What Leadership Qualities are Most Important? (A Top 10 List)

10 Most Important Leadership Skills

In my personal and professional growth I have learned two very important axioms about great leadership; it is the single most valuable commodity in the world, and it is the rarest commodity in the world. Great leadership can make a struggling organization great, and bad leadership can destroy them overnight. The reason great leadership is so rare is because it’s difficult for a person to have all of these required qualities in good measure, and also be in a position to lead an organization.

The most important qualities which define great leadership are empathy, accountability, a growth mindset, focus, patience, resilience, respect, transparency, communication, and a willingness to follow others. There are countless other qualities which contribute to being a great leader in addition to these ten. However, sharpening one’s skills in these areas will pay big dividends not only in business, but also in life.

The first three qualities focus on the personal growth aspect of leadership, the second three focus on productivity, and the final four focus on relationships with others.


A great leader must be able to see things through the perspectives of others. Instead of being judgmental, having a measure of self-control to dig deeper to understand why someone may have made a decision the way they did, or why they spoke to you in that rude tone. Having empathy is incredibly valuable in so many aspects of life, and leadership is certainly no exception. If someone were to ask me what is the one thing I could do to become a better leader and a better person, I would answer without hesitation; work on being more empathetic to people.


Own your mistakes and do so in front of your peers. In a world where people have a non-stop conveyor belt of excuses at the ready for failures, you can surprise everyone by taking ownership of your mistakes and eschewing excuses. It’s honestly refreshing when people do. Not only that, refusing to use excuses means your subconscious mind will stop looking for them, and will start looking how to improve instead. Owning your words, mistakes, and actions and doing so in front of others will build your accountability, and demonstrate your integrity. People follow authority because they have to, people will follow integrity because they want to.

A Growth Mindset

If you have empathy, accountability, and a growth mindset there is almost nothing you cannot accomplish. These three skills alone will allow you to develop and improve every other skill on this list. A growth mindset means personal growth, professional growth, and also helping others to grow. One of the single greatest thing you can do as a leader is invest in future leaders and help coach them to greatness. Growth never stops, and you are never finished. Adopt this mindset and help build that mindset up in others, and there is no limit to your potential!


The first three qualities touched on the personal growth aspect of leadership. These next three are about productivity. And the first of this family is patience. Have patience with yourself, have patience with the plan, and have patience with others. If you are doing the right things and leading in the right direction, the results will come.

In 1978, the San Francisco 49ers went 2-14. In 1979 they hired Bill Walsh who immediately overhauled the team’s attitude, practice methods, and team discipline. However, in the 1979 season the 49ers once again went 2-14 for the second straight year. In the 1980 season, the 49ers began showing signs that Walsh’s leadership was working as they improved to 6-10 that season. Although the fans were impatient, Walsh was not. He believed in his system and got the players to believe as well. Under Walsh’s leadership, the 49ers became Super Bowl champions in Walsh’s third year in 1981, and went on to win Super Bowl championships in 1984, and 1988 under Walsh.

Do the right things, and then have patience.


Things will go wrong. Expect them to. In fact, I read a fun quote recently, “plan for the plan to not go according to plan.” And it’s so true. There are so many complex factors, moving parts, and unknown variables, things will go sideways. That is when you as a leader to get to employ some lifelong wisdom provided by Napoleon Bonaparte, “[A great leader is] the man who can do the average thing when everyone else around him is losing his mind.” When things go wrong, that is a gift-wrapped opportunity for you to practice resilience, and inspire others around you to do so as well.

“[A great leader is] the man who can do the average thing when everyone else around him is losing his mind.”

-Napoleon Bonaparte-


There is a story about Bill Gates and Warren Buffet at a social function when a reporter approached them and said, “I am sorry to interrupt two of the most successful men in the world, but if I may just ask one question. What would you both consider the key to success?” Both men looked at the reporter, and in unison said, “focus.”

I’m going to spit some facts for you. “Being good at multi-tasking” is a lie. The key to productivity is picking out the two or three things which will make the most impact on your goals and devoting all of your energy to getting those things done.

Another story occurs around John D. Rockefeller when a man once approached him with an envelope labeled “The Secret to Success” and he told Rockefeller he would sell him the envelope for $25,000. Rockefeller asked him, “how do I know what’s in the envelope is genuine?” The man replied, “if you open this envelope and find the contents are, in fact, the secret to success then you will pay me $25,000 otherwise you owe me nothing.”

Rockefeller agreed. Opened the envelope, smiled at the man and then told his assistant to write the man a check for $25,000. So what was inside the envelope? Simply a note that read, “Make a list of things you need to do, and do them.” Focus is that important.


The final four are recommendations on fostering good interpersonal relationships as a leader.

Respect others. Respect their time, respect their effort, and respect who they are as a person. A lot of leaders make the mistake of wanting obedient, little robots working under them but this is absolutely the wrong approach. Respect, and appreciate, that people are different. They can bring fresh perspectives, fresh ideas, and can approach problems from a different lens than you. This is a good thing. Giving them a space to make mistakes, have bad ideas, and even the space to deal with personal crises is making a huge, but invaluable investment in your peers.


This quality manifests in a few different ways. Be transparent about organizational goals and how it relates to tasks. It’s not enough to delegate tasks, explaining the “why” and how it relates to the greater mission gives workers a sense of purpose and that their work actually matters in moving the organization closer to its goals.

Be transparent in your speech and behavior. As referenced above, when you make mistakes, own them. Be transparent when you have let the team down, and be transparent with peers if they need to improve their performance in some key area you have identified. But most importantly, hold yourself to the same standards you hold others


I cannot overemphasize this point. Effective communication is the cornerstone of efficient teamwork. Effective communication has two equally important components; one is the actual, clear communication of directives, expectations, project success criteria. And the second is having built trust and rapport with those you are communicating with. You can be the most effective communicator in the world, but people will not want to work with you if you’re unpleasant.

I worked with someone who used to fuss, berate, and talk down to people when they would ask questions trying to clarify project scope or requirements. Then he would fuss when projects would fail saying, “if you are unsure about something you need to ask me.” I am sure you will see the irony that people would ask, then he would make it an unpleasant experience for them. Communicate well, and work to create an environment where people feel comfortable communicating.

Willingness to Follow Others

A huge, underrated and underappreciated aspect of leadership is working to develop future leaders. When you take the approach that success means moving the organization forward regardless of who gets the credit, working to develop future leaders becomes a natural, emergent practice. Being a good leader also means being a good follower.

Whether its encouraging someone on your team to take the lead on a project, or helping someone grow into a leadership position, investing in future leaders will pay huge dividends for your organization.

As always, we want to remind you the journey of person growth is never finished. Continue your reading, studying, and creating more efficient habits!

Erik Murrah

Author, nerd, chess player, artist, business owner, runner, mediocre philosopher, outdoorsman. Creator of the Arise Tribe.

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