Successful leaders have these common traits

If you want to progress your career to the next level, it's likely that you'll be looking into leadership roles. Whether you're aiming at managing a small team or directing a global business, there are some key leadership traits that will stand you in good stead at any level.

In this article, we'll look at the traits of good leadership, identify some leadership red flags and show how you can develop leadership skills yourself. We'll also explain how to add leadership skills to your CV, so that you're job-hunt ready. You'll be landing that promotion in no time!

What are the top 10 traits of great leadership?

Whatever industry you work in, you'll find that there are common skills that a great leader will always exhibit. If you have these skills yourself, you'll be first in line when a leadership vacancy becomes available. You probably already possess some of them – but some may take a bit more time to develop. Here, we've listed some basic leadership skills that will help you to get ahead in the workplace.

1. Accountability

As a leader, the buck stops with you. You're responsible for the performance of your team and it's important that you're willing to be held accountable for its outputs. That doesn't only mean taking some credit for team successes, it also means taking responsibility for its failures. Everyone makes mistakes, it's how you deal with them that counts – and leaders need to accept them and forge a path forward. Blaming your juniors simply won't cut it.

2. Fairness and empathy

A happy team is a productive team. If someone feels that they're being given an unfair proportion of the workload, or that another team member is receiving preferential treatment, that will affect their motivation and their performance. Similarly, a colleague may be having personal difficulties affecting their work. A good leader will identify and resolve these sorts of issues, ensuring that every member of the team feels valued as a colleague and as a person.

3. Team building

Team building doesn't need to mean cringy games and obligatory after-work socials. However, it can't be denied that a positive working environment and a cohesive team is likely to be much more successful than a building full of resentment. Team building is one of the most important leadership traits - it affects everyone, and everyone's work. If you can bring a team together to achieve common goals, you're a long way to becoming a great leader.

4. Vision

A leader with vision doesn't let their team stagnate. They can see where the business needs to be in the future and can plan how to get there from the current position. A great leader can also communicate this vision to the team, ensuring that they understand the direction of travel and winning their buy-in, and steer the change necessary to achieve that goal.

5. Relationship building and people skills

People skills are an essential trait of great leadership. A leader will meet and work with many people during their career, ranging from colleagues at all levels to suppliers, customers, and partners. To ensure that they work together well, a leader must be able to interact professionally, at an appropriate level, and with respect. Solid working relationships lead to better collaboration and improved outcomes – not to mention a more congenial working environment.

6. Strategizing

Every business needs a plan of action to get it to where it needs to be. The ability to develop and implement effective strategies is key in a leadership position and is a trait that can really have an impact on a company. Creating and delivering a strategy brings together several key skills including problem solving, creativity, influencing, prioritisation, communication... and more.

7. Confidence

Of course, knowing what you should do is one thing, but having the confidence and courage to follow through is another. Whether you'll be delivering presentations to large audiences or simply turning down an application for yet more holiday, having faith in yourself will give you the confidence that you need to do your job well.

8. Managing complexity

Leadership isn't often straightforward. You'll be managing people and processes, maybe across multiple geographies, with pressures such as time, cost, quality and compliance, with multiple stakeholders to please and different areas of the business to interact with. How you manage this level of complexity will affect your success as a leader – do you buckle under the pressure, muddle through or chart a way forward?

9. Problem solving

A problem is never far away when you're in a leadership position. Whether it's a junior needing direction or manager delegating an unexpected issue, there will always be plenty to keep you busy. One of the traits of effective leadership is the ability to resolve problems resourcefully, methodically, and quickly, using your knowledge and initiative to overcome the hurdles and challenges that you'll inevitably face.

10. Decisiveness

When there's a decision to be made, all eyes will be turned on you. If you're the type to dither over what sandwich to buy at lunchtime or whether to invest in some new socks, a leadership role may not be for you! Leaders need to be confident making well-informed decisions, based on the information available to them, and have the courage of their convictions in enforcing them – all whilst remaining alert to information that may cause them to change course.

Leadership red flags

So now you know what leadership traits are most desirable and what makes a good leader, what red flags should you look out for? If you see any of these traits in a leader – or worse still, in yourself – there's some work to be done.

