14 Fundamental Leadership Qualities: The Traits and Skills of a True Leader
Leadership is really a very vast subject.
The leadership characteristics, style, situations and the combinations that one has got to exhibit his/her leadership skills are quite different and in turn are numerous in number.
Hence, I decided to flow down my thoughts through this article to explain a few characteristics which I feel that anyone should possess in order to become a true leader.
What You Will Learn:
- What is Leadership?
- Leadership Characteristics
- Most Essential Leadership Qualities
- #1) Dedication, Commitment and Determination
- #2) Leadership is a Passion
- #3) Ability to Take Lead in Unforeseen Situations
- #4) Being Bold and Leading
- #5) Hard Work
- #6) Finding Opportunities
- #7) Having Clear Vision
- #8) Walking the talk
- #9) Leader is a Mentor
- #10) Taking Ownership
- #11) Setting an Example
- #12) Quick Decision Making
- #13) Influencing People
- #14) Leadership is Being Fair and Unbiased
- What Makes a Good Leader
- Recommended Reading
What is Leadership?
Leadership can be defined as a certain set of characteristics or behavior or style that one exhibits on a day to day basis, through their thoughts, words, and actions.
List of good characteristics, behavior, action, and thoughts is an exhaustive one and it may not be possible to see them all in one person.
Hence, according to me, everyone in this universe will get on to the shoes of a leader at one or the other situation when life offers a circumstance or challenge to face and at that point of time,one does not have any other option to get out of it but to exhibit and play a leadership role.
When someone has the maximum characteristics from the leadership characteristic list, and if he/she exhibits them through their thoughts, words and actions consistently and repeatedly allow what may come, will not only benefits himself but also the surrounding people them, and we can call such a person as a ‘Leader’. I suppose there is no separate feminine word for a ‘Leader’.
At times the situation or challenge that nature poses us, demands to be solved collectively by a group of people.
These are the situations where just one person cannot address the situation. In such situations, it involves a group or a team to carry out the separate tasks by each team member and achieve success by demonstrating leadership.
Hence, it is very important for a leader to always back himself with a group of people, whom he thinks are talented, motivated, possess a passion to do things, has ‘will do’ attitude and can work in a team.
Identifying the right talent, coaching them, mentoring them and training them to get the work done is also a leadership characteristic.
Most Essential Leadership Qualities
Leadership skills and qualities play a predominant role in a leader's life.
#1) Dedication, Commitment and Determination
Dedication, commitment and determination to complete a task successfully and being always ready to face any kind of challenges is a Leadership characteristic.
Well, just a word of note, here I’m not trying to say or prove that I’m a leader by giving my own example.
I remember, I had crashed 3 laptops of my client consecutively while installing a CSR client on their laptops, which had crucial data from the live, by doing some unknown mistake and fell into the irritation and intolerable anger of my client.
The client did not allow me to touch their laptops anymore.
But I did not give up at any point. I managed to sit throughout the night and debug the problem and finally helped them to install the client on 15 laptops. So, here, I feel, facing challenges, dedication, and commitment to complete a task successfully is a leadership quality.
#2) Leadership is a Passion
Leadership is a passion. Thinking out of the box, being innovative, and going against the waves is leadership.
Here comes another example out of my own experience. When I picked up to do my Engineering, that too Civil Eng as my subject, in mid-80, where there were hardly any girls taking engineering as their career.
My parents, relatives, friends, college staff, including Principal, asked me not to pick up Civil Eng. They all tried to persuade me saying that Engineering is not for ladies and ladies cannot manage construction works.
But my dream to become civil Engineer, would never change with any amount of distraction and I was determined to do it and I did it. So, it is the passion that I had and I was ready to go against anything to achieve it.
I wanted to break the mindset that ladies cannot manage construction works. So, unless an individual has passion and is quite determined to achieve the end goal, we cannot call him a ‘Leader’.
Post that, when I picked up the civil construction supervision job at New Note Printing Press Project in the early 1990s, I used to manage the supervision of the entire site solely and I remember climbing the scaffoldings for the overhead water tank construction to check the reinforcement details at the top.
It is just the passion and determination that persisted me to achieve this.
#3) Ability to Take Lead in Unforeseen Situations
At times, the situation where we can show our leadership quality is known ahead and we are well planned and prepared to handle it.
