Skip To Main Content
Leadership Development, Career Success, NSLS Blog

5 Characteristics of a Good Leader

By Neil Khaund

Leadership is always evolving and over the past few years, we've seen just how quickly things can change. Great leaders know how to adapt and ensure they’re inspiring others to make a positive impact.

To do that, all leaders share core characteristics that are embedded in everything they do. Some come naturally and others develop over time.

Throughout my own leadership journey, I've been dedicated to honing these characteristics to ensure I’m empowering others and moving everyone toward a shared goal.  

Leadership is a habit, it’s something that you are, and it impacts every facet of your life. From your career, to your community, to your personal relationships, these are the characteristics of an effective leader.

What Are the Qualities of a Good Leader?

1. Have a Growth Mindset

The most important quality of a leader is having a growth mindset. Everything else stems from there. By starting with this mindset, you're demonstrating that you have the intent to lead and are hungry for new ways to improve. 

What is a growth mindset? It's continually learning and upskilling, regardless of where you are in life. It's particularly connected to goal-setting techniques because it asks you to constantly rethink your goals and readjust depending on the outcomes. 

Whether you've just completed a goal or fell short, having a growth mindset will force you to think of ways to continually develop yourself to achieve them. It also lessens the blow for the failures that come along the way because you know there is always room for growth. 

At the NSLS, we've written about how having a growth mindset will help you stand out in a competitive job market, which isn't a surprise. Hiring managers are looking for leaders who are always pursuing growth. 

Having a growth mindset speaks to every leadership characteristic—it's the foundation, supporting everything else.

2. Be Authentic

Authenticity is vital to becoming a strong leader. You know the saying, "Fake it till you make it?" Throw it out the window—it doesn’t work. You need to be authentic about how you approach leadership.

I've always tried to be genuine about how I feel and always ready to have those tough conversations. Be transparent with people and you'd be surprised how much more positive the outcomes will be. Clear communication goes a long way. 

Being honest and leading with humility will not only move everyone toward a goal quicker, but you'll also be showing respect for other people's time and their roles. Frame feedback in a positive way and think about that growth mindset for yourself and others. Always ask, “How can we improve together?”

I look up to a range of leaders, but one of them is a living embodiment of authenticity. Gary Vaynerchuk lives and breathes authenticity. When asked why he curses so much, he has said, "I’m willing to deal with the ramifications of being my full self." Though I might not condone profanity and that level of authenticity, the point is clear. 

His leadership style is so compelling because his authenticity feels so genuine, to the point where some may find him offensive. He truly believes in building people up to reach their maximum potential and their own definition of happiness. 

More leaders should adopt his leadership style as I believe leading with authenticity will appeal to future generations. In fact, the data shows that Gen Z is motivated by transparency.

3. Empower Others

Putting others before yourself is a simple definition of leadership. It’s about inspiring others and motivating your entire team. 

One key to empowering others is being authentic, which goes back to the last point. By authentically empowering others to achieve a common goal, you'll set everyone up for success. If you're faking it, your team will know. You'll need to first be inspired by yourself. 

Another important component of empowerment is positivity. Leading with positivity will help teams work through tough situations, spinning difficulties into challenges. Instead of frustrating a team, empower them to confidently engage with the challenge.

To put this into action, there are leadership styles that prioritize putting others before yourself. Servant leadership focuses on attributes such as:

  • Listening

  • Empathy

  • Stewardship

  • Community building

Democratic leadership also places the team at the forefront, with a focus on:

  • Creativity and collaboration

  • Regular feedback

  • Transparency and communication

You won't truly be leading if you're not putting others first.

4. Don't Be the Smartest Person in the Room

Surrounding yourself with the right people is paramount to successful leadership. As a leader, you want to be humble, set down your pride, and actively seek smarter people than yourself to create an effective team

Early in my career, I strived to be the smartest person in the room. I'd work in a silo and present my own idea or strategy that I thought was best, thinking everyone would rally behind it. I was wrong and this approach failed every time. 

When it comes to leadership, this is a pretty common mistake. What eventually worked for me was flipping the script and putting authenticity and empowerment first.

I began seeking the right people for each role, started to listen, and put the focus on motivating others. You don't need to be the smartest person in the room; in fact, you shouldn't be. 

Leverage the people around you, put the right people in the right roles, and you'll get to the goal a lot faster.

5. Prioritize Mentorships

There's nothing worse for your own personal growth or for the future of an organization than working alone to solve a problem. Life is with other people, and you need to embrace that to guarantee growth

Mentorships are vital to progress, and you want to take part in them from both perspectives, as a mentor and a mentee. This ensures that you’re constantly learning and giving back. 

If you participate in this mentorship cycle, your leadership skills have no choice but to get significantly better. I know the first objection to this is how to find the time to do it.

Think differently about it and lean into the positives. It doesn't need to be a time-consuming task. Have a cup of coffee once a month with someone you can learn from and with someone else you can help. 

You'll be surprised how much your leadership skills grow. Mentorships will help you build your growth mindset, help you empower others, and stay inspired about the future.

Make Leadership a Habit

Leadership isn't something you're born with—it encompasses a range of characteristics that can be developed over time. The more you work out your leadership muscles, the more they will serve you along the way.  

It always comes back to empowering others to make a positive impact. That impact should always be in the back of your mind. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to enact positive change in the world?” That's a great starting point and that's what we need from leadership today. 

There isn't one correct approach to leadership. Though each leadership style might share similar characteristics, there are a range of ways to motivate others.

Neil Khaund is the CEO of The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), the largest accredited leadership honor society in the United States. With more than a decade of private sector education and organizational growth experience, Khaund is currently leading the organization through its new phase of international growth.