5 Important Qualities of Leadership

Are you in a leadership role or want to become a leader? Would you like to build or improve leadership skills but aren’t sure what to focus on? Or are you already a leader but you aren’t sure if you’re doing a good job?

Being a leader can be challenging and confusing. You’re given a great deal of responsibility to not only produce results, but to maintain a healthy work environment and take care of your employees’ mental health as well. Knowing how to best lead your team can be difficult as there is an endless amount of information on the subject of leadership, much of it contradictory.

But if you want to be the type of leader who encourages personal growth, protects mental health, and fosters a positive company culture, there are five qualities I believe leaders should have. These qualities benefit your employees, but they can also encourage productivity, produce results, and enable employees to reach their full potential, which are the goals of many successful and celebrated leaders.

By identifying the type of leader you would like to become and taking steps to build and strengthen the skills that will bring you closer to becoming this type of leader, you can experience personal development while encouraging growth from the people you work with.

You don’t have to be born with certain skills to excel as a leader – you just need commitment to self-improvement.

The top traits I think leaders should have are:

Adaptability

Organisations change and grow, and if leaders can’t adapt to their new environments, they can go from being an effective and admired leader to unproductive and behind the times.

Adaptability in leadership means that you’re willing to change your leadership style to best suit your employees and/or the situation. This could be recognising how some of your practices potentially weren’t serving you or others well, or adjusting your approach based on what you think will help your employees do their best work.

Sometimes leaders need to adapt their approach in response to a changing environment. For example, many leaders needed to adapt during the pandemic. Some now have to re-evaluate their approaches and expectations if their organisation is calling for a return to the office.

Adaptability is also highly useful in an environment with inconsistent work levels. If there are periods when there is less to do but you keep acting like your employees should be as productive as usual, workers can become frustrated think of you as the enemy or someone to trick into thinking they’re being busy.

When there isn’t much to do, many employees appreciate a break – of sorts – or the opportunity to develop and strengthen skills so they can be better workers. Otherwise you’re likely insisting on ‘busywork’ and presenteeism.

Adaptable leaders are willing to recognise if they’re contributing to a toxic work environment. Types of behaviour that are now widely considered unacceptable, such as sexism, racism, and homophobia, used to be common features in many organisations’ cultures. Today, the harm they do has been recognised, but this required employees at all levels to accept that they had to change.

It’s also important that leaders are willing to admit that they could be contributing to a toxic company culture without realising, either through their own actions or by not saying anything when others exhibit harmful behaviour.

Minor adjustments to your leadership style can also be used at an individual level so you can engage people in a way that works best for them. You might be a wonderful leader with certain personality types, but unless you can make sure that you only work with these kinds of people, you’re going to need to be adaptable in how you work with different employees. Some people are highly motivated by tough love, while others strive to impress an encouraging leader.

To be a successful leader who motivates their employees to reach their full potential, you need to be aware that not everyone works and succeeds the same way. This doesn’t mean pretending to be someone you aren’t or acting in ways that don’t feel genuine, but finding authentic ways of interacting with different types of people that makes them feel comfortable. Without sacrificing authenticity, you can adapt your behaviour to connect with people to not only be likeable, but motivate them to reach their full potential as well.

Changing your leadership style can be difficult. You may not realise change is necessary until it’s too late. So rather than just being theoretically willing to change, make a habit of asking yourself if your practices are still relevant and effective or if they should be modified. You can also learn about changes you could consider by seeking out feedback about what you’re doing well, and how you can improve from people you work with at all levels, especially those you lead.

If you believe you should change your leadership style but are reluctant to, ask yourself why. Are you hanging on to practices that worked in the past because they make you feel comfortable, or are these changes not in your organisation’s best interest? Changes you make should be honest, but give yourself time to weigh your ideas before rejecting changes you might benefit from. Don’t ignore your moral compass or try to be someone you aren’t.

By strategically adapting your leadership style, you can be a good leader to a number of people and stay effective in changing work environments.

Encouraging mistakes

Creating an environment where workers feel comfortable putting themselves in situations where they might make mistakes is a very important practice for leaders because it empowers people to innovate and challenge themselves without fear of being punished.

