Great leaders are hard to come by and even harder to become, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The world is full of people who have built foundations of leadership around a certain quality (or qualities) they possess.

For instance, Bill Gates became the leader in the software industry by being an intelligent entrepreneur. Martin Luther King became a leader to his followers by empowering them to fight for their civil rights. Mahatma Gandhi became one of the world’s most recognized leaders by inspiring others to live a life of kindness.

The list goes on and on, and – because new leaders are created every day – there’s no ending in sight! Do you have what it takes to become the next name on the list? Let’s find out by looking over some key leadership characteristics…

1. Respect

Respect is a two way street when it comes to developing a strong sense of leadership. You need to be able to give it AND command it. Just as you expect it from others, others expect it from you. How do you know if you’re respectful enough to others? Ask yourself questions like this: Would you want to work for you? Would you take guidance from you? If not, you may want to reevaluate how well you’re interacting with others.

On the other hand, some have trouble commanding respect from others. While most people don’t enjoy confrontation, it may be just the thing to help you get the respect you deserve. Speak up about what you want and need from those around you. Keep a firm tone, hold your ground, and don’t be afraid to present consequences for further disrespect if needed.


2. Intelligence

Don’t let this quality scare you off. To lead by intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean you must be extraordinarily “book smart.” Intelligence can be defined in many different ways, including problem-solving abilities, reasoning skills, or as having a unique perception (to name a few). Displaying even one of these qualities can help you accomplish goals that will put you well on the way to becoming a great leader.

problem-solving abilities are important in a leader

3. Responsibility

If you look it up in the dictionary, responsibility is defined as “the state of having control over someone.” What it doesn’t say is who that “someone” is. As a leader, you must know how to effectively care for yourself, as well as others who may be dependent on you. When it comes to responsibility for others, it’s important that you understand the difference between assuming control over someone’s care and controlling someone completely. Think of it this way: your responsibility is to help lead people to where they need to be, before they can go out and lead others.


4. Good Ethics

Simply put, one must be a good person before he or she can be a good leader. In order to lead by example, a set of ethics needs to be rooted in your personality and show in every decision you make. Leader’s actions are seen and often copied by many of their followers. This means that if you don’t live your life according to a strong set of ethics, the people you lead won’t feel the need to either.

5. Humility

Being humble means you’re able to demonstrate a low view of your own importance and admit fault when needed. Without humility, a person has a high opinion of their own self-worth and difficulty putting others first – neither of which are attractive qualities in a person, let alone a leader. A great leader lives according to what’s best for the many, rather than the one. Test your humility by asking yourself how often you genuinely listen to what those around you have to say. Do you value their opinions and skills, or do you rank them beneath your own? Remember, no matter what you think of yourself, there is always room for improvement.


6. Vision

Ever heard Gandhi’s saying, “be the change you want to see in the world”? Well, every great leader must begin by seeing that change – not just in the world, but in themselves. In order to be a great leader, you need to have clear definitions of who you are AND who you want to be. If those two people differ in any way, it’s probably best to take some time to work on yourself before trying to lead others in any way.

Once you’re content with yourself, you can begin to develop a vision for the world around you. Identifying specific, realistic goals that you can communicate confidently to others is a great first step toward taking action and bringing your vision to life.

vision begins with seeing change

7. Empowerment

Having the ability to empower others is arguably the most important of these seven leadership qualities. Why? Because an empowering leader can create other leaders. Very rarely are people born with a natural ability to change lives. Most people come into the world as blank slates who are then inspired to become great by some other person or thing. True leaders not only recognize this inspiration in their own lives, but also actively strive to be that same inspiration for others.


Whether you’re interested in changing the world, one person’s life, your own life, or your industry, these key characteristics will help get you there. And while there are undoubtedly more than seven, most great leaders strongly display at least one of these qualities in their personal or professional lives.

How many of these qualities do you have? Let us know in the comments below!

—Amanda Myers, Copywriter at BoydTech Design, Inc. and Former Member of the NSLS