21 Most Compelling Qualities of Great Leaders

Linda Le Phan

All it takes to be a leader, in name at least, is to hold the dominant position in a group, organization or location. However, this is a very simplified definition for a what a leader should be, let alone what a great leader is. Because the measure of a great leader has much less to do with how you define their role and more about their actual impact on others.  

Our data shows that leaders, through supportive management, make a huge difference in the overall experience people have within an organization. In fact, the companies that ranked best on kununu (by their own employees) tend to have significantly better management scores than those that performed worse – in other words, companies that fared well had much better leaders:

Among highest rated companies on kununu (4 stars or higher), the average rating for “support from management” is 4.52 stars.  

Among lowest rated companies on kununu (2 stars or less), the average rating for “support from management” is 1.22 stars.

What Great Leaders Have In Common

I could spend forever discussing what does and doesn’t make up a great leader and why that matters for business success, but for now I want to focus on the biggest commonalities among great leaders. More specifically – what qualities must a leader possess to be great?

The first ones that immediately come to my own mind are transparency, empathy, and open-mindedness, mainly because they happen to be a few of the cornerstones of kununu’s own values. These qualities have not only driven our company’s success as a global brand over the past decade, but also our individual leaders’ abilities to continuously inspire us as a team.

To go beyond my own bubble though and get deeper into this topic, I researched a handful of CEOs and business leaders to tell me in their own words and experiences (in about 3 sentences or less) what they consider to be the top quality of a great leader. Below is what I found out.

1. Resilience

“People are afraid, and when people are afraid, when their pie is shrinking, they look for somebody to hate. They look for somebody to blame. And a real leader speaks to anxiety and to fear and allays those fears, assuages anxiety.”

-Henry Louis Gates, former leader of the African and American Research Institute at Harvard University

“There’s so much change afoot in the workplace today and when change occurs, individuals who have resilience generally are also resourceful and agile. They have the ability to take on change and adapt to what’s happening around them and to them as the workplace changes. Individuals who have resilience/grit are able to take good risks and are open to change.”

-Kimberly Rath, Chairman & Co-Founder of Talent Plus, Inc

2. Transparency

“To be a good leader, you have to be a good communicator. As a leader, you have to communicate your intent every chance you get, and if you fail to do that, you will pay the consequences.”

-William McRaven, former Admiral of the United States Navy

“Great leaders have the uncanny ability of not letting rumors spread by being open and transparent and embracing solutions not problems. If an employee is frustrated with customer, they make you put that negative energy into coming up with a solution. If coworkers have a rift, rather than nurturing the gossip the leader makes you get over it and fix the issue.”

-Kevin Sides, CMO of ShipMonk

“Great leaders know that one of the quickest ways to get employee feedback and earn the trust of your employees is by being transparent. I’m a firm believer of open information sharing and as a CEO you must lead by example. It lets your staff find applicable solutions and it builds solid relationships that increase the overall motivation.”

-Hendrik Klindworth, Co-Founder & CEO of InnoGames

“Being transparent is the most important trait of an effective leader. Especially when it comes to working with millennials and the younger workforce, it is important for them to understand the big picture. That is, you shouldn’t just ask (or tell) them to do something without explaining how this task or function integrates within the larger business initiative. When they are able to see the connection, they often feel much more empowered and motivated to do a better job.”

-Matt Edstrom, Head of Marketing of BioClarity

3. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

“There’s two parts of leadership. You’ve got to be a good leader – you’ve got to be somebody that people want to emulate and care about the other people. But the other guys that you have have to accept their leadership. They have to respond to it. That’s the chemistry that you never know how that is going to happen.”

-Football-Trainer at the University of Alabama

“I’m often asked if this is a quality that can be taught and the answer is Yes, and like any new or underdeveloped habit, it takes consistent practice.. The challenge with this leadership trait is the WHAT to practice isn’t as straightforward as with other competencies. I’m a fan of simple and practical, so I created the ABCs of The Better Boss Project(tm) to help leaders show up in a more connected, empathetic, and judgment-free way: ASK curious questions, BE human, CHECK assumptions.”

