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The 7 traits of great leaders

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Jul 2021

Leadership skills

Are leaders born or made? While some people might naturally be drawn to management roles, good leadership is a combination of skills that anyone can master.

1. Strategic thinking

Good leaders see the big picture: they know where they want to get to, and how they’re going to get there. They have the ability to create an inspiring vision, ensure it is achievable, and communicate it effectively to get buy-in from others. Rather than getting distracted by the details, they focus on setting the overall direction, and make confident, good-quality decisions, even under pressure. Good organisation and forward planning skills are key: assessing resources, setting goals and assigning tasks to others.

2. Delegation

Delegation can be difficult, but great leaders know how to do it well, helping others feel involved and invested, and keeping them motivated. Delegating effectively is not about getting rid of the jobs you don’t enjoy; it’s about matching tasks to your team’s skills and competencies, and ensuring their workload is realistic and achievable. Part of good leadership is creating the next generation of leaders: giving people opportunities to develop themselves, and offering positive support and mentorship. It’s about being honest about your own limitations too, and asking for help when you need it.

3. Communication

Leaders need to be skilled communicators, able to make complex ideas easy to understand, and to communicate in a way that others can relate to, flexing their approach where necessary. Clarity is key: being clear, coherent and straightforward so that everyone knows what is expected of them. It’s also about being assertive without being aggressive, and communicating well even in challenging circumstances. While all communication skills are important, the ability to actively listen and understand is perhaps the most important – great leaders listen more than they talk.

4. Integrity

The best leaders always do what’s right, drawing on their values to guide their decisions. They are dependable and reliable, consistently doing what’s expected of them and supporting others when needed. Leading by example, they set high standards of professional behaviour for themselves and others to follow. They also give credit where it’s due, and hold themselves accountable for their own mistakes. The more honest and transparent your approach, the more you will be rewarded with the respect, confidence and loyalty of those you lead.

5. Empathy

Good leaders know that people are more important than tasks. They are inclusive, empathetic, and willing to listen and learn. They take a genuine interest in those around them, with an awareness of their thoughts and feelings, and an understanding of their needs and motivations. People are naturally drawn to those with good emotional intelligence, intuition and interpersonal skills, and are more likely to follow the lead of someone they like. So always treat others with respect, take time to get to know them, and try to build a good rapport.

6. Flexibility

There’s no ‘right’ way to lead – we all have different management styles, and some will be better suited to different people or situations than others. Part of good leadership is knowing your own style and being able to adapt it where necessary. Flexibility is also about responding to changing circumstances: plans and goals can shift quickly in a project or business, so it’s important to face change with resilience and good humour, and take others on the journey with you.

7. Enthusiasm

The best leaders drive people and projects forward with energy and enthusiasm. If you’re not passionate and motivated yourself, you can’t expect those around you to be. Sincere enthusiasm – for the business you’re working in, the people you’re working with, and the goal you’re working towards – can’t be faked, but genuine passion is contagious. So be a role model for others to follow: share your excitement and enthusiasm, and take on challenges with positivity and perseverance.

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