond the elementary mechanics of conveying information. It involves knowing how and when to communicate, and in what form. Selecting the appropriate mode of communication for the audience and circumstance – face-to-face, email, group presentation, phone call – can be as important as the content of your communication.

2. Integrity

The CCL examined the relationship between the job performance of C-level executives and middle-level managers and found integrity to among 4 character traits that leaders need, along with integrity, bravery, perspective and social intelligence.

The CCL asserts that in regard to top-level executives’ performance, integrity appears to be one of the most important yet overlooked character trait, reinforcing the belief that executives charged with most senior level decision-making power need to approach their responsibilities with honesty and uprightness. 

3. Accountability

Strong leaders take full responsibility for their teams’ performance whether the outcome is successful or falls short of goals. As a leader who practices and displays accountability, you should praise your team when it performs well and provide constructive criticism that helps them to improve when things don’t go so well. 

Accountability also involves taking responsibility when you’ve made a bad decision or done something less than favorable. We’re all human, and sometimes by showing this self-awareness, and being open about it, you can better serve as a role model and encourage your team members to demonstrate accountability as well. 

4. Focus

Few things are as important for leaders as the effective management of time and resources. That’s why we’ve included focus on our list of top leadership traits. When you’re able to filter out the distractions and focus on the core objectives of your team and its projects, you can successfully complete the biggest goals. One way to improve focus is by scheduling alternating periods of uninterrupted work or work that’s less intensive, where you can pause to address other issues. 

5. Positivity

Effective leaders understand the power of positivity. What’s positivity in leadership? One example of projecting positivity is emphasizing the benefits of successful completion of a project, focusing on goal attainment rather than dwelling on the hard work and extra hours it will require or the potential difficulties it will involve. 

A leadership style that is infused with positivity contributes to a positive workplace environment where employees feel safe, happy and eager to work. A positive workplace can contribute to lower employee turnover, better recruitment, decreased stress levels and increased employee engagement. 

6. Adaptability

Effective leaders take a flexible approach that allows them to pivot as necessary when changes in the timeline, project scope or resources threaten to derail projects. Resourcefulness and problem-solving abilities go hand-in-hand with adaptability. To improve your adaptability skills like problem-solving, teamwork and creative thinking, try accepting and overcoming the unexpected challenges rather than resisting them.

7. Respect

By creating a culture of respect, leaders can ease tensions, create trust and improve effectiveness. This important leadership quality goes beyond merely the absence of disrespect. It often begins with being a good listener and understanding and validating the perspectives of others.  

Leaders should avoid making assumptions that can lead to misunderstandings and ineffective behaviors, which can sometimes derail inclusivity and diversity initiatives.

8. Emotional intelligence

Defined as our capacity to be aware of, express and control emotions, emotional intelligence enables leaders to handle relationships judiciously and empathetically. The correlation between emotional intelligence and effective leadership is clear: leaders need to empathize with the reality experienced by their team members and show more inclusive and sensitive behaviors toward their direct reports. 

To understand team members better, informal meetings can help leaders learn about and acknowledge the challenges they face and the goals they aim to achieve. 

9. Courage

It takes courage to step up, speak the truth and get things moving in the right direction. Whether it’s the courage to voice new ideas, provide feedback or resolve a conflict, this leadership skill makes the list because effective leaders use it to get things done. If the alternative is avoiding problems or allowing conflicts to fester, courage wins the day every time.

In corporate cultures that encourage coaching mindsets and values, courage enables people to engage each other honestly.

10. Delegation

Effective leaders know that delegation isn’t just passing the work along to others to free up their schedules. It’s about enabling their teammates and direct reports to grow and develop their own sense of teamwork. Given a controlled level of autonomy, they are able to develop leadership and decision-making skills of their own. This core leadership responsibility can be challenging, but the best leaders are able to build trust in the workplace and within their teams through the use of delegation.

The Importance of Quality Leadership in Any Business

In any organization, quality leadership serves several functions that are crucial to its success. Quality leadership in this context goes beyond just the leadership traits we’ve highlighted here.

While an organization, whether it be a corporation, nonprofit, government agency or other enterprise may assemble a team of talented people with various leadership traits, its leadership must bring an additional element to the party-- knowing how to harness these capabilities and direct them toward collective goals.

Purpose, creativity and team values are key ingredients of quality organizational leadership. Here’s why:

  • Teams need leaders: A leader doesn’t necessarily have to be a senior colleague, but having someone who can provide guidance and helps you to minimize potential threats that could hamper your productivity can substantially improve your chances of success. 

  • Leaders have an understanding of purpose: Effective leaders identify, understand and communicate the organization’s vision. They ensure that every team member understands their role and provide an environment that enables every team member to perform at their highest level.

  • Leaders promote creativity: By fostering an atmosphere of creativity in an organization, leaders can improve efficiency and productivity. Creativity allows leaders to provide more flexibility in how employees do their work, encouraging new insights on how to perform tasks, make decisions and deliver on projects. 

  • Leaders promote values: Team leaders who are honest and serve as strong role models for team members are able to encourage others to take up the values that are vital to an organization’s success. Team members are likely to emulate behaviors like accountability when they see a team leader displaying them.

Develop Leadership Skills as You Learn with DeVry

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Curious about our other business programs here at DeVry? Explore our degree and certificate programs that can be earned 100% online to help you balance your commitment to education with work, family and other aspects of your busy life. Classes start soon. Let’s talk about getting you started in our next session.

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