How can I work toward becoming an effective leader?

Becoming an effective leader is an intentional journey that will continue your whole career – not just a destination. A key part of that journey is taking time to examine your past. We have to reflect on our victories and what made us successful in the first place. We also have to think about the times when we were not so successful and what we can do differently next time to achieve a better outcome. It is also important to make time on our calendar to reflect on past performance. As leaders, sometimes we get so busy moving forward that we don’t stop to reflect, but that reflection is what accelerated our progress into effective leadership

What Are the Most Important Traits in Leadership

Discover the leadership characteristics you need to become an effective leader

important leadership traits

Being a great leader requires expertise in a number of important areas.

There are a set of traits that make up a great leader. When you look back on your past successes and times when you may not have succeeded, you can deduce the values you possess and the ones you need further development.

Authenticity and Transparency.

This one is easy—be yourself, be real! In the popular sitcom “Seinfeld”, Jerry described someone he knew as, “Nothing but a phony!” You can’t be a great leader and be a phony—hypocrisy will erode trust faster than anything. 

Everyone knows you’re not perfect as the leader—none of us are. When you try to convey the image of always having it together, you only fool yourself. On the other hand, when you’re transparent in your journey to become a great leader, others will respect you and want to join you.

Productive Conflict.

Great leaders encourage productive conflict. Not the yelling, cursing kind—that’s not productive. I’m talking about the kind of conflict where you disagree, you ask hard questions, where you remove emotion from discussions, where you don’t have hidden agendas. Then, when it’s all over, everyone on the team remains friends. 

I used to work with a leader that would appoint different team members to be the “loyal opposition.” That person that would challenge our decisions during the meeting. Loyalty is the key word here. They are still part of the team, but they were to poke holes in our decisions in a good-natured way. When this exercise works, the team and the leader have to come up with answers to the hard questions. As the leader, I’d rather answer the hard questions during an internal meeting than at another, less opportune time. 

Great Leaders Understand People and Have Great Emotional Intelligence.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about emotional intelligence (EQ), and most of us struggle to define it. Simply put, EQ is being able to recognize and manage your own emotions (self-control), and being able to recognize and manage the emotions of others (empathy). People with great self-control and empathy understand how their words and actions affect others. Truly great leaders exhibit high emotional intelligence.

Inspiring, with Confidence.

Great leaders inspire those they lead. One of the best ways to do this is to tell stories that are laser-focused to drive home your main point. Stories—as opposed to dry lessons— land in a different place in our head and they stick longer. If you remember nothing else, remember this— powerful storytellers win every time. 

I’ve listed confidence with this one because I think they go together. You have to have confidence in your abilities if you hope to inspire others to follow you. If you don’t have confidence in yourself—no one else will either—and they won’t follow you.


There’s never enough time to get everything done, especially as a leader. The only way to truly scale yourself is to delegate. The tough part of delegation is that it is an act of trust. You’re taking risks when you delegate. You let go of absolute control of the project and your grip on the process has to loosen. You move toward directing outcomes, not processes. Eventually, you describe the destination and let your team determine the roadmap to get there. The best leaders are great at delegation.  


Very few things are as unattractive to your fellow team members as a lack of humility. As a leader, you have to have confidence, but don’t start believing your own press releases. Don’t sprain a muscle from patting yourself on the back too much. A great leader acknowledges success as a team, using the terms “us” and “we” more than “me” and “I.” 


Leaders have to make decisions. Often, these decisions have to be made with imperfect and incomplete data. Many decisions are made based on things you can’t find in a spreadsheet, such as, “Which of these two strong candidates should I hire?” Great leaders must have the courage to make the tough decisions that will impact the company. Following that, they sometimes have to take corrective action when that decision needs fine-tuning. 


When it comes to your attitude, your glass must always be half-full and you should always have a great attitude. When your attitude is in the tank, everyone else will go in the tank with you. I’m not saying to be blindly optimistic—you have to face reality—but you should always try to put a positive spin on things. As a leader, you’re in the reframing business. When your team comes to you with a negative attitude, acknowledge the situation and then positively reframe it. Present another way to look at the situation that accentuates the positive rather than adding to already existing negative emotions. 


