What leadership qualities are the most sought-after in 2021
The world economy is getting more complex and unpredictable. Companies are constantly searching for top talent with the best leadership qualities to be part of their organization to deal with this challenge. The best business schools are going beyond the traditional classroom education for their leadership development programs in order to maximize the learning experience for executives and ensure effective leadership.
Industry experts teach both the academic and practical side of running a business, even providing continuous consultations when leaders have returned to work. This is because business management schools acknowledge that organizations continue to demand better leadership traits and qualities from their personnel across all levels. Organizations want their leaders to not only be experts in their fields, but also to have the right mix of leadership styles that fit their organizational culture and lead their business to success.
The bar of job qualifications is constantly being raised higher. As an executive, you want to enhance your leadership traits and industry know-how to continue to shine above all others in your field. This article will show you what leadership qualities are the most sought-after by businesses in today’s volatile and multifaceted business environment.
1. Concentrate on the goal (Use Racehorse Blinkers)
Competition amongst businesses today is like a horse race. A good leader, like a racehorse, must have their blinkers on to run with laser-like focus towards the goal. There will always be distractions and personal dilemmas that leaders face. Brian Dumaine said in his online article “The Kings of Concentration” that a CEO receives up to 300 e-mails a day. Add to this the meetings and phone calls, there clearly are not enough hours in a day to tackle everything.
In order to be effective at managing organizations amidst all the hectic activity, you need to have a laser-like focus. Effective leadership is knowing how to prioritize the most important tasks.
Tip 1. Set Up The Night Before.
Prepare for the tasks you need to accomplish at work the next day. Take a mental note of your priorities and most important tasks. At the end of the day, review how your day went against your plan and personally celebrate your accomplishments.
Tip 2. Stick To Your Plan But Prepare To Be Flexible.
Create a checklist you can use as a guide throughout the workday, tick off tasks you’ve completed according to your plan. If something urgent comes up that needs your attention, be flexible in adjusting your checklist. Once you’ve tackled the unexpected items, go back to your list and move according to plan.
Tip 3. Prioritize.
Bigger projects may involve several small tasks. Prioritize working on the items that can be completed quickly so you get good momentum. You’ll get a sense of accomplishment when you see your tasks being completed in relation to the big project.
Tip 4. Stay Energized.
Take short breaks to recharge yourself mentally and physically in order to stay focused. When your brain gets overworked, you tend to be less productive. Sitting for long periods of time is not good for your health either. So do some stretching, stand up and move around to reenergize your mind and body.
Tip 5. Change Your Environment.
Just having a fresh view may help you focus better and allow you to finish your projects faster. Your usual work space may present a lot of distractions so move to a quiet place or change your work space orientation to have fewer distractions.
2. Confidence (Trust Your Capabilities)
A confident leader gives the organization the confidence that the business is in good hands. Leaders make tough decisions day in and day out and there is always room for self-doubt. When you have to juggle so many things at once, you have to trust yourself that you are in that position because you are capable of the responsibilities that position comes with.
The May 2014 issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Confidence Gap” says that confidence matters as much as competence in leaders. The article shares that women have the ability and competence to hold positions in leadership but lack the confidence to apply for the position. Confidence is a critical trait for success.
Tip 1. Be An Intellectual Risk Taker.
You have to rid yourself of the fear of failure and start taking intelligent risks. Just be sure you assess all possible outcomes and take into consideration all the lessons you have already learnt. Don’t be paralyzed by making the decision because you have over-thought the process.
Tip 2. Be Around Positive Supporters.
Pick out colleagues, superiors and team mentors who share the same goals and ideas. Brainstorm with these individuals to learn valuable lessons that you can use in your work life. This group of individuals can serve as your support system at work.
Tip 3. Practice Makes Perfect.
Most of the practices and styles in management can sound ideal in theory but unless you put them to the test, you will not know which one works best or what needs to be tweaked to work best in your case. So never stop learning and always practice what you learn.
3.Clear Vision (Know Your Purpose)
Clear vision is a leadership trait that should go along with laser-like focus: it should even be its precedent. In order for a leader to have laser-like focus on a goal, they need to have a clear vision of it. Clear vision means you understand what you want to achieve, its purpose, you know the facts and you understand its impact.
