Key learning outcomes:

  • Recognise that leaders share common traits.
  • Learn that a positive attitude is invaluable during challenging and threatening situations.
  • Distinguish between good and mediocre leaders with respect to their vision, communication and commitment.
  • Understand the importance of honesty, empathy, consistency and flexibility in developing leadership skills.


Think of a leader that you admire. It might be someone that you know of from history lessons or through the media; it might be a sportsperson; or it might be someone close to you like a parent or a mentor.

Whoever they are and whatever they do, great leaders tend to share some common traits. Look through the list of traits below and think about which areas you excel at and which areas you could work on to further develop your own leadership skills.

Positive attitude

Maintaining a positive attitude is essential to being a great leader. This means much more than simply putting on a happy face; it is about your attitude when problems arise or during challenging times. A leader will take charge and give reassurance when things are not going as planned; they do not panic or let others around them know that they fear the worst. Think about emergency situations such as the 9/11 disaster. Fire officers led people to safety – not out of fear or panic, but to show leadership. As bad as the situation was, they needed to restore some order and calm to save as many lives as possible.[wlm_ismember]


Great leaders have vision. There is a saying that the best way to predict the future is to create it; great leaders do this time and time again. They have an ability to see what is not yet there and to create a compelling argument that their goals are within reach. They have an ability to turn their ideas, or the ideas of those around them, into action and reality.


Great leaders are always great communicators. They have an ability to turn the invisible into something visible. Through effective communication they are able to gain mutual understanding from those around them in order to bring about required actions. You will not often hear a great leader yelling or telling; they will often spend more time listening and understanding. To be a great leader you have to be able to put your vision into a format that will inspire others to follow you and to help you to achieve it.


Great leaders hold honesty and integrity as core values. They set themselves standards that those around them can be proud of. They treat others as they want to be treated and do not tolerate dishonest or unethical behaviour from others. Research shows that people want to work for companies and leaders who they can be proud of, and great leaders understand this.


Great leaders show a high level of commitment. They tend not to ask others to do anything that they would not do themselves. They work hard and gain respect from others by showing a high level of knowledge and expertise. They show a high degree of accountability and take responsibility when things go wrong. They do not waver in the face of adversity; rather they work hard to find a solution or better way.

Ability to motivate

Great leaders have the ability to inspire those around them. Through their words and actions they are able to bring out the best in others. Think, for example, about the coaches of sporting teams. Time and time again you will see a sporting upset, where the winning team on paper was not the best at the end of the day. These leaders work to motivate and inspire those around them to perform to higher standards, to achieve things that they never thought possible. It is important to remember that as a leader, success is about building up those around you to be the best that they can.


Great leaders have a high degree of empathy and emotional intelligence. They have the ability to understand how decisions and actions will impact others, and make adjustments accordingly. They tend to praise in public and address problems in private. They do not blame others for mistakes or errors, but take responsibility and look for solutions that will ensure that any problems provide opportunities for improvement and for a better future.


Great leaders are consistent in their behaviour and decisions. Those around them are never worried about how they will react. They set clear expectations and react calmly and rationally if things do not go to plan. Through behaving in a fair and consistent manner they build a level of respect and trust from those that follow them.


A great leader understands that there is no one right way. They will work to find a solution to a problem or issue and are not afraid to change direction if things are not working. Great leaders listen before reacting, and are open to ideas and suggestions for better ways to do things. In fact they actively seek them out.

There are many other traits that you will find in great leaders, for example, a leader in a design house may show a high degree of creativity and flair, and a politician may have a high degree of charisma. The above list covers the most common traits among great leaders. Remember, you do not have to be the boss to be the leader – these traits are just as important when seeking to develop self-leadership.[/wlm_ismember]

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