The 10 Traits of Outstanding Leadership

This article is for parents, teachers, counselors, small business owners, managers, or anyone else who interacts with others and has some influence over them. If this is you – then you are a leader.

Having influence over people isn’t just about being in a formal position of authority. This is part of it, but influence works both ways: kids have influence over their parents, students over their teachers and spouses over each other.

What is meant by ‘leader’? Ask a hundred people and you’ll probably get a hundred different answers, although many of them will be able coercion or manipulation, since this is the experience many people have had with those in formal leadership roles. A parent may try to force a child to tidy his room; a team leader might try to push a member of his team to make more sales. But to manipulate and coerce is to misunderstand what leadership is about and, in the end, is counterproductive. The reality is that people cannot be coerced. In his book, Choice Theory, William Glasser makes the compelling case that, even in the most extreme situations, people cannot be forced into things, and that, even when coercive tactics appear to work, they do not produce the best or sustainable results. People might comply to some extent, but they will never be putting their heart into the task so long as they feel forced.

The real, and often misunderstood, job of a leader is simply this – to put people in a position to thrive. When people thrive – when they have a clear sense of purpose and are successful – they are using all their energy, achieving more and contributing fully. So how does a leader do this? Here are ten behaviors of outstanding leaders. See how you measure up.

Show people what success looks like
One of the most common reasons people don’t thrive is simply that they don’t know where they’re heading – they have nothing to aim for, no sense of direction. Whatever it is, a great leader will paint a compelling picture of success and give people a clear sense of something to work towards.

Of course, you can’t force someone to aim for something which doesn’t interest them, so part of great leadership is helping people to find their own sense of purpose (either as an individual or within an organization). Sometimes, someone is doing a job which they simply can’t buy into, in which case a great leader would encourage them to do something else.

Give people tools they need
People often think the job of a leader is to solve problems. Wrong. You can never solve other people’s problems and you can never achieve anything on their behalf. People need to do these things themselves. This said, people need the tools to get the job done, and an outstanding leader recognises this and makes sure his people have the necessary resources to get where they need to go.

Acknowledge and reward achievement
We all need to feel valued. An excellent leader understands this and acknowledges genuine achievement, however small. The extra confidence that comes from being praised can make a huge difference in a person’s productivity and success. This is true in the workplace and it’s just as true at home.

Let people make mistakes
Whenever you learn something new, you get it wrong and you make mistakes. This is how everyone learns and there are no shortcuts. Because of this, a great leader not only tolerates mistakes but celebrates them and rewards the learning of which they are a consequence. A great leader knows that innovation always carries risk and that, often, attempts at new things end in failure. But failure is the springboard to success, and a great leader knows this.

Get out of the way
People are capable of great things if they are properly motivated. Many leaders feel the need to meddle and micromanage. But once you’ve showed people what to aim for (or helped them to clarify their own goals) and given them to tools they need to get there, the best thing to do is leave them alone and make sure they know they can come to you for help when they need it.

Ask questions (don’t give advice)
People usually know more than they think; the job of a leader is to help draw things together, reframe and put things into the right perspective. People don’t want advice – even if they ask for it. They want to come to their own conclusions. A great leader allows people to do this.

Be kind
This, perhaps, is the most important trait of all. We all want to be treated kindly and an outstanding leader is often simply a kind person. A leader doesn’t always know the answers (in fact, a leader rarely knows and answers and, often, there isn’t one) but she can always be sensitive and generous. Kindness simply means always having another person’s highest good at the centre of all your interactions with them. When you seek someone’s highest good, you are an outstanding leader.

Get to know people
Great leadership is about relationships. When your people trust you and believe that you genuinely care about them, they will thrive. Getting to know people doesn’t mean becoming a best friend – it simply means taking an interest, knowing what matters to someone and giving a person some of your time. In the end, the quality of leadership can be measured by the quality of a person’s relationships.
A good leader is there to help people thrive. Think about your own social interactions – are you an outstanding leader?


Mark is a writer and a certified NLP coach. Visit him at



Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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