Whenever someone tries something new – changing an approach or trying something they’ve never attempted before – there is the risk they will fail. But in some organisations, failure isn’t tolerated so this is dangerous and often discouraged behaviour. Employees typically avoid trying anything new or challenging out of the fear that it won’t go well and they’ll be punished – subtly through a loss of trust or more overtly with blame and shame.

But punishing mistakes stifles creativity and growth. You can’t try something new if you’re afraid of failing, and challenging yourself becomes risky if mistakes aren’t tolerated.

Some leaders punish people for their mistakes because they believe this is necessary to help them learn and avoid repeating their mistakes. But blaming and shaming people for mistakes doesn’t help them improve – it teaches them to hide their mistakes and punishes them for taking ownership when things go wrong, often leading to secrecy and shifting blame to someone else whenever possible.

Fostering a culture that promotes learning from mistakes, instead of using blame and shame, can be a very powerful way to encourage growth and accountability.

One of the best ways to encourage others to take responsibility for their mistakes is to lead by example. Making a mistake or having a weakness exposed is a very valuable opportunity to demonstrate to others how you would like your employees to act when they’re in similar situations. You can show that perfection isn’t expected and there won’t be punishments for making mistakes or admitting to feeling challenged.

Leaders can work towards creating an environment where failure isn’t shameful and mistakes are accepted as an unavoidable part of innovation and growth. When people are able to make mistakes without being punished, they’re likely to not only feel more secure with themselves and their role, but perform better as well.

Communication

Because communication affects everyone’s ability to perform at all levels, its importance can’t be overstated.

When there is effective communication in the workplace, employees know what is expected of them and if they’re meeting those expectations. It makes for a less stressful and more productive environment because it removes much of the guesswork that is needed when good communication is lacking.

Some leaders aren’t naturally good communicators; they can think they’ve explained themselves clearly when they haven’t, or it doesn’t occur to them to pass on information and give clear instructions because they assume that others already know what they’re thinking.

But not all failures of communication are accidental – some people keep important information to themselves so they have power over others as the source of information and have the ability to give or withhold the tools to do well.

Workplaces where there is little or poor communication tend to be unhealthy because employees don’t know what is expected of them, how well they’re doing, or what they can anticipate in the future. This is often stressful and exhausting as it forces them to hunt for clues and wonder about things they should be told.

An important form of communication for leaders to practice is giving feedback. This benefits the individual as well as the organisation – workers can do better and feel more confident, which enables them to be more productive and willing to challenge themselves because they aren’t worrying if they’re doing well.

If people aren’t given frequent feedback on their performance, they won’t know if they’re doing a good job or not. Employees can develop bad habits without even realising if they aren’t told.

But feedback is only useful when it’s communicated effectively. It can be vague and potentially difficult to follow, such as directing someone to be less negative or more professional when interacting with clients. While these may be areas where improvement is needed, if leaders don’t clearly explain what is expected and which behaviours they want to stop, the employee can feel confused and unsure what they need to change.

To further help employees meet your expectations, explain what you want for an end result – what ‘done’ looks like. If you give someone a job without telling them what your version of finished is, they won’t know what you expect from them. Even if they produce good work, if it’s not what you need then it isn’t helpful.

You can also share what you want as a result of the work you’re asking them to do. Discussing goals and everyone’s role in achieving them gives your employees the opportunity to work towards objectives as a team, rather than focusing on their own specific role. This also allows others to give suggestions on how objectives can be achieved and discuss potential drawbacks you might not have considered, which often produces better results.

Communication should go both ways. Not only is it important to let your employees know when they’re doing a good job and how they can improve – you should be willing to take feedback from them as well to know if you’re doing a good job and how you can improve.

Especially if you give people feedback and are sometimes critical, you need to be able to take criticism yourself. Otherwise you’ll come off as a hypocrite and people can struggle to respect you. Remember, constructive criticism is important for growth!

If employees at all levels are encouraged to work together, share their ideas, and give and receive feedback, the organisation can have a positive company culture that promotes growth, innovation and productivity.

Trust

Trust is essential to a healthy workplace as it creates an environment that is good for employees and more productive for the organisation.

