Top 9 Personality Traits of an Inspiring Leader
Updated: Mar 26
Every human being wants to be a leader. Being a leader is one of the most challenging yet rewarding positions in any organization.
Many companies confuse managers with leaders. They recruit experienced professionals and give them a designation to manage. However, managers are capable of handling teams only when the going is smooth.
A study conducted by Leaders Beacon shows that 38% of new leaders fail within the first 18 months. At a time when both organizations and employees are looking for inspirational leaders, this is an extremely alarming number.
To motivate people and drive them towards a common goal during adverse conditions, organizations need leaders who are honest, confident, and empathetic.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the top nine leadership traits that separate inspiring leaders from traditional managers.
1. Stick to your commitment
“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.” — Anonymous
Recently while conducting a discussion in our company, I came across an excellent example of how not meeting the commitment impacts the morale of the team.
There was a decision made a year back to collocate the product teams. The decision had its pros and cons. People had concerns about the effectiveness as they now have to support the product even during their nighttime if any issue arises.
To alleviate the concerns, leaders made a commitment that they will survey in six months to find out if the decision is working well or not. Since then, it has been a year, and the survey never happened.
People still remember the promise. They have formed an opinion that the leaders do not care. As a result, many of the team members said they don’t know if they can trust the future commitment from the managers.
Leaders who value their commitments understand that they cannot lead a team without mutual trust. They consider the challenges that might come up during the implementation and have ideas to overcome them.
And once they commit, they always make sure to not dither from it at a later point in time.
2. Be confident
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.” — General Douglas MacArthur
Team members look up to the leaders to understand whether what they are doing is important or not. Leaders’ confidence in their decision makes people believe that they are on the right path.
The ability to make decisions during challenging times separates a great leader from the ordinary ones. When everything is smooth, even followers can make decisions on what to do.
But the real leader is one who can evaluate the pros and cons and make a decision when everyone else is scared.
Adversity brings out the best in a confident leader. They show extraordinary courage and extreme positivity that boosts team morale. Even if no one sees the benefit yet, these leaders have the conviction to work on it.
3. Open to suggestion
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” — John F. Kennedy
It takes time and sincere practice to be a good leader. Eagerness to learn the intricacy of managing people is essential to lead a team. Learning cannot happen unless the leader is open to suggestions.
Influential leaders do not pretend to know everything from day one. They are not afraid to listen and course-correct after analyzing feedback from others.
In a team, people come from diverse backgrounds and bring a lot of experience with them. It is the leader’s responsibility to derive the best out of these experiences.
Many leaders think they do not have to listen to their team members. They feel that they can never be wrong. For them, team members are supposed to follow them blindly. This idea of blind followers spells the doom for the team’s success.
Generally, the ego is what stops people from listening to others. Ego comes from a place of the need to be always right.
A leader must understand that they are as prone to making mistakes as any other human being.
Suggestions and feedbacks are effective ways to open their mind to new ideas in situations that they have never faced before. Therefore, a good leader always proactively elicits feedback from the team members.
4. Celebrate success
“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” — Nelson Mandela
Celebrating success is a much-needed activity to keep the team’s morale high. Often when we work hard to meet our targets, we forget to celebrate our achievements.
A 2020 leadership study shows that 79% of employees quit their jobs due to a lack of appreciation.
Team members feel more accomplished when they are appreciated for a job well done. It provides a much-needed boost to the motivation of the team to perform better in the future.
It does not matter how small or big is the achievement. It can be when a team member completes one year in the company or can be a successful release of the product. It can even be a quick resolution of a critical defect.
Leaders who motivate do not assume that people will always work well. They spend time appreciating good work. They celebrate the team’s success to let them know that their effort is recognized.
5. Handle failure gracefully
“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” — Arnold Glasow
Failure is an inevitable part of life. But still, everyone acts as if they are never supposed to fail.
It is essential to stay calm during failure and acknowledge that mistake has been committed.
When something goes wrong, effective leaders know that their job is to determine why it happened and not who did it. They never entertain the blame game that is generally associated with mistakes.
Such leaders plan to learn from the incident and use it as a building block for future success.
Employees look at their leaders and learn how to handle failures. If a leader shows too much emotion or gets easily frustrated, then the employees will never dare to try new things.
