Leadership qualities are some of the most difficult soft skills to assess. Everyone has their own style, and “leadership” is already a pretty subjective term—it can mean everything from just having a fancy title to inspiring team members who are your equals. But even if there’s not one true definition, there are some core qualities that can help you measure your strength as a leader.
1. Do you truly value other people as humans?
Managers who see their team members as a resource, or pieces of a machine, are not among the most productive or successful leaders. If you listen to others, genuinely taking their feedback and concerns into account and understanding their basic humanity (mistakes, quirks, all the good stuff that make us human), it makes you a more empathetic leader. Active listening (without judgment) is one of the most effective leadership qualities you can have.
2. Do you understand others’ emotions, as well as your own?
Going back to the “humanity” issue, being in touch with your feelings and understanding others’ feelings is a common quality in the best leaders. This doesn’t mean you have to overshare or cry at work; it can be as simple as acknowledging your own emotions to your colleagues. “I know I reacted with frustration, and here’s why.” “The announcement made me upset too. Let’s talk about that.” Being open about your feelings (though work-appropriate ones only, please) and acknowledging others’ right to have them is a nuanced skill and one that is valued very highly.
3. Do you encourage inclusivity and diversity?
“Diversity” is a big buzzword these days, but even though it can feel a bit jargon-y, it shows a rather remarkable cultural shift in the workforce. Clique-iness and insider baseball are out, and having a broad range of people, cultures, perspectives, and opinions is in. Building your teams and your projects around people who bring different skills and perspectives shows a deep commitment to teamwork. Finding a balance—instead of a team of yes-people who see things the same way you do—shows how much you value others’ input and viewpoints, and how much you understand that great things can come from unexpected places.
4. Do you look toward the future?
If you find yourself focusing obsessively on what just happened or what’s going on now, that can lead to a feeling of aimlessness or rudderlessness. While you obviously need to be able to synthesize what worked and what didn’t in the past and solve issues in the now, it’s essential to be able to see what’s coming up. Planning, setting achievable goals, and making sure everyone is aware and on board with future strategies is a cornerstone of good leadership.
5. Do you nurture others’ talents?
Helping others grow should be a priority of any leader. It’s against your interests (and your organization’s) if the people around you feel stagnant in their work, or so overwhelmed with a current workload that they have no bandwidth to figure out what comes next. A strong leader makes sure that others are not only working to their potential but also growing in ways that allow them to move forward in their careers.
If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, it doesn’t mean you’re simply a lousy leader or will never be executive material—it just means there’s an opportunity to build your skills to become someone people admire and turn to for advice and guidance.
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