When employees at all levels trust each other, they’re more likely to work as a team, be motivated, feel less stressed, work more efficiently, and have a sense of loyalty to their organisation and each other.

Trust also significantly benefits leaders. If you don’t trust your employees to do a good job or follow your instructions, you’re likely significantly adding to your workload while contributing to a toxic work environment. Therefore, it’s important to be willing to delegate to avoid becoming overworked and exhausted. But delegating requires trust, so when you give someone responsibility for a task – without micromanaging – you show that you trust them.

Trust does need to be earned, but if you find yourself unable to trust your employees to do their jobs to your standards, it’s important to ask yourself why.

Have individuals given you reasons not to trust them?

If they haven’t, why don’t you trust them and what would you need to eventually trust them?

If you struggle to trust anyone you work with, what are you afraid will happen if you’re more trusting?

Do you have a hard time communicating your expectations in a way that your workers can easily follow?

Do you have a strong need for control?

Trusting can be a leap of faith – if you treat people like they’re untrustworthy and never put them in a risky situation where they have to prove themselves, they’ll never have the opportunity to show you can trust them. Putting someone in a position of proving they’re trustworthy may be uncomfortable, but it’s essential to building trust in your employees and showing that trust is a part of the workplace.

If you struggle with trust, in the workplace or in general, you may need to get professional help to overcome this. You could have good reasons for struggling with trust, but effective defence mechanisms can be harmful when they’re used in the wrong times and places.

Your employees also need to be able to trust you. There are different ways to show that you’re trustworthy, but the most powerful way is by honouring your word and being consistent in how you treat others. If you tell people that there won’t be punishments for making mistakes, it’s important that you honour this principle. Leading by example can also send powerful messages that you’re trustworthy and mean what you say.

People can’t be themselves when working with someone they don’t trust, and putting up a façade is exhausting and distracting, so it makes for an unhealthy work environment.

Respect

All of these qualities coming together to make a good leader requires treating others with respect and not enabling or permitting others to be disrespectful. You can be adaptable, encourage mistakes, communicate, and be trusting and trustworthy without being a good leader if you don’t treat your employees with respect or act in ways that earns their respect.

Disrespect in the workplace is the top contributor to workplaces becoming toxic. You can’t have a healthy environment if respect is optional. Because leaders set the tone for the types of behaviour that are tolerated, when leaders are disrespectful, abuse and bullying can become a part of the company culture. This is stressful and discouraging for most people; those who aren’t affected are usually poor team players who are more interested in personal success than being a part of a team.

When leaders set a good example – by following the same rules as everyone else, treating others with respect, and doing their best to create an enjoyable atmosphere – they can create an environment that enables people to flourish.

Some managers don’t think they need to follow the same rules as other employees, but leaders should be held to even higher behavioural standards. Toxic and abusive leaders can cause entire organisations to become terrible places to work by enabling their colleagues to treat each other badly.

Leaders can also think that being feared is more important than being respected. In some instances and for some people this can be true, but often if you’re fair and treat your employees with respect so they respect you, then you won’t need to create an environment of fear for people to be effective workers. You can accomplish as much and likely more when respecting each other expected and routine.

Rather than believing they’re above the rules, it’s important for leaders to understand that they need to set a good example to create a healthy workplace. They send powerful messages about what types of behaviours are acceptable and what will go unpunished.

The goals of the best leaders usually involve creating conditions where everyone works together

How leaders behave and treat others plays an enormous role in setting the tone of a company’s culture, which affects not only employee’s mental health, but the productivity of the organisation as well.

When workers feel psychologically safe because they have a leader who engages with them as an individual, accepts that mistakes are inevitable and necessary to learning and growth, communicates expectations and gives feedback, is trusting and trustworthy, and is respectful and respectable, there is often higher rates of productivity.

Although there are many different ways to be a leader, the majority of people are happier, more productive, and more fulfilled when working under someone who wants them to reach their full potential. There are a number of ways you can act to be this type of leader and a variety of skills that contribute to adopting this leadership style, but the five skills detailed in this article can be useful to many different types of leaders.

The style of leadership you choose to adopt will have a significant on the nature of your workplace. You have the potential to promote a healthy workforce and increase productivity.

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