When you think of leadership, do you picture corner offices, flashy clothes, and large paydays? If so, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Real leaders lead by example. If you want your employees to put in the work to improve their performance, you need to take the initiative and work on yourself.

Leading teams (and especially organizations) can be demanding and time-consuming. With so many responsibilities on your plate, it’s understandable that improving your leadership skills might not be the first thing on your mind — but it should be.

Here are two reasons why improving your leadership skills should be at the top of your priority list.

  1. Ineffective leadership affects retention: 2023 DDI research identifies ineffective leadership as the primary reason people consider leaving their companies within a year. Leaders who perceive their company’s leadership as lacking interpersonal skills are 3.5 times more likely to want to leave.
  2. A Human-centered leadership approach is vital: Real leaders care about people. The study also outlines that CEOs need to evaluate their leadership culture and focus on developing leaders who adopt a holistic, human-centered approach that considers their workforce’s personal and practical needs.

Investing time in honing your leadership abilities will pay off big time! It can lead to better communication, more motivated teams, and smoother operations. Plus, it can make your work life more fulfilling and enjoyable.

So what makes a real leader? In this article, we’ll take a look at real leaders’ qualities and some bonus tips for improving your skills.

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Qualities of a real leader

Contrary to popular belief, true leaders aren’t born.

Embodying the qualities below will be the biggest difference between real leaders and cheap imitations.

To create this list, we asked other managers and executives about the most important qualities. We also looked at leading research on the topic and combined our findings to create this set of qualities.

Unsurprisingly, real-world experience and survey results provided similar qualities.

  1. Passion
  2. Encouragement and support
  3. Strong communication skills and a clear vision
  4. Approachable and confident

1. Passion

“In order to be a great leader, you have to be passionate,” explained Gabriel Shaoolian, founder and executive director at DesignRush.

Gabriel Shaoolian of DesignRush

“That’s one thing I look for in everyone I hire and promote. If you’re not passionate about what you do, you won’t succeed at much of anything because you’ll always be pushing through that lack of motivation and excitement.”

Being a true leader means demonstrating the behaviors you want your staff to embody. As a passionate leader, you must excel at igniting innovation and excitement in others, fearlessly driving disruptive changes within your organization and industry while deeply connecting with your purpose in business and life.

“Passionate leaders invigorate teams, facilitate meaningful connections, and drive results. Passion also helps cultivate a positive and engaging company culture. This is essential for business success,” Shaoolian continued.

2. Engagement and support

A recent study showed 80% of employees said they’d work harder if they felt appreciated.

Being a real leader means your influence transcends mere personal ambitions and responsibilities. Your paramount duty lies in comprehending and cherishing your team members’ distinct drives and motivations. Doing so gives you the power to unleash your team’s full potential and inspire extraordinary achievements.

Stacy Caprio of Growth Marketing

“Great leaders should naturally support and lift up others, as opposed to being hungry and ambitious for solely their own interests,” said Stacy Caprio, founder at Growth Marketing. Many people take the approach known as “servant leadership.”

For Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers, that means treating your team as if they’re customers. If they face obstacles or risks, align the proper resources and people for them.

“For example, if they are about to tackle a project they don’t have experience with, set up a meeting with them, you, and the most experienced person. Prepare questions and scenarios to ask about in the meeting,” Breyer said. “Being engaged and helpful will set them up for success.”

After all, your team’s success is your success.

3. Strong communication skills and a clear vision

It’s hard to rally a team if you haven’t communicated what they’re rallying around.

Craig Murphy, managing director of ALT Agency, leads a team of 8 web designers, developers, and project managers.

His first piece of advice for other leaders: be direct on goals.

“Have a clear vision that can be clearly conveyed, ingrained in every member of staff, executed upon by every member of staff, and be at the core of all actions taken by a company,” Murphy said.

Being a real leader is about communicating your vision clearly and from the start. Strong communication skills can ensure your team knows where you stand, where the company is going, and how they fit in.

