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The Top 28 Leadership Qualities, Traits, Skills & Competencies That Make Exceptional Leaders

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

As a leadership development and coaching company, we constantly get asked “what are the most important leadership qualities a leader needs to succeed?”

It’s a fairly straightforward question and a rather important question as great leaders are the cornerstone for success in any company, but it’s not a simple answer.

Being a great leader doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort, and a lot of practice to hone the skills that set exceptional leaders apart from the rest.

While there is no one answer that fits everyone, there certainly are good leadership qualities, traits, skills, and competencies that are common among the best leaders.

Whether you are looking to become a better leader or you simply want to understand what sets successful leaders apart, this list is sure to provide some insight.

The Definition of Leadership

Great leadership is the ability to balance strategy, tactics, and implementation all the while mastering the nuances of motivating and engaging the people critical to success.

Motivating and engaging teams is a core function and qualities of a good leader and a big component of that comes down to leadership style.

What are Leadership Skills?

Leadership skills - also known as leadership competencies - are the foundation for a leader’s ability to effectively fulfill their role, achieve their goals, and support the growth of the business and the people they support.

The same leadership skills are critical no matter the role or level of the leader. What changes is the context of how the competency is applied. What changes is how skill needs to evolve as a leader’s role expands or as a leader moves up in title and responsibilities,

For example, at the start of your career as an individual contributor, your ability to influence your peers to work together towards common goals despite your lack of formal hierarchical can be crucial to your success. As you are promoted to a mid-level leadership role, your ability to communicate and influence more senior leaders to support your ideas becomes more important. Finally, as a C level executive, your ability to influence your CEO and Board members on your strategy becomes important. As your leadership trajectory changes the same core skills remain. What changes is how these skills are deployed.

Why Is Leadership Important?

Leadership is important as it provides direction, vision, and strategy to make things happen. Leadership harnesses resources and intent and transforms ideas into something real. Great leaders can not only see the potential in something but more importantly are able to harness available resources to create something that did not exist before.

Is a Good Leader Born or Developed?

Great Leaders are both born and developed.

Some individuals are born with innate traits and leadership attributes such as charisma or desire to lead, while others find themselves in positions of leadership where they need to develop necessary leadership skill.

Being a great leader is not something that comes naturally to everyone - and that’s OK.

With the right tools at your disposal, self-awareness, and work, you can become an exceptional leader.

So whether you are just starting out on your leadership journey or you are looking for ways to further expand and improve your leadership qualities, read on for tips and advice that will help you lead with confidence and authority.

The Top 28 Leadership Qualities, Characteristics & Personality Traits of a Great Leader

Effective leadership is performance-oriented and the quality of leadership is tied to observable results that are the outcome of organizational strategy and business goals, and results.

To maximize effectiveness and attain results, research shows that successful leaders, the best leaders, master four key leadership domains:

  1. Leading Self - The personal skills and habits that allow one to be an effective leader
  2. Leading Others - The interpersonal skills that enable leaders to be effective in their relationships with those they are leading
  3. Leading The Organization - The skills needed to influence the output, work, and growth of the organization
  4. Managing Implementation - The management skills needed for execution, achieving goals and maintaining effectiveness

For leaders that want to improve their core leadership qualities, there are 28 leadership competencies distributed in four categories you can improve on. These 28 leadership qualities & competencies have been thoroughly vetted and proven through coaching leaders of all levels and used by major corporations around the globe.

Leading Self

The fundamental leadership qualities that truly great leaders possess start with self. To develop ones leadership qualities to be a truly great leader, one must master these seven leadership attributes that revolve around oneself, first.

Emotional Control

Emotional Control is the ability to maintain a professional, respectful attitude during stressful situations. Leaders must have emotional intelligence and master their emotions stay composed and maintain a calm demeanor, which is crucial for sound decision making and lead their team.

Leaders that have a high level of emotional control stay composed under pressure, master emotions, and don’t allow knee-jerk responses to cause long- term damage to relationships, their reputation, how their teams see them or their integrity.


Flexibility is the ability to bend without breaking and adapt quickly in response to new information and unexpected difficulties. Flexible leaders are able to think outside the box when things don’t go as expected and come up with creative solutions to serve the needs of their team, stakeholders, and the business.


Integrity is living to a code of high moral and ethical standards. Leaders who operate with high integrity inspire confidence through trustworthiness; people perceive them as incorruptible. Leaders who lack integrity do not lead effectively as their teams typically do not trust them. Integrity is essential for trust. When teams know they have an ethical leader, they feel a sense of stability and security in following their lead knowing leaders act with their team’s best interest in mind.