A leader with clarity of vision can also formulate clear plans and will be able to give clear directions, feedback and corrections if and when necessary. When their team members see that their leader is clear about what they want to achieve, it will be easier for them to grasp the vision knowing that their leader can offer clarification.
Tip 1. What’s Your Career Story?
Identify your strengths and motivators —what are the drivers that get you excited to work and what skills do you possess that get the best results? Ask yourself the following:
- What are you most passionate about? What makes you want to get up in the morning?
- What are two of the most challenging things you’ve encountered? How did those experiences mold you?
- What do you enjoy about your job? What tasks do not feel like work because you love doing them?
Tip 2. Find A Career Coach.
Have a mentor – perhaps a superior or a more senior colleague. Work with that person to identify your leadership goals. If you cannot find one in the workplace, you may want to hire a career coach to work with.
Tip 3. Write Down A Statement Of Purpose.
After the first two steps, try to write down your leadership purpose. Answer the questions (1) Why am I in this leadership role? (2) What are the things, and who are the people I am able to influence? Make a clear and actionable leadership motto, one that you will live by and call your own.
4. Humility (You Cannot Learn Without It)
Humility is one of the leadership qualities that cannot be faked. The statement “humility makes an effective leader” is the truest of maxims. This leadership trait should be a prerequisite to being given a position in leadership. Lazlo Black, a Senior Vice President for Google says he looks for not just humility but intellectual humility in people he hires. He further points out that you cannot learn without humility.
Humble leadership is really about focusing on people and letting them know that you are there to support them in reaching their goals. Also known as servant leadership, this leadership style helps team members think for themselves and contribute their own ideas, because you are teaching them stewardship and independence. Humility does not mean being weak and voiceless, it actually means you have enough confidence in your leadership that you uplift your team members so they can grow.
Request 360 Feedback.
Check if your human resources department can set up 360 feedback from your team, colleagues and superiors. Make it anonymous so it will be as honest as possible. Have an open mind and take the feedback seriously - especially if there are suggested areas for improvement. See how you can plan a course of action to work on the identified improvement areas.
5. Strong Communication Skills (A Quality Which Can Be Learned)
Strong communication skills may be one of the leadership qualities that can benefit most from a leadership development program. Some leaders are “made” and not “born”, and strong communication skills can definitely be learned. In a study performed by APPrise mobile in the US, about 23% of employees working for a company with a size of 500+ workers were not sure who their CEO was.
Traditional office communication has come a long way from office memos, organizational charts and bulletin boards for employees to peruse. With almost everything communicated digitally, executives need to reach out to their employees in a way that will speak to the new generation of workers. E-mails, tweets, social media and e-chat are some of these digital communication tools suitable for employees from the new generation.
The way communication changes with technological advances, leaders must continually learn new ways to connect with their employees. Once a leader develops strong communication skills, it will be a leadership trait that will benefit them in so many ways in and out of the workplace.
Be Sure To Have Strong Opening And Closing Points.
To be a good communicator, your audience needs to understand the purpose and the desired end result of a meeting, a conversation, or a training session. State your purpose clearly and be concise. Before ending the meeting, check if your audience understood what their roles are in achieving the desired outcome. Reviewing with them the purpose, the timeline and what they need to do.
6. Team Player (Be One Yourself)
In order to encourage your employees to be great team players, you have to be a team player yourself. This leadership trait is essential in every organization. Some organizations are very strict about their leaders socializing with other employees, because they believe that familiarity may blur the line of the supervisor-subordinate relationship.
Leaders who believe that they have to alienate themselves from their teams are actually the ones creating this blur. It could be described as a gap between themselves and their team members. This gap could be the reason that their team cannot work cohesively. We have previously mentioned the servant leadership style as a leadership trait every leader should have. Being a team player is closely related to being a humble leader. Leaders who are team players are not afraid to show themselves as part of the team. This behavior is respected by employees.
Conduct Regular Huddles.
Start your workday or workweek with a short huddle to discuss any important updates and urgent issues. You can assign a different team member to lead the team huddle each time to empower your team members.
