Traits and Skills of Leaders

Why do some individuals excel in leadership, while others struggle quite heavily with leadership? David Goldman, author of “What Makes a Great Leader,” claims the difference is Emotional Intelligence (EI). Goldman defines EI as “a group of five skills that enable the best leaders to maximize their own and their followers’ performances.”

The five skills, or components, of emotional intelligence are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social Skills

A key difference between these skills is that the first three relate to self-management while the last two relate to managing others. Let’s consider each of these traits more closely.

1. Self-Awareness

Managers who have self-awareness are honest with themselves, about their strengths and their weaknesses. They have a good understanding of their own needs and what drives them to accomplish those desires. They are able to recognize how their emotions, strengths and weaknesses impact themselves and others. Often, those with strong self-awareness have a self-deprecating sense of humor.

2. Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to control your responses in situations, especially negative ones. It is not about eliminating issues that make you feel frustrated or angry, but rather how you respond to these feelings in a constructive and productive way. Businesses often go through periods of significant change and uncertainty, and the ability to self-regulate helps both you and your organization respond in a calm and controlled manner. This is critical for making sound, objective opinions rather than decisions based on emotion – especially in times of turmoil.

3. Motivation

The most effective leaders are driven towards something, not by something. Money, fame, and power are examples of motivations that non-effective leaders tend to be driven by in their decisions. Alternatively, the most effective leaders are motivated towards a passion for work, a love of learning, problem solving, pride in accomplishments, and commitment to their company. What motivates you?

4. Empathy

Empathy is the consideration of others’ feelings in the process of making decisions. Of course, the best decision makers consider a wide range of factors and the best leaders include the impact to others’ feelings as part of the decision making process. Being empathetic also inspires better teamwork as it opens and enables communication. While some may view your empathy as a weakness you’ll know your exercising your empathetic muscles when your able to recruit talented employees, and are focused on developing and mentoring those around you.

5. Social Skills

In the context of a professional environment, social skills are critical as they enable a leader to move people in a common direction. Those around you likely come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. The ability to relate and lead these diverse groups require leaders to collaborate and effectively persuade others, without appearing forceful.

Effective Leadership Traits

Numerous studies and industry experts have published traits they’ve found to be critical in great leaders. Author of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey, focuses on two primary aspects of leadership:

  1. Communication: Rhetoric that inspires trust, clarification, and alignment
  2. Learning: Leadership is not an inherent trait but rather something that can be learned and practiced over time

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) even defines four pillars of leadership:

  1. Integrity
  2. Accountability
  3. Learning
  4. Sharing

Are you seeing any similarities?

Leadership Styles

Like leadership traits there are many styles of effective leadership. Three of the most common styles include:

  1. Lollipop Leadership: Leadership doesn’t have to be a lofty goal or grand plan. Leadership starts with the small things you do every day to show and build trust and comfort with colleagues.
  2. Creative Leadership: There isn’t just one right answer, or one way to go about making a good decision. Creative leaders improvise, are fluid, welcome mistakes, and open to feedback in the process.
  3. Servant Leadership: This type of leadership begins first with the feeling of wanting to serve, and later aspiring to lead. Conversely, a leader-first approach may appear to be motivated by power or prestige.

These styles can all be effective, and don’t have to be mutually exclusive. However, it’s likely that one of these styles suits you best.

Share which style and traits you recognize in yourself or great mentors/managers. Did we leave any off this list you’d like to add? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below. To work on your Leadership Skills be sure to check out our CPE courses designed just for you!

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Adina Hannan on sablinkedin
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Senior CPE Product Manager at Becker