Leadership Qualities

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Want to be a laudable leader? Study these characteristics -- and the wise words of leaders who strive to embody them.
22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader
Image credit: Getty Images | Thomas Barwick
Magazine Contributor
12 min read

This story appears in the March 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Focus

Focus
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“It’s been said that leadership is making important but unpopular decisions. That’s certainly a partial truth, but I think it underscores the importance of focus. To be a good leader, you cannot major in minor things, and you must be less distracted than your competition. To get the few critical things done, you must develop incredible selective ignorance. Otherwise, the trivial will drown you.”

—Tim Ferriss, bestselling author, host of The Tim Ferriss Show 

Offer: Get The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss as a free audiobook with a 30-day free trial to Audiobooks.com.

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Confidence

Confidence
Image credit: Storyblocks

“A leader instills confidence and ‘followership’ by having a clear vision, showing empathy and being a strong coach. As a female leader, to be recognized I feel I have to show up with swagger and assertiveness, yet always try to maintain my Southern upbringing, which underscores kindness and generosity. The two work well together in gaining respect.”

—Barri Rafferty, CEO, Ketchum North America

Related: 10 Books Every Leader Should Read to Be Successful

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Transparency

Transparency
Image credit: Shutterstock

“I’ve never bought into the concept of ‘wearing the mask.’ As a leader, the only way I know how to engender trust and buy-in from my team and with my colleagues is to be 100 percent authentically me—open, sometimes flawed, but always passionate about our work. It has allowed me the freedom to be fully present and consistent. They know what they’re getting at all times. No surprises.”

—Keri Potts, senior director of public relations, ESPN

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Integrity

Integrity
Image credit: Shutterstock

“Our employees are a direct reflection of the values we embody as leaders. If we’re playing from a reactive and obsolete playbook of needing to be right instead of doing what’s right, then we limit the full potential of our business and lose quality talent. If you focus on becoming authentic in all your interactions, that will rub off on your business and your culture, and the rest takes care of itself.”

—Gunnar Lovelace, co-CEO and cofounder, Thrive Market

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Inspiration

Inspiration
Image credit: Shutterstock

“People always say I’m a self-made man. But there is no such thing. Leaders aren’t self-made; they are driven. I arrived in America with no money or any belongings besides my gym bag, but I can’t say I came with nothing: Others gave me great inspiration and fantastic advice, and I was fueled by my beliefs and an internal drive and passion. That’s why I’m always willing to  offer motivation—to friends or strangers on Reddit. I know the power of inspiration, and if someone can stand on my shoulders to achieve greatness, I’m more than willing to help them up.” 

—Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor of California

Read This: Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger | Amazon | Indigo.ca | Barnes & Noble 

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Passion

Passion
Image credit: Getty Images

“You must love what you do. In order to be truly successful at something, you must obsess over it and let it consume you. No matter how successful your business might become, you are never satisfied and constantly push to do something bigger, better and greater. You lead by example not because you feel like it’s what you should do, but because it is your way of life.”

—Joe Perez, cofounder, Tastemade

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Innovation

Innovation
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“In any system with finite resources and infinite expansion of population—like your business, or like all of humanity—innovation is essential for not only success  but also survival. The innovators are our leaders. You cannot separate the two. Whether it is by thought, technology or organization, innovation is our only hope to solve our challenges.”

—Aubrey Marcus, founder, Onnit

Related: 10 Leadership Quotes From the World's Most Influential Leaders

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Patience

Patience
Image credit: Getty Images

“Patience is really courage that’s meant to test your commitment to your cause. The path to great things is always tough, but the best leaders understand when to abandon the cause and when to stay the course. If your vision is bold enough, there will be hundreds of reasons why it ‘can’t be done’ and plenty of doubters. A lot of things have to come together—external markets, competition, financing, consumer demand and always a little luck—to pull off something big.”

—Dan Brian, COO, WhipClip

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Stoicism

Stoicism
Image credit: Getty Images

“It’s inevitable: We’re going to find ourselves in some real shit situations, whether they’re costly mistakes, unexpected failures or unscrupulous enemies. Stoicism is, at its core, accepting and anticipating this in advance, so that you don’t freak out, react emotionally and aggravate things further. Train our minds, consider the worst-case scenarios and regulate our unhelpful instinctual responses—that’s how we make sure shit situations don’t turn into fatal resolutions.” 

—Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is the Way and former director of marketing, American Apparel

Offer: Get Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday as a free audiobook with a 30-day free trial to Audiobooks.com

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Wonkiness

Wonkiness
Image credit: Storyblocks

“Understanding the underlying numbers is the best thing I’ve done for my business. As we have a subscription-based service, the biggest impact on our bottom line was to decrease our churn rate. Being able to nudge that number from 6 percent to 4 Percent meant a 50 percent increase in the average customer’s lifetime value.
We would not have known to focus on this metric without being able to accurately analyze our data.” 

—Sol Orwell, cofounder, Examine.com

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Authenticity

Authenticity
Image credit: Shutterstock

“It’s true that imitation is one of the greatest forms of flattery, but not when it comes to leadership—and every great leader in my life, from Mike Tomlin to Olympic ski coach Scott Rawles, led from a place of authenticity. Learn from others, read autobiographies of your favorite leaders, pick up skills along the way... but never lose your authentic voice, opinions and, ultimately, how you make decisions.”