-Shani Magosky, Founder of The Better Boss Project

“Good leaders improve their emotional intelligence by making a concerted effort to understand the reasons behind an employee’s behavior. It could be a lack of trust, a bad past experience or a fear behind a bad decision. When you understand this, it’s easier to react with dignity to any type of situation.”

– Vladimir Gendelman, Founder & CEO of CompanyFolders

4. Passion

“If a leader doesn’t convey passion and intensity then there will be no passion and intensity within the organization and they’ll start to fall down and get depressed.”

-Colin Powell, 4-Star-General of the U.S. Army

“Engagement is the secret sauce to people based businesses. With engagement you gain huge amounts of discretionary work effort/product which goes well above and beyond what is merely required for any given role. Like it or not, the CEO is the Cultural icon of the company and passion for the work, passion for the product, passion for the goals, passion for the successes and passion for the inevitable twist and turns is the key to widespread engagement. And the opposite is even more true – the lack of passion leads to tragic disengagement.”

-Mike Zani, CEO of The Predictive Index

5. Empathy

“Today, no leader can afford to be indifferent to the challenge of engaging employees in the work of creating the future. Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it’s pretty much the whole game today.”

-Gary Hamel, CEO of Strategos

“Empathy not only allows great leaders to understand their employees and their customers better, but it also is known to enhance prosocial (aka helping) behaviors. Because of this, empathy enables leaders to address issues faster and with more precision, and it makes them more flexible to respond to an ever-changing business environment. “

-Jeff Kear, Founder of Planning Pod

“You need to have the ability to relate to your employees and be able to put yourself in the soul of your people. Without the empathetic trait, it’s very hard to rally your troupes around your vision.”

-Gene Caballero – Co-Founder of GreenPal

“While we often are focused on profitability and growth, and rightfully so, there are times that we need to remember that our teams are people often have things going on outside of work. By having empathy and understanding what else is happening in their lives, we can better lead them through the good and bad times.”

-Antonella Pisani, Founder of Official Coupon Code

6. Empowerment

“My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society. As a world, we’re doing a better job of that. My goal is for Google to lead, not follow that.”

-Larry Page, CEO at Alphabet Inc. 

“A leader should empower their subordinates by delegating tasks appropriately, providing proper guidance and limits, and supporting the decisions of the subordinates. When the subordinate leaders are empowered, their intelligence and talents can be unleashed to help the organization grow. When they are stifled, only the minimum gets accomplished because few are motivated to help an organization that is overbearing.”

-Eric Bowlin, Founder of IdealREI

7. Open-minded

“Leaders cannot work in a vacuum. They may take on larger, seemingly more important roles in an organization, but this does not exclude them from asking for and using feedback. In fact, a leader arguably needs feedback more so than anyone else. It’s what helps a leader respond appropriately to events in pursuit of successful outcomes.”

-Jack Canfield, World Record Holder for having seven books on the New York Times best-seller list at the same time

“The ability to not be closed off to new ideas or challenges to established norms is what sets apart an open-minded leader. A person who can look at the best lessons of the past and current while being open to the ideas of the future has the best opportunity to create success in themselves, their business and employees. Being able to change with the times, flexible when needed and decisive when required is a rare thing today.”

-Kyle Golding, CEO & Chief Strategic Idealist of The Golding Group

“Great leaders are inquisitive and use strong, open-ended questions to learn about their staff, identify opportunities and threats to their business, and challenge their top employees to take risks, think critically, and increase engagement. Of course it probably also goes without saying that asking a great question isn’t enough… great leaders also know how to listen and leverage the answers they receive to make good decisions.”

-Jamie Newman, Founder of Your Best Manager and Host of “Your Best Manager” podcast

8. Patience

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

-John Quincy Adams, former US President and Member of the United States Government

“Patience is a defining characteristic of great leaders and successful business founders. Patiently wait for the right opportunity and don’t swing at every pitch. More so, understanding that success doesn’t happen overnight, and obsessing over the process- not the result- will cultivate a culture of patience and ensure long-term success.”

-Bryan Koontz, CEO of Guidefitter

9. Diplomacy

“I think a leader has many roles to play. So, you know, one role is that of incubating talent; the other is that of being a strategist. It’s a very interesting job I’ve got.”

-Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chancellor of the Birla Institute for Technology & Science

“One of the most important jobs a leader has is ensuring that everybody is absolutely on the same page, and that the team works together towards a common goal despite any cultural or political differences.”

-Jan Bednar, CEO of ShipMonk

10. Initiative for action

“It is, after all, the responsibility of the expert to operate the familiar and that of the leader to transcend it.”

-Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor at the United States Government

“No task is beneath you (even menial tasks). Just because you are a high up executive does not mean that you are above cleaning the extra dishes in the sink, or clearing off the table after lunch. Take the initiative to do small tasks around the office– lead by example.”

-Zvi Band, Co-Founder and CEO of Contactually

11. Humility

“Some persons are always ready to level those above them down to themselves, while they are never willing to level those below them up to their own position. But he that is under the influence of true humility will avoid both these extremes. On the the one hand, he will be willing that all should rise just so far as their diligence and worth of character entitle them to; and on the other hand, he will be willing that his superiors should be known and acknowledged in their place, and have rendered to them all the honors that are their due.”

-Jonathan Edwards, former president of the Princeton University

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

-Jack Welch, Ex-CEO of General Electric

“A great leader has to be able to say, I’m sorry. If you want your organization to be constantly innovating and improving, your team members must be reflective and self-aware. You need them to know when they’ve made mistakes and correct them so they can get better. This is only a realistic expectation if the leader of the organization is willing to do the same thing. A good leader will say, I made a mistake, I’m sorry, and here’s what I’m doing to get better. If the leader can do this, it will set the right tone for the rest of the organization.”

-Jacob Dayan, Partner & Co-Founder of Community Tax

12. Influence

“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”

-John C. Maxwell, founder of EQUIP

“The ability to lead through influence, rather than authority, is the most important quality of a great leader. Influence requires strong coaching, emotional intelligence, effective communication, negotiation and consensus building skills. Leaders who employ these skills to influence teams and stakeholders produce greater employee and customer engagement, increased collaboration and innovation, and ultimately drive greater excellence for the organizations they lead compared to those who attempt to use their position and authority to demand it.”

-Tammy Berberick, CEO of Crestcom International, Inc.

13. Purpose

“A leader is the one who can outline the broad vision and the direction, and say here’s where we are going to go, here’s why we need to go there, and here’s how we are going to get there. A manager is the one who actually gets up under the hood and tunes the carburetor.”

-Mike Huckabee, host of the Fox News Channel talk show Huckabee

“They have to have in their mind a clear reason the company exists beyond profit and be able to articulate that clearly and consistently to all audiences – internal and external. Doing so will motivate staff, attract customers and create differentiation and separation from competitors. And it will drive both the external brand and internal culture to create a healthier and more valuable enterprise.”

-JP Laqueur, Brand Foundations

14. Vision

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
-Jack Welch, Ex-CEO of General Electric

“Great leaders are able to help their team members understand the big picture so they can connect their success back to the success of the business. The vision should be big enough to inspire and broad enough to be inclusive. Doing so allows everyone in the organization to understand the importance of the role they play in bringing that vision to reality.”

-Steven Benson, Founder & CEO of Badger Maps

15. Trust

“You can get knocked down, and it hurts and it leaves scars. But if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you up. And if you’re a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.”

-Stanley A. McChrystal, former General of the  U.S. Army

“A CEO can’t do it all – in order for the company to be successful, a CEO must delegate. With that delegation must come a trust that the employee, at whatever level, will achieve success. A great leader has the ability to trust in the potential of his or her employees and the ability to achieve success through others.”

-Evan Harris, CEO & Co-Founder of SD Equity Partners

16. Integrity

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.”

-Andrew Carnegie, Founder of the U.S. Steel Cooperation

“An great leader is someone who does the right thing, even when it’s unpopular or extremely tough to do so. You have to find something to care deeply about in your business and in each individual that touches your business. Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.”

-Steve Farber, President of Extreme Leadership, Inc., Author and one of Inc’s Top 50 Leadership Management Experts.

