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  • Writer's pictureMaja Arnadottir

The Essentials of Leadership

Vision & character

Most famous leaders have a strong vision accompanied by a strong character but no two leaders are exactly alike. Some leaders are visionary, some charismatic, some are both. Others are described as strategic. Some are very transactional. Fewer are truly transformational.

On the whole, leaders can be as different as they are many.

Regardless, several traits are deemed to encourage and empower greater leadership; aside from the concept of willingness.

What is leadership, really?

Leadership is defined as the ability to lead others, oversee processes, guide initiatives and steer teams toward the achievement of goals. Sound inspiring?

In fact, leadership is so much more than just this definition.

The top four "essential" characteristics to leadership are:

self-awareness, communication - influence
& learning agility.

Without these four, there is little else to work with, and the person is unlikely to advance into leadership positions.

The greatest leaders are said to consistently possess ten leadership qualities overall which are; in addition to self-awareness, communication, influence and learning:

integrity, ability to delegate, gratitude, empathy, courage & respect.

Let us dive a little deeper into The Essentials of Leadership.

The 10 essential traits of great leaders


"While this is a more inwardly focused trait, self-awareness and humility are paramount for leadership. The better you understand yourself and recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, the more effective you can be as a leader." Makes sense, right?

Self-awareness is essential for anyone who is or wants to embark upon a journey filled with growth and positive changes. Gaining self-awareness is not as simple as it may sound, and becoming more self-aware requires openness and humility. It takes intentional and repeated presence with self to become more self-aware. It takes listening to self, and others.

Many humans fill all their waking hours with work and projects, perhaps to avoid looking within? Do you know how other people view you or how you show up at work?

Take the time to learn about aspects of self as your self-awareness is critical for ongoing, long-term effectiveness as a leader. Know thyself, and be kind and humble to self.


"Effective leadership and effective communication are intertwined. The best leaders are skilled communicators who are able to communicate in a variety of ways, from transmitting information to inspiring others to coaching direct reports. And you must be able to listen to, and communicate with, a wide range of people across roles, geographies, social identities, and more. The quality and effectiveness of communication among leaders across your organization directly affects the success of your business strategy, too. Learn (and explore) how effective communication and better conversations can actually improve your organisational culture." There is hardly a better way to describe the importance of communication. It is truly an essential skill! As a leader, aim to be responsive, reliable and deliver on your commitments, listen to others and be sincere and consistent in what and how you communicate.


"For some people, “influence” feels like a dirty word. But being able to convince people through the influencing tactics of logical, emotional, or cooperative appeals is an important trait of inspiring, effective leaders. Influence is quite different from manipulation, and it needs to be done authentically and transparently. It requires emotional intelligence and trust." Be open to learning more about how effective influencing can be a game-changer.

Positive influence can be in exhibiting a positive attitude when solving problems, and when overcoming challenges, or by being fuelled by true inner passion, which is a never-ending energy source separating the doers from dreamers. Positive influence can be exhibited in upholding a vision that inspires. Great leaders know where they are going and why.

Learning agility

"Learning agility is the ability to know what to do when you don’t know what to do. If you’re a “quick study” or are able to excel in unfamiliar circumstances, you might already be learning agile. But anybody can foster learning agility through practice, experience, and effort. After all, great leaders are great learners."

The best leaders are deeply dedicated to continuous improvement and life-long learning. They seek ways to grow and improve themselves, and desire to remain competent and relevant. Read, ask, and learn. But above all, listen.


The importance of integrity should be obvious. Though it may not necessarily be a metric in employee evaluations, integrity is an essential leadership trait for the individual and the organization. Integrity is especially important for top-level executives who are charting the organisation’s course and making countless other significant decisions. Research shows that "integrity may actually be a potential blind spot for organisations". Make sure you and your organisation reinforce "the importance of honesty and integrity to leaders at various levels". Remember that the greatest leaders are impeccable with their word, and care about doing the “right thing”. Their actions match their words, and are congruent with their values. True leaders have heart and genuinely care about others and have a desire to serve. They consider it an honour, and great responsibility to serve those they have been given the privilege to lead.

Greater integrity comes from asking one self; Where am I out of integrity in the work I do? And in DO-ing something about it.

Ability to delegate

"Delegating is one of the core responsibilities of a leader, but it can be tricky to delegate effectively." Delegation is a skill to learn and master. The goal isn’t just to transfer responsibility for specific tasks to another and free yourself up! The goal is to "enable your direct reports to grow, facilitate teamwork, provide autonomy, and lead to better decision-making. The best leaders build trust in the workplace and on their teams through effective delegation."

As a leader; you know you can not get magic done by doing it all yourself. It takes a team!


"Being thankful can lead to higher self-esteem, reduced depression and anxiety, and better sleep. Gratitude can even make you a better leader. Yet few people regularly say “thank you” in work settings, even though most people say they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss. The best leaders know how to show gratitude in the workplace."

Leaders who motivate and inspire do not take their team for granted. Imagine how enjoyable it would feel for you personally to work with and for someone who demonstrates sincere gratitude for your contributions. Gratitude creates a loop that will not slip.


"Empathy is correlated with job performance and is a critical part of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. If you show more inclusive leadership and empathetic behaviours towards your direct reports, research shows you are more likely to be viewed as a better performer by your boss. Plus, empathy and inclusion are imperative for improving workplace conditions for those around you."

By displaying empathy you create trust in others for you as a leader. Aim to create understanding, and be understanding of others. As much as you focus on empowering your team to succeed, have a heart when they struggle, and show understanding.

True leaders set their people up for success. They don’t leave them to fend for themselves, nor throw them under a bus – for any reason.

Empathy has to come from our core to be felt by others. Can you show you care for others?


"It can be hard to speak up at work, whether you want to voice a new idea, provide feedback to a direct report, or flag a concern for someone above you. That’s part of the reason courage is a key trait of good leaders. Rather than avoiding problems or allowing conflicts to fester, courage enables leaders to step up and move things in the right direction. A workplace with high levels of psychological safety and a strong conversational skills across the organization will foster a coaching culture that supports courage and truth-telling."

Feel the fear but do it anyway! This might be my favourite mantra as courage has nothing to do with absence of fear. Courage builds confidence which is necessary for staying the course when things get tough. Great leaders have an abundance of confidence, without being arrogant as they've learned that with courage they succeed again, and again.

Confident leaders are the ones who accept what they’re not good at, and are self-secure in a manner that they choose to surround themselves with people whose strengths complement their own.


"Treating people with respect on a daily basis is one of the most important things a leader can do. It will ease tensions and conflict, create trust, and improve effectiveness. Creating a culture of respect is about more than the absence of disrespect. Respectfulness can be shown in many different ways, but it often starts with simply being a good listener who truly seeks to understand the perspective of others."

Explore how you can cultivate a climate of respect at work or learn more about ways you can become an ally to others. Accountability is one of the ways in which we create and establish respect. True leaders strive for excellence and hold themselves and their team accountable to commitments made, and to decisions and actions.

To be respected, show up and take accountability!

The ten essential traits for leadership may not be set in stone and some might choose to rephrase or reemphasise different descriptives but all in all; leadership does require certain ingredients.

Which ingredients do you find most important for the way you wish to lead?

This post is inspired by, and quoted from What Good Leaders Look Like: 10 Essential Leadership Traits.

Read more great articles on effective leadership at Center for Creative Leadership


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