Bret Helling of Ridester

“Open communication helps develop trust and a healthy relationship with your subordinates. They should feel comfortable in sharing both their success and problems with you. You should be clear about your expectations of them. It is your job to ensure that you and your employees are on the same page.”

Brett Helling, CEO of Gigworker.

4. Approachable and confident

Although these two qualities may seem dissimilar at first glance, their skillful balance will ultimately yield remarkable results.

Drew Fortin of The Predictive Index

Drew Fortin is the SVP of sales and marketing at The Predictive Index, a company that recently surveyed over 5,100 employees about what makes a great manager.

“Our research found that the best leaders have a strong work ethic, are honest, self-aware, confident, have a sense of humor, and maintain a positive attitude.

Being confident doesn’t mean you have to be serious. In fact, employees appreciate managers who are human, have a sense of humor and self-awareness.”

Being a real leader is about being approachable and confident. That means exhibiting qualities like integrity, decisiveness, and selflessness while prioritizing the needs of others.

“Without the ability to be selfless. To put the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to follow you to a place where they wouldn’t go to by themselves.

Paul A. Dillon, a consultant, and Adjunct Instructor, Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University

Bonus: Tips to help you be a real leader

1. Look for “best in class” leaders and mentors

Regardless of where you are in your career, there are always individuals who can inspire and motivate you to enhance your leadership skills.

Be proactive by connecting with peers with similar professional goals or finding a mentor. This mentorship could be an individual within your current organization or someone externally.

Many leaders credit their early mentors or peers for their success today.

“While I am the CMO of a 1,000-person company, I was fortunate to have gotten my start by learning directly from the company’s founders. Receiving their direct tutelage was a huge boon to my career, as I was able to pick up many new skills quickly,” explained Yaniv Masjedi of Nextiva.

Masjedi continued by saying one founder’s humility and open-mindedness made him a great educator and resource. It’s something Masjedi emulates with his team.

“I ensure that they feel welcome and valued at all times. When they have questions, I want them to feel comfortable asking me,” Masjedi said. “We are all here to grow and develop as professionals. Real leaders, in my opinion, empower their team members.”

2. Take a certified leadership course, read a book, or find a podcast

A certified leadership course can transform you into a real leader. These courses provide structured and comprehensive knowledge about leadership principles, effective communication, decision-making, and team management.

By completing a certified course, you gain valuable insights from experienced instructors who have honed their leadership skills. It’s also a great way to address tip number one.

If you need help finding a personal mentor, there’s an abundance of resources available through leadership books and business podcasts. These readily accessible materials offer practical advice and inspiring stories from accomplished leaders and serve as virtual mentorship experiences.

Embracing a leadership course, reading a book, or listening to a podcast allows you to tap into the wealth of resources available and will empower you to become an influential leader.

3. Encourage a culture of trust and transparency

Real leaders embrace honesty and trustworthiness. Building trust and transparency within a company involves being honest and conveying a sense of trustworthiness.

This is especially true when you are investing in new technology. Successful foundational change in workforce management requires leaders to prioritize trust, honesty, and transparency — particularly when implementing new technologies or policies.

As a leader, you must communicate honestly and transparently to gain employee buy-in. Another thing to note is that you cannot blame technology for decisions. You must accept responsibility. If you don’t, you’ll erode trust and create a culture of insecurity.

Employee trust is crucial for both individual and organizational success because it:

  • Boosts revenue
  • Improves job satisfaction and retention
  • Fosters creativity through psychological safety
  • Enhances mental health and performance.

That’s why top companies prioritize cultivating trust in leadership.

Be a real leader

As you can see, real leaders possess the passion, supportiveness, strong communication, and balanced approach that makes them influential and successful in leading their teams.

Improving your leadership skills should be a top priority. A human-centered approach will also help you improve profit margins, job satisfaction, retention, psychological safety, and overall performance.

Invest in mentorship, leadership courses, and foster a culture of trust and transparency to become a real leader who inspires and guides others to achieve their full potential.

Interested in reading more? Discover the keys to leading a mentally healthy and happy remote/hybrid team.

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Category: Business Growth