“Integrity matters in three ways: leaders with great integrity foster critical trust amongst colleagues and direct deports, and demonstrate a commitment to moral and ethical behaviors. Leaders who do NOT value integrity will not gain the trust and buy-in of their teams and colleagues, which will negatively impact engagement and performance. And leading with integrity doesn’t mean never making mistakes, but recognizing and owning them, which leads to continual self-development, and demonstrates humility to others “

-Jenna M. Rosenberg, Assistant Vice President, Human Resources at Vision Federal Credit Union

17. Problem Solving

“The bottom line is that if you become a master at handling problems and overcoming obstacles, what can stop you from success? The answer is nothing! And if nothing can stop you, you become unstoppable!”

-T. Hary Eker, founder of Success Resources

“One leadership quality of a great leader is the ability to solve problems. Leaders face challenges all of the time so they must be able to assess the challenge, find possible solutions (and consequences associated with those solutions), and select the best possible solution.”

-Ashley Hill, CEO of College Prep Ready

18. Perspective

“The manager has a short-range view, the leader has a long-range perspective.”

-Warren Bennis, University Professor at the University of Southern California

“What separates great leaders from the rest of the crowd is their ability to see the bigger picture instead of becoming lost in the details. The best leaders understand how each member of their team works to contribute to the overall goals of their business, and ensures that everybody understands which tasks they’re responsible for. By keeping the end objective in sight, they can push their company towards their long-term goals, rather than becoming stuck at the short-term goals.”

-Metin Pekin, CEO of Xpo Online

19. Listening

“Being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader; you have to listen to the people who are on the front line.”

-Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group

“For great leaders, the secret to success is attentive listening to the people your work with. Great leaders listen and respond to employee suggestions for continuous improvement and use those ideas to grow the business.  They also openly listen and respond to messages coming from other metrics like employee turnover, as well as do proactive listening through organizational surveys and a liberal open door policy.“

-Brad Nierenberg, President & Founder of RedPeg Marketing

Effective leaders take the time to listen deeply to every person related to the business, group or organization. Often overlooked, creating and modeling a culture of listening in one’s company is the key to connecting with customers and employees, making each person feel valued as a person as well as a member of the team. I’ve seen listening grow businesses, make money, and build relationships and it’s the key ingredient to being an effective leader.”

-Marilyn Shannon, Founder of Women’s Empower Networking, LLC.

“A leader needs to listen to what customers want and also to feedback from staff and clients. Sometimes, we do not hear what we would like to hear, but actively listening to comments will allow an effective leader to make changes, which in turn earns respect.”

-Michelle Zaharin, Co-Owner of Regents Review, LLC

20. Ownership / Accountability

“When a team, and especially a leader, takes ownership of its problems, the problem gets solved. It is true on the battlefield, it is true in business, and it is true in life.”

-Jocko Willink, former member of the United States Navy

“Leaders who take ownership and are accountable for their work can quickly implement any successes, as well as learn from any failures. Beyond making or saving a company hundreds of thousands, these leaders also typically develop their employees to do the same.”

-Micah Pratt, Director of Medicare Health Plans

21. Motivation

“To be a leader, you have to make people want to follow you, and nobody wants to follow someone who doesn’t know where he is going.”

-Joe Namath, former professional player in the National Football League

“Great leaders are motivators. This leadership quality can be spotted as early on as the job interview, where indicators of these qualities include asking great questions and showing a positive, can-do attitude. They demonstrate a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get things done and understand the importance of working with others as well as working hard on their own. They genuinely want to be engaged and involved in a business’s growth and have a great attitude and approach to helping the business grow and expand in the long run.”

-Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation

“The ability to praise is one of the most underrated leadership qualities out there. Recognition and appreciation serve to not only motivate and boost employee morale but also make employees continue to strive to impress you. It creates a mutual respect; I work for them just as much as they work for me.”

-Lena Requist, President of ONTRAPORT

 

Do you agree with these leadership qualities? Is there one that we missed but you think is worth mentioning? Let us know @kununu_US!

 

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Linda Le Phan is the Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. That means that everything on the editorial calendar goes through her (want to write for us? learn more here). When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.

 

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