A lack of integrity will sink your ship very quickly as a leader. As leaders rise up through the organizational ranks, the expectations for integrity rise correspondingly. Mistakes that are tolerated at lower levels of the organizational chart are not tolerated at higher levels of the company. 

You not only have to have integrity, but you must also make it a priority to display integrity through your behavior. You can’t have any appearance of impropriety. Make it clear that you are staying within the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Stay out of the gray areas—there are way too many mudholes for a leader to inadvertently step into. Play the ethical midfield.  

Developing Leadership Traits

Now that you’ve learned about the most important leadership traits, let’s find out the best way you can hone your skills

team members shaking hands at work

Leadership means you have the power to resolve conflicts through self-control and empathy.

Again, always remember that becoming a great leader is a journey—not a destination. If we think we’ve arrived—we haven’t. There is always room for further professional development no matter your successes. 

So what’s the best way to develop leadership traits? Let’s look at the Performance Feedback Loop: Act, Assess, Analyze, Adjust. 

  • ACT. Take an action as a leader. 
  • ASSESS. Assess that action. 
    • How did it go? 
    • What went well, and what didn’t go so well? 
    • Thinking of the parts that went well, why did they go so well? Let’s identify the things that were successful so you can repeat them. 
    • Thinking of the parts that didn’t go so well, why didn’t they go well? What happened? Let’s identify the steps that caused you to be less than fully successful, with the idea that these steps won’t be repeated
  • ADJUST. Adjust performance by implementing the improvements you’ve identified, and by avoiding unsuccessful steps. 
  • REPEAT. This cycle drives us toward a continuous improvement loop. You should always be striving for greater performance. 

A key part of the Performance Feedback Loop is the self-reflection you’ll do as you work through the Assess and Analyze part of the Loop. If you don’t have any time to think, you won’t grow as quickly as a leader. Busyness is one of the most insidious characteristics of many leaders. It’s so sneaky, yet can be so detrimental to our growth as leaders. Many skip it because it doesn’t seem like work. They think, if we’re not crossing something off our To Do list, we’re not really working. Self-reflection can seem as if we’re doing nothing—but it is so important. 

Leadership Training (why, how)

team meeting

Leadership courses with Solutions 21 are developed with the key leadership traits in mind.

Businesses pay for certifications and college degrees without batting an eye. Everyone agrees that these are important when stepping into a role. You have to be technically savvy. A great travesty of our business culture is that we spend a lot of money on improving our technical skills, and very little on improving our leadership skills. 

Think about it—as you move up and lead larger teams with more responsibility your skills change. As you begin to move and shake in a company, the technical requirements begin to decrease and our people-leading skills become more important. If you are leading a team of computer programmers, the science of programming becomes less important and the art of leading people becomes more important. Again, the science of the role gives way to the art of people leadership as we move up. 

Competencies change, but most businesses don’t invest in improving people leadership competencies at the level they invest in technical expertise. Vince Lombardi, a Hall of Fame NFL football coach, said: “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” This includes leadership training. 

How do you accomplish this? Think about it in these ways: 

  • Don’t forget: it’s a journey. It’s not a one-and-done event, it’s an ongoing process. This continuous journey keeps leadership concepts top of mind.  
  • It’s collaborative.  You should work with others and share ideas. Talk about it with your peers, your boss, and your direct reports.
  • It’s reflective. You should spend time in self-reflection. We consider what is going well and what is not going so well, and we make changes. 

Solutions 21 Leadership Training Info

Our flagship program, Next Leader Now, is a year-long journey with your peers. It includes interactive and collaborative workshops, synchronous and asynchronous learning, and individual coaching. 

By beginning the journey with Solutions 21, you and members of your team can take part in learning the key traits that make great leaders as well as structured time to reflect on your career.

Leaders accelerate the journey through facilitated discussions with their peers. They share their experiences and hear others’ experiences in a non-attributional environment where people can discuss and challenge ideas. This journey also includes assessment tools that are leveraged for self-discovery and further development of emotional intelligence. 

How to Implement Leadership Training

Leadership training is not a one-and-done. We may display a spike in our leadership at the end of a 3-day workshop, but those gains are short-lived without continuous engagement and recurring reinforcement. The best leadership training programs embrace the idea that it’s a journey, not a destination. We don’t arrive—we just continue to walk the path toward becoming a better leader tomorrow, than we are today.