1. Unwillingness to change

A leader who is unwilling to change is unlikely to be able to drive a business forward. Not only that, but they're also unlikely to win the respect of staff who can see a better way of doing things. Remember that “we've always done it like this” is not an excuse; what worked in the past won't necessarily work in the future. Whilst no-one would argue for change for change's sake, the world is constantly evolving and your team, function, or business needs to evolve with it.

2. Lack of ambition

A leader with no ambition for themselves or the company is unlikely to motivate their staff or put the effort into getting the desired results. We've all come across that person who just wants to plod along, do their hours, and take their pay cheque – and there's nothing wrong with that. But as a leader, you're the example to the team and that attitude just won't cut it.

3. Micromanagement

Is there anything more soul destroying than having a manager watching over your shoulder, ready to pick apart the slightest thing or tell you to do something a different way? A true leader trusts their team and only provides advice and guidance when necessary. Hint – five times a day isn't necessary. If your team is performing to an acceptable standard, step back.

4. Disrespect

Treating others with disrespect is a huge red flag – whether you're a leader or not. It's a sure-fire way to sow division and disharmony in the team, which in turn will lead to poor performance and high staff turnover. And that will ring alarm bells and reflect badly on you… not to mention that it's just unacceptable behaviour!

5. Not listening

A good boss listens and discusses. A bad boss adopts a my-way-or-the-highway approach. The best results come when ideas are thrown around, considered, and either accepted or discarded. It may be that your idea is genuinely the best, but you may be missing a trick if you don't at least consider some other perspectives.

How to build your leadership traits

Some people are natural leaders – and others need to work a bit harder at it. But everyone is capable of leading if they approach it with an open mind and willingness. Here are some proactive steps that you can take to develop your leadership abilities:

  • Take a course: There's such a wide range of options available now, you'll be spoilt for choice. From a free online course to a full-blown MBA, there's bound to be something to meet your budget and availability

  • Find a mentor: A great way to develop new skills and gain new insight is to find someone you respect, in a similar role, who is willing to mentor you. Reach out to your network – or even build new connections on LinkedIn – to find the perfect mentor for your career

  • Ask for more responsibility: The best way to learn is by doing. If you currently have a supportive manager, then having a candid chat about your career aspirations and asking for more responsibility is an excellent way to progress. If you perform well, you'll be the obvious choice for the next promotion and, if you don't want to wait, you'll have great experience to put on your CV

  • Volunteer for projects: One-off projects at work are handy ways of showing off your leadership skills to management and are also useful for developing new skills. Put your name forward when you hear of new initiatives and show that you're ready to learn

How to show leadership on your CV

You know you're ready for the next step in your career, with finely honed leadership skills and the right approach. But how can you convey that on your CV? You need a convincing document to win you those all-important interviews, so here are some hints and tips to bear in mind.

  • Tell stories: Rather than just saying “I'm a great leader,” tell a story to prove it. Say what you did and the outcome – for example “Increased productivity by 20% by arranging a team training session”

  • Use leadership vocabulary: Instead of saying you have “great communication skills,” highlight the times you've negotiated, influenced, presented, reported, and so on. It's time to show off those higher-level skills now!

  • Focus on results: Leaders deliver results, so you'll want to show that you can do that. Quantifiable results that have a positive business impact are the best to include, but even if your successes are less tangible – for example “improved team morale by introducing pizza Fridays” – they're still worth shouting about

  • Show you're ready: If you're aiming for your first leadership role, explain how you've demonstrated the vital leadership traits and skills that equip you for the job by stepping up – either formally or informally – in your current role

  • Add leadership keywords: In your Key Skills section, remember to include keywords relating not just to your job, but also to your leadership potential

Step into leadership!

You're ready for the extra responsibility, you know what leadership traits you need to succeed, and you're looking forward to the extra kudos and the heavier pay cheque. All that remains is to get out there and land that job!

If you can do the job but need some help getting it down on paper, why not call in the professionals? TopCV's experts will review your CV for free and provide helpful pointers to make sure you're putting your best foot forward! Remember – seeking feedback and taking it on board is another important trait of great leadership!

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