7. Honesty & Transparency (Be Trustworthy)
In an executive position, there is certain information that should be treated confidentially. However, you need to be honest and transparent to your subordinates about the level of information you are allowed to divulge. For certain information you need to find the right time, place and manner to deliver messages honestly.
What honesty and transparency as a leadership trait means is that you are perceived as reliable. To be an effective leader, you need to appear reliable to your employees. They will trust you more when you follow through with your promises. Delivering difficult messages to your subordinates is part of a leader’s responsibility. You must give feedback honestly, clearly, constructively and in a professional manner. It is important not to sugarcoat these messages because they may become misconstrued and cause confusion.
Aspire To Honesty In All Cases.
Be prepared to answer questions from your employees. Anticipate the possible questions and prepare your answers so you are certain that you are being as honest as you can be and still remain within the remit of what you are allowed to divulge. If you are uncertain of the answer, get more information on that matter and make sure you follow through.
Want to get more key insights about leadership? Download this exclusive article
Innovation & Creativity
8. Innovation & Creativity (Keep Your Creative Juices Flowing)
Elon Musk is probably one of the most famous innovators and inventors of our time. He has been part of start-up companies that grew to multi-million dollar organizations. He is even listed by Forbes as one of the most powerful people in 2016. From PayPal to Tesla to the Hyperloop, his innovations span a multitude of genres.
He continues to innovate and create amazing products that are geared towards the future. Effective leaders need to think like innovators and keep their creative juices flowing to keep up with all the business transformations prevalent in the world today.
Tip 1. Create Brainstorming Groups.
Get individuals together to brainstorm and come up with creative ideas. You can even try to create this group outside the workplace to encourage like-minded individuals from other organizations and industries to share and come up with better ideas.
Tip 2. Attend Training And Seminars.
Travel to other places to attend training and seminars, you will not only learn academically, but also widen your cultural and sociological horizons as you interact with other attendees.
9. Patience (Required in Complex Business Dynamics)
A good measurement of effective leadership is patience. When you are the most powerful person in your team, organization or the government, it is hard to imagine that you need to be patient. Everyone is supposed to follow your lead, give you what you need, when you need it done. Why does a good leader need to be patient?
Not all things are smooth-sailing in uncertain situations and in dealing with complex business dynamics. Leaders who are not patient will feel the pressure and stress of their job and consequently will not be effective. Without patience, it’s easy to lose control of your emotions, the situation and eventually your team. Patience is a virtue: especially for leaders.
You need to make a conscious effort to be patient at all times, whether it be small or bigger inconveniences that would normally frustrate you. At the end of the day, observe your progress and adapt accordingly.
10. Open-Mindedness (Accept Team Member Creativity)
You will often find that various leadership qualities interconnect or co-exist. Open-mindedness, for example, has to exist with humility and being a team player is crucial for a leader to accept ideas and creative innovation from their team members.
Open-mindedness must also exist with honesty when you are giving and receiving feedback from a team member or a colleague. When a leader has an open mind, he is willing to explore and accept changes. There will be more opportunities gained than missed. Employees will also recognize this trait, and will be more willing to approach you for ideas and with their concerns, resulting in a more engaged team. This will be positive for the organization in the long run.
Respond, Don’t React.
You will need to assess all aspects of a situation regardless of how frustrating it may be. If you assess the situation properly, you will be able to respond wisely. If you react immediately, you may make rash actions that were not thoughtfully considered, which can result in destructive outcomes.
11. Decisiveness (Make Decisions And Stand By Them)
Returning to the crucial point that leadership qualities need to exist with each other; a leader needs to be confident and open-minded in order to be decisive. Being decisive doesn’t mean you close your mind off to other’s suggestions. It means you are confident that you can come up with the best decision if you listen to other people’s perspectives.
Furthermore, when there are too many ideas and opinions thrown at you and too much pressure on you to come up with a decision, a decisive leader remains calm and collected. They can be composed under stress because they are confident that they can make a good decision and stand by it. That is the decisiveness of effective leadership.
It’s OK To Say “Yes”.
In the workplace, you need to learn to say “No” or things can pile up and you will be overwhelmed. However, it is also OK to say “Yes” and take an intelligent risk if you’re faced with a yes or no decision. Stand by your decision and learn new things from the experience.