But there may be certain instances, where we land up in an emergency situation and one has to take over the control of the situation immediately and handle them efficiently.
Subroto Bagchi in his book ‘The Professional’, explains about a boy on a bus who took the decision to pitch in as a true leader.
When a team went for a picnic, their bus was attacked by the villagers, as the bus hit an animal of their village (I think it was sheep).
Everybody was frightened looking at the outraged group of villagers and no one inside the bus could do anything except locking the bus from inside. The villagers were very angry and were about to hit everyone on the bus and they came ready with whatever they got in their hand (as weapons).
All of them inside the bus was really scared of the noises and activities of the villagers and no one could dare do anything. How long can they stay on the bus?
Very less time was left out, and before they could break open the door and break the glass windows, one person in the bus took the lead and with courage he handled the situation intelligently in calming down the mob, which helped the entire people in the bus to save from the danger.
Hence, this is the spontaneous leadership action that one could exhibit.
There is always a million dollar question, as of whether the leadership quality is a born characteristic or acquired later through learning? This is a very difficult question and has not been able to answer as either this or that.
Recommended read => How to Lead and Manage Test Team Effectively
#4) Being Bold and Leading
‘Growing plant is recognized in the quality of seed itself’. This saying means it’s clear that one can see a future Leader during their early days of childhood and their activities.
So, according to me, it is true that by birth one should definitely have the basic qualities which foster the leadership skills later.
Good attitude, ability to learn, taking the risk, being bold, taking ownership, leading people etc. are some of the important leadership skills.
When a group of kids are playing we might have observed, one kid in the group leading the entire team and the others simply listening to him/her and following his/her instructions. So, leadership quality in that kid gets highlighted here.
Leadership qualities cannot be taught just like a subject in the school, but leadership skills in an individual will blossom during the childhood days and become more mature as the journey of life progresses, by facing various situations and challenges that they have undergone in life and learned from.
Self-experience is never comparable to anything else. Again, just born with these qualities can never lead an individual to the leadership seat, unless he/she nurtures it by solving crucial practical situations successfully.
The lessons learned from life are the ones, which one cannot learn from books, to just prepare and go for an interview of a leadership role. I call these as opportunities. Unless these come on our way in life, we cannot prove ourselves to be good Leaders.
Also read =>
#5) Hard Work
If we read the autobiography of any leader, we can clearly see that almost everyone would have struggled a lot to get to that position and nobody was born with a silver spoon.
The more the struggles they faced, the stronger leader they are. There is no match for the hard work that they have put in and every bit of effort and hard work they did has really paid them off back.
#6) Finding Opportunities
Opportunities are the ones which really make a strong leader. Opportunities are not given, rather they are identified and utilized by an individual.
A true leader tries to find opportunity in everything they see and hear. They try to pave a further way from these findings and get benefit out of it.
People say opportunities knock the door, but I would say, that a leader, explores the opportunities, even if it is hidden deep inside the sea or sky. They see a huge opportunity even in the simplest thing, which a common man cannot see, understand and realize.
A true leader not just sees the opportunities himself, he shares these opportunities with others, makes benefit out of these and leads the road of success.
#7) Having Clear Vision
A leader needs to have a clear vision, take the team along with him during rough times, stand for them, motivate them, and bring out the best from them.
Nobody teaches these qualities or no one can read from a book and learn, rehearse and practice them.
Some of these qualities are inborn and are strengthened by the experiences of life. This gives confidence to an individual to face further tough situations and also enables them to prepare their followers to face them.
A Good Read => How to Plan and manage QA Projects Effectively
#8) Walking the talk
How much even an individual tries to show off false leadership by pretending, it fades away with reality and one can clearly make out whether it is real or artificial. So, a leader needs to walk the talk.
First, he/she should be ready to get into the fire, if at all there is a fire and encourage and give strength to the rest to get in, instead of pushing the followers alone into the fire and shouting from a distance or giving instructions to do this… or that.
So, it is not an easy task to make the whole crowd, follow them and accept them as a leader unless they walk the talk. It is always important to show the achievements in action or show how to do by actually doing and not just by talking or explaining.
When a leader does any work to show people as ‘how to do’, which is not even in the purview of his scope, his followers will feel the heat and get motivated to pull up their sleeves to do more than what they have seen their leader do.
People never respect a person as a Leader, if they see him just talking and showing nothing in action. Hence, a leader should always encourage his followers to achieve more than what he has achieved.