—Jeremy Bloom, cofounder and CEO, Integrate

Read This: Fueled By Failure: Using Detours and Defeats to Power Progress by Jeremy Bloom | Amazon | eBooks.com | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Open-mindedness

Open-mindedness
Image credit: Shutterstock

“One of the biggest myths is that good business leaders are great visionaries with dogged determination to stick to their goals no matter what. It’s nonsense. The truth is, leaders need to keep an open mind while being flexible, and adjust if necessary. When in the startup phase of a company, planning is highly overrated and goals are not static. Your commitment should be to invest, develop and maintain great relationships.”

—Daymond John, CEO, Shark Branding and FUBU

Read This: The Power of Broke by Daymond John | Amazon | eBooks.com | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Decisiveness

Decisiveness
Image credit: Storyblocks

“In high school and college, to pick up extra cash I would often referee recreational basketball games. The mentor who taught me how to officiate gave his refs one important piece of advice that translates well into the professional world: ‘Make the call fast, make the call loud and don’t look back.’ In marginal situations, a decisively made wrong call will often lead to better long-term results and a stronger team than a wishy-washy decision that turns out to be right.”

—Scott Hoffman, owner, Folio Literary Management

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Personableness

Personableness
Image credit: Getty Images

“We all provide something unique to this world, and we can all smell when someone isn’t being real. The more you focus on genuine connections with people, and look for ways to help them—rather than just focus on what they can do for you—the more likable and personable you become. This isn’t required to be a great leader, but it is to be a respected leader, which can make all the difference in your business.”

—Lewis Howes, New York Times bestselling author of The School of Greatness

Related: 12 Things You Can Do Starting Today to Be a Better Leader

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Empowerment

Empowerment
Image credit: Shutterstock

“Many of my leadership philosophies were learned as an athlete. My most successful teams didn’t always have the most talent but did have teammates with the right combination of skills, strengths and a common trust in each other. To build an ‘overachieving’ team, you need to delegate responsibility and authority. Giving away responsibilities isn’t always easy. It can actually be harder to do than completing the task yourself, but with the right project selection and support, delegating can pay off in dividends. It is how you truly find people’s capabilities and get the most out of them.” 

—Shannon Pappas, senior vice president, Beachbody LIVE

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Positivity

Positivity
Image credit: Shutterstock

“In order to achieve greatness, you must create a culture of optimism. There will be many ups and downs, but the prevalence of positivity will keep the company going. But be warned: This requires fearlessness. You have to truly believe in making the impossible possible.”

 —Jason Harris, CEO, Mekanism

Related: Feeling Stuck? Here Are 15 Quotes on Creativity from the World's Most Inspirational Leaders.

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Generosity

Generosity
Image credit: Storyblocks

“My main goal has always been to offer the best of myself. We all grow—as a collective whole—when I’m able to build up others and help them grow as individuals.”

—Christopher Perilli, CEO, Pixel Mobb

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Persistence

Persistence
Image credit: Shutterstock

“A great leader once told me, ‘persistence beats resistance.’ And after working at Facebook, Intel and Microsoft and starting my own company, I’ve learned two major lessons: All great things take time, and you must persist no matter what. That’s what it takes to be a leader: willingness to go beyond where others will stop.” 

—Noah Kagan, Chief Sumo, appsumo

Read This: How I Lost 170 Million Dollars: My Time as #30 at Facebook by Noah Kagan

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Insightfulness

Insightfulness
Image credit: Shutterstock

“It takes insight every day to be able to separate that which is really important from all the incoming fire. It’s like wisdom—it can be improved with time, if you’re paying attention, but it has to exist in your character. It’s inherent. When your insight is right, you look like a genius. And when your insight is wrong, you look like an idiot.”

—Raj Bhakta, founder, WhistlePig Whiskey

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Communication

Communication
Image credit: Shutterstock

“If people aren’t aware of your expectations, and they fall short, it’s really your fault for not expressing it to them. The people I work with are in constant communication, probably to a fault. But communication is a balancing act. You might have a specific want or need, but it’s superimportant to treat work as a collaboration. We always want people to tell us their thoughts and ideas—that’s why we have all these very talented people working with us.”

—Kim Kurlanchik Russen, partner, TAO Group

Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Accountability

Accountability
Image credit: Shutterstock

“It’s a lot easier to assign blame than to hold yourself accountable. But if you want to know how to do it right, learn from financial expert Larry Robbins. He wrote a genuinely humble letter to his investors about his bad judgment that caused their investments to falter. He then opened up a new fund without management and performance fees—unheard of in the hedge fund world. This is character. This is accountability. It’s not only taking responsibility; it’s taking the next step to make it right.”

—Sandra Carreon-John, senior vice president, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment

Read This: Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Restlessness

Restlessness
Image credit: Shutterstock

“It takes real leadership to find the strengths within each person on your team and then be willing to look outside to plug the gaps. It’s best to believe that your team alone does not have all the answers— because if you believe that, it usually means you’re not asking all the right questions.”

—Nick Woolery, global director of marketing, Stance Socks

Related: 12 Daily Habits of Exceptional Leaders

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  • 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader
  • 1. Focus
  • 2. Confidence
  • 3. Transparency
  • 4. Integrity
  • 5. Inspiration
  • 6. Passion
  • 7. Innovation
  • 8. Patience
  • 9. Stoicism
  • 10. Wonkiness
  • 11. Authenticity
  • 12. Open-mindedness
  • 13. Decisiveness
  • 14. Personableness
  • 15. Empowerment
  • 16. Positivity
  • 17. Generosity
  • 18. Persistence
  • 19. Insightfulness
  • 20. Communication
  • 21. Accountability
  • 22. Restlessness
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