12. Positivity (Become Cherished By Your Team)
Positivity is a leadership trait that should come from within. It can be enhanced by enrolling in leadership development programs that focus on self-awareness. Positivity, they say, is infectious. The Harvard Business Review said that a positive environment will benefit the organization dramatically.
A negative work environment can cause stress and disengagement. This negatively impacts the organization with higher absenteeism and lower productivity according to a study by The American Institute of Stress. It is therefore important that leaders exude a positive attitude to alleviate the stress felt by their employees. A positive environment leads to improved team performance. This is backed up by a research article “Effects of Positive Practices on Organizational Effectiveness”.
Get some volunteers to lead 5 minute desk exercises in the afternoon. Give away treats to celebrate small successes or team milestones. Send out a fun trivia quiz via e-mail once in a while. Have decorating competitions to celebrate seasons or occasions. There are so many simple - yet fun - things you can add to your daily routine that will improve your team’s engagement.
13. Accountability (Strengthen The Moral Climate)
Leadership accountability means that a leader takes responsibility for the outcomes of their decisions. When things go wrong, good leaders will find solutions to the problems instead of finding who to blame. Accountability is a leadership trait that strong leaders possess. They have confidence in their team’s performance, from having mentored them to perform their duties and responsibilities well. Therefore, when something goes wrong, the leader must think about what he missed, in retrospect. And if a team member was really at fault, the leader should think of how to correct the situation, provide constructive feedback, and what the best way to mentor the team member to do things right the next time would be.
Hold Regular One-On-One Sessions.
It is important to discuss performance with employees regularly. If there is a performance issue, it can be addressed right away. Always document performance coaching sessions and review the agreed course of action with the employee before ending the meeting. Let the employee come up with his own action plan and have him sign your coaching document. This way, you can both check the progress of the action plan.
14. Courage (Put Yourself Out There)
Courage is important especially when dealing with difficult situations. Looking back through history you will most likely come up with more than one name of leaders who showed courage in times of turmoil and distress. To lead your people to victory and success, in spite of difficult circumstances, requires a lot of courage.
People in your organization will look up to you and when they see courage. They will stay engaged and committed even when times are tough. This is one of the leadership qualities that is in demand but may be dwindling in terms of supply. A courageous leader is confident, decisive, exercises accountability and is definitely a team player.
Set The Bar High.
The best way to improve is by setting a higher standard. Set the bar higher than usual to really push yourself and your team to reach a goal. The new goal should be more challenging than the one you usually set.
Download your exclusive leadership article by IMD's world renowned experts
Leadership is the key skill for your career. Gain key insights thanks to this exclusive leadership article, accessible to our top-raking IMD leadership program students.
15. Emotional Intelligence (Be An Architect Of Your Own Experience)
In an article entitled “Are Leaders Born Or Made?” , the author shared that only about 25% of the leaders she has coached in over 20 years are truly self-aware. Self-awareness requires emotional intelligence, because you need to be able to communicate from within. In order to connect with others and engage them in the thoughts you wish to convey, you need to be aware of all the elements in play professionally, emotionally and intellectually.
Effective leaders need a level of emotional intelligence in their long list of “must have” leadership traits. Leadership development programs help you get in touch with your inner strengths and enhance them to heighten your emotional intelligence and become better leaders.
Identify Emotional Patterns.
Take note of your default responses to similar situations. What situations make you react and what are your responses? Once you isolate these triggers, make a mental note and ensure that you consciously identify them the next time it happens. See to it that you respond thoughtfully instead of reacting instinctively.
16. Resilience (Strive To Stay Calm During Turbulent Times)
Many similar dot com companies pop up like mushrooms, but very few survive and emerge as leaders in their industry. The changes in the economic environment have become more difficult to keep up with. There are higher stress levels for executives to face each day in the workplace. Effective leadership is evident in organizations that are able to cope amidst all the stress.
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress”. Every business will go through difficult situations that will test its leaders. The test of their resilience is not the ability to avoid difficult situations, but how they face distress and bounce back from it stronger than ever.
Carve Out Quiet Time In The Morning.
Even a two-minute period of quiet time in the morning will get you better prepared for the long day ahead. If you have a long commute to work, listen to music that relaxes you to get a good headstart. You can also use that time to plan out your day and set priorities on what to tackle first once you reach the office.