During failure, a genuine leader stands by the team and absorbs much of its adverse impact. This encourages the team to protect each other. It enhances the bonding within the group.
A team that works together without the fear of failure has a much better chance of succeeding.
6. Know how to delegate
“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” — Ronald Reagan
Smart leaders are good at getting the job done. They understand that they cannot do every possible work in the company. Hence, they hire people capable of doing the job, and then they trust them to do their work.
Some managers do not know how to delegate. They have no confidence in the people who report to them. They always try to finish most of the tasks themselves.
By not delegating the work, these people burn out and have no energy left to do their real job as a leader.
On the other hand, when a subordinate completes any task, the micromanagers are generally not happy with the quality. In the name of helping, they completely redo the work.
Redoing the work makes the employees feel that their leaders do not trust their capabilities.
Over time team members lose interest in doing whatever minimum work gets assigned to them.
When it comes to inspiring leaders, they believe in the competency of their employees. They empower the team to achieve their full potential.
Effective managers let go of their urge to do everything by themselves. They know that they are supposed to plan the work and leave the execution part to the team. It helps the team to learn valuable lessons by completing the assignments themselves.
7. Communicate effectively
Communicate in a respectful manner — don’t just tell your team members what you want, but explain to them why. — Jeffrey Morales
As a leader, communication is one of the most powerful tools to connect with the team. Great leaders communicate to inform and inspire. They do not speak to tell or command. Irrespective of the purpose, communication should always be done with respect and clarity.
“Great leaders communicate to inform and inspire. They do not speak to tell or command.”
When there is poor communication, team members form their own negative opinion about the events.
A leader who is good at communication knows that it is better to over-communicate than hide facts from employees. They deliver messages with the highest level of clarity and honesty. They do not try to skip over details to avoid disagreement.
People look up to their leaders to demystify the company policies and processes. Whether the employees align with the policies and follow the procedures will depend on how effectively their leader can disseminate the information.
When it comes to giving feedback, efficient leaders connect with the employees on a personal level. They do not criticize the performance. Instead, they provide constructive feedback to help people learn from their mistakes.
8. Have empathy
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” — Jack Welch
Influential leaders are highly Empathetic. They are entirely people-focused.
Empathy is about being aware of how other people feel. People will not enjoy working with a leader who cannot put themselves in the shoes of their team members and see things from their perspective.
Employees are the most valuable assets for any company. Smart leaders know that they can only deliver through their teams. They help every employee to reach full potential based on their strengths and weaknesses.
Empathetic leaders also foster an atmosphere of trust and safety. They create an environment where people crave to work with them.
The well-being of the employees over the company’s profit or a delivery deadline is the priority of a leader who cares.
9. Have a Vision
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” — Theodore M. Hesburgh
An inspiring leader always has a vision. The vision can be as small as where they want their product to be in the next year.
Having a vision helps people to focus on what is important and deprioritize items that are not going to help in reaching the goal.
A leader with a strong vision does not get disrupted by setbacks. They meticulously plan their path to obtain the desired result. Minor obstacles on the track do not unsettle them from their course.
Having a clear picture of the future helps in defining precise and measurable goals. Leaders who inspire are also good at articulating their vision with utmost clarity. They put effort into making their team understand the long-term goals.
Sharing the vision helps employees to see the bigger picture and have a strong sense of purpose. It also helps to increase engagement and boost their motivation to perform better.
It is equally essential for the leader’s vision to align with that of the company.
Multiple conflicting visions create confusion among employees. Confused employees doubt every decision that the leader makes. In such cases, however noble the vision might be, it does not yield the desired result.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams
The confidence and motivation of great leaders are infectious. They transform their team and turn them into high-performing beasts.
To summarize the list of traits of an inspiring leader:
They stick to their commitments.
They are highly confident.
They are always open to suggestions.
They celebrate even the smallest of successes.
They handle failures gracefully.
They know how to delegate.
They are efficient communicators.
They have a high degree of empathy towards the employees.
They always have a vision and dedicate their time to achieving it.
There is no one size fit all solution for becoming an effective leader. The above list of traits is desirable for leaders who aspire to inspire.
The list is not a prescription to follow line by line. Understand the gist of it and implement it in your daily life by giving it your personal touch. Learn from the feedback and tweak them to fit best for your team’s dynamics.
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