#9) Leader is a Mentor
It is quite common for people to copy from others, be it the way of dressing, talking, walking and similarly even Leadership too. We have seen children always watching their parents, for whom parents stand as ‘Leaders’ and knowingly, unknowingly, copying all those qualities, just by watching.
Hence, a leader needs to be very careful at every moment, as Being a leader, he is the focal point and hence must keep in mind that someone is watching him and trying to copy him and should always avoid doing things which are unethical.
The Leader who can set the course and direction for the sub-ordinates, should be inspiring and motivating others.
I had my boss, who used to come to work sharp on dot time and go around the tables. It is not just coming to office, but for all other meetings and every activity he used to be on dot. His time sensitivity was something inspiring to everyone. He never missed even a single day.
If he is not seen when the clock strikes, that means either he is not there in the office or busy with some external events. So, time sensitivity and time management is also an important aspect for a Leader.
Once, during the appraisal period, the management team was chasing managers for submitting the performance appraisals of their team members to meet their schedules by sending out the defaulter’s list of those who have not submitted.
So, it used to be common that Managers would go to individual and chase them up, hey! You have not submitted your appraisal yet and do it fast!!!!
But uniquely, this is how my Boss addressed it. He sent me an email politely saying, ‘I know you have already completed this. Please check if you have missed by any chance'. Look at the qualities here.
First thing is positivity, next thing is confidence about the person, and the third thing is getting the work done in a polite way.
These are all the small things, which every individual keeps observing with their leaders and matters a lot to them and helps in motivating them.
So, leaders should respect their team members, have faith in them and encourage them to do their work voluntarily and not by force.
Thus leaders are always mentors and leadership includes all these activities of a leader.
#10) Taking Ownership
Leadership does not mean owning a big organization or leading a team of 200 to 2000 people. It is simply taking ownership. It is taking any task to a closure from the beginning till the end, without losing the focus.
There was a case, where an old woman, with a son, four daughter’s and son-in-law’s died. There was no one who would come forward to perform her final rights and rituals on her death.
Ultimately, the last daughter who also took care of her mother during her old age did it. So, here it is known as ‘Ownership in Leadership’.
‘Do’ attitude is not common in everyone, everyone keeps watching when the other is doing but would never like to do themselves or help them. Owning the problem or task and completing it is Leadership.
#11) Setting an Example
If I have to explain how a Leader would look like? I would say, A leader looks like a God.
Because we believe that God possesses all the good qualities and he solves each and every problem. So, people also expect their leader to solve each and every problem.
A Leader needs to have patience, self-confidence, dignity, self-respect, and respect to others, honesty, transparency, what and what not??
So, the leader should always perform and set himself as an example to everyone always by having good thoughts in mind, expressing himself through good words, and showing goodness in his deeds or actions which would benefit many. That is the true leadership. This is what is also called as leading by example.
#12) Quick Decision Making
Taking quick and effective decisions during a crisis situation without being panic is a good quality of leadership.
Here, the time available during an emergency to think what is right and what is not right is quite less. The time will be too less to consult anyone for opinions, advice and to take suggestions and even help.
One has to take a strong decision based on which the success or failure of the situation depends upon. It is a kind of make or break situation. One cannot even estimate the amount of damage, in case if his/her decision or action fails.
So, taking the right decisions at such a crucial period is a good Leadership quality.
Some people cannot think and act swiftly at emergency situations. Only good Leaders can make the right decisions and they will prove themselves successful in almost all such situations, which in turn adds a feather to their cap.
#13) Influencing People
Influencing people is another great characteristic of a leader.
These days it is a very tough job to convince and influence people. With the development of technology, they have a plethora of options in front of them. They won’t get influenced very easily.
A true leader without making any attempt, or without even keeping in mind that he is speaking/acting to influence others will influence even the toughest people, and make them follow him.
Their thoughts, the way they present it and how they execute their tasks itself will influence the people.
So, this characteristic of a person becomes an important one in the list of Leadership traits. Earlier people used to have one person as their role model or influencer. These days, we can see people having multiple coaches, mentors, and guides in the various traits of leadership to motivate them.
In the olden days, it used to be the case where top position, job title or salary or even the age of a person used to be the criteria for one to become a leader. Nowadays none of this alone makes or calls one to be a leader. People weigh their characteristic strictly and they would never compromise in any case.