17. Diplomacy (Essential For Successful Collaboration)
Being in business means that you have to go through a number of negotiations every single day. Be it internal negotiations with different players in the organization, or external negotiations with suppliers, stakeholders or customers, a leader needs to be diplomatic. This is one of the leadership qualities that a leader cannot do without.
Diplomacy will get you out of difficult situations when played right. This leadership trait yet again ties in with other leadership qualities - emotional intelligence, confidence, decisiveness and good communication skills. You have to have a good balance of these skills to exercise effective diplomacy. When done right, you will resolve issues amicably while increasing engagement. A win-win situation is always possible with the right diplomacy.
Always Do Your Homework.
Have the important facts at hand when you go into a meeting or a negotiation. Listen to all points even if they oppose the idea being presented. If you are prepared with the facts, you will be able to present your case confidently and weigh the opposing ideas against your facts intelligently. Always back up your sources with facts so your case will be accepted with lesser disagreement.
18. Problem Solving Ability (Tackle Challenges)
Problem solving is probably at the top of the list in a leader’s job description no matter what industry you’re in. This is just one of the leadership qualities that is non-negotiable for organizations in hiring or promoting an individual to a leadership position.
Every organization will want to make sure that their leaders can solve problems; because problems are inevitable. To be a great problem solver, you must use your emotional intelligence well whilst being very rational about the problem at hand. You may also find yourself exercising every single one of the leadership qualities mentioned above when you’re trying to solve the most complex of problems.
Maintain An “Idea” Notebook.
Note down your ideas so they will not be forgotten. They may not be implementable right now but, those ideas may come in handy at one point in the future. Our gadgets as well as our brain, no matter how amazing they are, can run out of memory - so it is really helpful if you have ideas written down as they come to you.
19. Ability to Initiate (Have The Power To Change The World)
The word “initiate” is synonymous with the word “lead”. This is an understated leadership trait. It is easy to assume that leaders encourage their employees to initiate new ideas and innovation. Employees then get the credit for taking initiatives in their performance reviews.
But the reality is that leaders need to be the ones who initiate creativity, innovation and development by challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries to then spark ideas and creativity in his subordinates. Employees show initiative “as a response” to their leader’s initiative. Moreover, an effective leader must develop strategic initiatives. This is how he brings his organization’s visions into reality. This distinguishes average and extraordinary leaders.
Invest In Yourself.
Invest in yourself so you can advance in your field and be able to make significant initiatives for your organization. You will be setting an example to your team that you need to continue learning as you go up the corporate ladder. Your team members will also appreciate that you stay updated with current business trends.
20. Reliability (An Essential Virtue)
Every organization wants leaders that are reliable, especially in stressful situations. Reliability is a combination of having clear vision, honesty, ability to solve problems, and confidence. It is an essential leadership quality because when the going gets tough, reliable leaders get you through.
Your organization will look for a tough leader that they can depend on to find solutions. Your staff will look up to your leadership during difficult challenges. And as a reliable leader, you do not back out of problems but use your leadership abilities to find solutions.
Don’t Leave People Hanging.
Make sure you get back to people. Even if it means asking them to give you more time to get them the answers. It is important to set expectations, if you know you can’t do what is asked of you, you need to be upfront, and you need to know when to ask for help.
21. Empathy (Put Yourself In Other People’s Shoes)
The last, but not the least, of the leadership qualities needed in business management is empathy. This comes from leaders who are self-aware. Empathy is certainly one of the leadership traits that makes an effective leader. It is not an easy character to trait to come by in today’s pool of leaders. You need to be perceptive of people’s emotions, experiences and abilities in order to connect with them and get your message through successfully.
The best leaders are those that can influence their team, not merely command them to do things. With good communication skills and the understanding of another person’s feelings, you can lead with empathy. Your employees will appreciate that you see them as human beings and value their individuality. You will be rewarded accordingly with commitment from a highly engaged team.
Make it a point to actually listen to every detail. Do not just choose to hear what you want. Listen even to the non-verbal gestures. This will help you really understand the situation and be able to clearly think of the right and complete response. Your employees will also feel that you care because you have heard and understood what they said.