Resilience is the mental, emotional, and physical stamina required to deal with adverse and stressful circumstances and still perform effectively. A resilient leader deals effectively with pressure, maintains focus, motivation, and optimism under adversity, and turns disruptive circumstances into growth opportunities.


Self-confidence is a powerful trait. It’s not only about believing in your abilities but also knowing that you have what it takes to get the job done and take charge of any situation-a confident leader knows they are capable of anything. As a result, they have clarity and the assertiveness they express and actions they take inspire their teams to follow their lead.

Executive Presence

Executive Presence is the essence of leadership, a series of finely developed personal traits that give you influence over others and over the direction of your team, department, or organization. It is an earned authority, and it commands the room and projects

Work/Life Balance

Work/Life Balance is the delicate balance between spending time with family and friends, hobbies, personal development, and getting ahead at work. While Work/Life Balance is typically considered a 50:50 ratio between work and personal life, a true balance doesn’t really exist, but pursuing the balance, and enjoying both aspects of life is necessary for great leadership.

Leading Others

The next category of essential leadership qualities is focused on the leadership attributes needed to lead others. These seven absolutely essential qualities and interpersonal skills below enable strong leaders to be effective in their relationships with those they are leading and be inspiring leaders.


Assertiveness is a critical leadership quality. It is the ability to communicate clearly, confidently and directly without being aggressive or negative or emotional. A leader who can be assertive and speaks directly without being negative helps others get things done without leaving a bad taste in their mouth or making them feel pressured. By being assertive, people know where you stand and are more inclined to let you influence them.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is divergent or opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, or goals. Unresolved conflict may create issues amongst team members causing them to become resentful and uncooperative. The ability to uncover and resolve conflicts and disagreements in a positive manner is an important leadership skill. Leaders who excel at conflict resolution help people develop good working relationships with each other.

Influencing Others

Influencing Others is the ability to persuade them to support your ideas and positions. A leader with strong influencing skills and charisma is able to create buy-in and support for their ideas and strategic initiatives by building a consensus and gaining cooperation from others to accomplish their goals.


Active Listening is the ability to deeply understand another person’s position and feelings on a topic while ensuring that the other person feels heard. Good communication skills are at the core of effective working relationships. Good leaders listen. Active listening is at the foundation of effective communication. Everyone wants to be heard, and no one wants to be around a self-absorbed person who doesn’t pay attention to the needs and interests of others.

Partnering and Relationship Building

Partnering and Relationship Building is being able to effectively work with others, establish alliances and create strong working relationships. To be a successful leader, one must develop interpersonal networks and build alliances by demonstrating respect for the individual as well as cultural differences, and build positive relationships to be more supportive of your efforts.

Teamwork and Collaboration

Teamwork and Collaboration is the process of working with others toward common objectives in ways that align efforts and create support. Collaborating is an important first step in leading teamwork and collaboration. Leading teams and collaborating effectively with others is a necessary skill for any successful manager or leader.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is the ability to clearly articulate your thoughts and opinions in an organized manner so others can understand what you’re saying. Communication skills are necessary for good leaders as good leaders needs to be effective communicators in order for their ideas and messages to reach the people they are trying to lead.

Leading the Organization

The third category of essential leadership qualities and competencies are those needed to lead an organization. The best leaders possess the leadership qualities and competencies needed to influence the output, work, and growth of the organization. These seven leadership competencies below allow good leaders to lead the organization effectively.

Creativity and Innovation

Creativity can be defined as the ability to think outside of what’s been done before and generate new ideas and ways to do things. Innovation is the act of implementing original ideas and methods in which they are developed to improve performance or results.


Entrepreneurship is the act of viewing the world through the lens of possibility, initiative, and proactive focus to develop better business processes, products, and or services. Your ability to see and assess problems or opportunities and act quickly improves your team and the company’s chances of success.

External Awareness

In addition to self-awareness, one of the most important aspects of being successful in business is external awareness and understanding what’s happening outside your company. Identifying factors, influences, or innovations in politics, policies, regulations, or technology that could affect you and your team, department, and company is critical as a leader and can provide insight into how you might better serve your team.

Inspirational Vision

Inspirational Vision is a vivid, enthusiastic presentation of ideas reflecting the highest potential, performance and the best possible outcome of your team, department, organization, and yourself. Inspirational Vision sets the emotional and motivational bar for the organization and keeps your team inspired and motivated as you work to attain goals.