Quick Read => How to Keep Motivation Alive in Software Testers?
#14) Leadership is Being Fair and Unbiased
Sometimes, reaching the top by suppressing or pushing down others is the choice that few of them take in life to show themselves as leaders.
They try to defend themselves by pushing down the other person. This is an unfair attempt of becoming a leader and at the end, I’m sure they are not going to succeed.
Some keep boosting themselves, by highlighting every small thing as a big achievement that they have done, especially in the organizations and in front of their boss in order to please them and get good performance feedback to go to the next level.
I’ve also seen people going around with the Boss for a coffee, smoke or even for drinks in order to seek his attention. But Boss as a true leader will definitely ignore all of these if he/she is an unbiased leader.
Thus a true Leader never supports such actions of their team members and will always take an unbiased decision.
What Makes a Good Leader
We have learned much about Leader and Leadership so far.
To move on, let me further list the characteristics that make up a Leader or the ones that influence on ‘True Leadership’. The list is quite exhaustive and there is no end to it.
- Needs to be patient at all times.
- Needs to have self-confidence.
- Should remain calm always, especially during a crisis.
- Should be courageous, honest and should not be scared of any individual. (Courage is a topmost trait of leadership.)
- Needs to have good communication skills.
- Should be truthful and honest.
- Needs to dress well, and look good always.
- Needs to behave with integrity.
- Should never be biased in making decisions.
- Needs to be a people's person.
- Should always be open for feedback.
- Must be a good listener.
- Should not be boosting himself and should let his work/achievements speak for himself.
- Should be quite logical in his thoughts.
- Needs to take good control of crucial situations.
- Should recognize people.
- Needs to focus on quality.
- Should always focus on creating values.
- Should be a change maker.
- Should support in developing a good culture in the organization.
- Needs to Respect everyone, including nature and animals.
- Should never be partial to people.
- Should make honest decisions with a logic behind it.
- Should always Lead by example.
- Should be ready to wet their hands, if the situation calls for.
- Should maintain openness and transparency.
- Needs to build trust, focus on his goals, respect time schedules, be strict on lapses/in disciple activities and always support new ideas.
- Must build confidence and reputation with people.
- Should be very careful while selecting his team members.
- Must support teamwork and motivate the team to contribute towards success.
- Must empower their team members and give them space to think and be innovative.
- Must allow his team members to attempt and implement their own ideas.
- Should provide a learning opportunity to his team members instead of making them do the routine works.
- Needs to ensure that the team members enjoy their work.
- Needs to build a rapport with the team, and align himself with his next level people.
- Must build an emotional bonding with the junior staff.
- Must always encourage his team members.
- Should discuss the problems and issues collectively with the team. Take their opinion and get their buy-ins on the decisions.
- Should give freedom to his team members to discuss and debate.
- Should allow people to do mistakes and correct them with patience and ensure that they do not repeat the same mistake again and make them learn from their mistake.
- Should not make anyone single person as a ‘Hero’, rather, must give importance to everyone.
- Should never discuss the mistakes or weakness of a person publicly.
- Should not punish people for committing errors, rather should show them the right things.
- Needs to ensure that his team members are highly motivated, passionate about the work and have the right attitude.
- Should trust people but never let the mistakes to seep through.
- Should create openness among the team members.
- Should help to remove the fear of Boss from the minds of the team members and sub-ordinates in the team.
- Needs to be friendly with everyone and maintain an open door policy.
- Should always focus on developing the next level people.
- Must never transfer his stress, anxiety, and pressure to his team members and should be calm in conveying the expectation.
Thus, ultimately, True leadership is NOT a simple Facebook like or a twitter follow. Rather. Leadership is a dedication, Leadership is moving together and Leadership is sharing the tears.
It is all these charismatic Leadership characters that make a person, a “True Leader” and that in turn makes the people follow them.
Further reading => Things I learned in My Journey as a QA Manager
About the author: STH team memberGayathri Subrahmanyam is a Software Testing expert with over 2 decades of experience in both IT and Non-IT industry. She is a coach, mentor, and counselor. She says, ‘Leadership’ is the core quality of an individual, on which the success or failure of a task depends upon. Her personal philosophy is that ‘I can always learn, I can always improve'.
Have you been an outstanding Leader? Do you have something to share with us on Leadership? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!!