Organizational Awareness

Organizational Awareness is the measure of your ability to see and understand all aspects of how an organization functions. The more aware you are of how the decision-making works, how teams and departments join forces, and the formal and informal rules that keep the organization fluid and cohesive, the more effective you will be in setting and achieving goals and objectives.

Service Motivation

Service Motivation is a company-wide initiative that creates and sustains an organizational culture where employees provide the highest quality service for internal teams and customers. Service Motivation is perhaps the single most important competency you can practice on a daily basis, giving greater meaning and purpose in our professions. People skills and the ability to create genuine connections is necessary for a leader to lead.

Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking is thinking ahead while also thinking broadly and is the key to success in any industry. It allows good leaders to identify threats and opportunities and make the right decisions to move their organizations into the future with a competitive advantage.

Managing Implementation

The fourth and final category of essential leadership qualities good leaders need to successfully lead an organization are the management skills needed for execution, achieving goals, and maintaining effectiveness while leading said organization. These seven strong leadership qualities and competencies below are essential to steer the direction of an organization and inspire continued trust from junior members.

Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching helps people reach goals and be more effective. Great leaders coach by providing feedback, helping people understand their strengths, ensuring opportunities for development, and setting goals.

Mentoring is a more casual relationship focused more broadly on long-term career goals and are often senior leaders or functional experts who provide knowledge, wisdom, insight, and guidance, providing insight and perspective around organizational culture and politics.

Customer Focus

Customer Focus is the ability to understand your customers, and how best serve them. Having a customer-focused state of mind entails understanding who your customers are, whether they are internal to your company such as other departments, external to your company, or both. Customers are the lifeblood of your business and can provide invaluable information on what needs improvement.


Being able to delegate effectively to increase productivity is perhaps the most important competency when it comes to your overall productivity and value to the organization as a leader. The more effectively you delegate tasks to your team members, or others, the more available time you will have to strategize and develop new or ongoing initiatives.


Effectiveness is a measure of the degree to which the goals you select to pursue are achieved or the extent to which a problem is solved. Effectiveness is the key to getting work done on time and effective leaders use their abilities to execute well-organized plans and bring out the best in each team member in terms of performance and responsibility.

Monitoring Performance

Monitoring Performance combines systematically tracking metrics, assessing progress to milestones, consistent observation of individual and team actions, using tools and mechanisms to track progress. Without the tools and processes in place to monitor and manage performance, you create the space for your and your project’s success to be undermined by “surprises”.

Planning and Organizing

The ability to plan and organize is a core function as a leader. Planning and organizing involves conceiving, developing effective strategies for achieving goals within set time frames with specific actions needed at different stages of their execution and requires assigning tasks among employees who are capable enough to handle them efficiently without any unnecessary supervision.


Thoroughness is the practice and measure of how completely you perform a task or a mission. The more you prepare for a task — plan out its steps, view both the overall vision and its fine details, and execute every step with excellence — the more thorough you are and the greater the result. Thoroughness (or lack of) can be the difference between a great job, an acceptable job, and having to do something over.

How To Become a Better Leader

For someone looking to develop their leadership skills a great first step is to begin to identify 2-3 skills that they think they need to develop and would be valuable to improve given their current professional environment.

Once these skills are identified they can then begin to develop those skills by reading various books, articles, watching videos, etc. Next, they should begin to apply those skills.

Earning a Leadership Position

Besides the ability to excel in your job or profession, you need to demonstrate traits such as integrity, hard work.

Start proving your abilities in your current role. Demonstrate that you are skilled, motivated, and driven to make a difference in your company.

Developing Leadership Skills to Ensure Future Success at Your Organization

Leadership is a complex and multi-faceted topic.

Strong leadership is based on having deep emotional intelligence, having a positive attitude with a positive outlook, exceptional problem-solving skills, and being skilled communicators.

True leaders are self-aware and have the emotional awareness, critical thinking skills, and human communication ability to lead team members when problems arise and can keep focus on the big picture.

Developing these leadership skills takes time, effort, and dedication for one to develop the strong leadership qualities needed to be an effective leader. To develop critical leadership qualities Skyline G is here. Our 360 Assessment and & Leadership Development Programs are proven to be effective and used by some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world.

Are you ready for the next step in your careers? Are you struggling with poor leadership? Are you ready to develop true leadership qualities needed to lead the biggest and most successful companies in the world? Contact Us Today to learn more about which leadership program is right for you, and build true leaders in your organization.

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