31 behaviors of great leaders unveiled

What is it that exceptional leaders have that others lack?

Great leaders can motivate, inspire, and guide their teams to achieve outstanding results, leaving a lasting impact despite their often understated approach.

Unlike those who struggle to articulate their vision and foster meaningful connections, these leaders excel by embodying key leadership behaviors and transcending ego-driven perspectives.

Anyone can aspire to become an exceptional leader through learning and nurturing these behaviors. Let’s explore these essential traits to empower you in your leadership journey towards success and effectiveness.

What are leadership behaviors? 

Leadership behaviors are actions, techniques, words and practices that leaders use to lead, motivate and inspire. 

Some examples of leadership behavior include being empathetic, reliable, adaptable, and solutions-focused. 

If some behaviors don’t come naturally to you, that’s okay. They can be learned. Connecting with resources like an experienced leadership coach or a particularly great leadership book can be immensely helpful.

31 essential leadership behaviors every leader should model 

Excellent leadership is critical to building strong teams to drive high performance and reach your organization’s goals. The best leaders understand the core leadership behaviors, and they embody them in the work they do. Let’s take a look. 

1. Active listening

All good leaders are inherently good listeners, too. That’s because there’s no effective leadership without deeply understanding issues, understanding a variety of opinions and making informed decisions.

Active listening means paying full attention when someone else is speaking, showing interest in what they have to say and offering relevant feedback when required. It’s about knowing when to ask the right questions to reach the desired goal. It makes a difference in how people will respect and react to you. 

2. Leading by example 

Great leaders understand they are role models for their team members and the broader organization. They embody a company's values and strive to live them authentically daily. As a leader, you may be hard-working, dedicated, and have high integrity, and these values will transfer to your team through your actions.

You model the behaviors you want to see in your team. Whether it's showing up on time, following through on your commitments, or helping others in need, you demonstrate the behavior you expect from your team with your actions.

3. Knowledgeable 

To be a great leader also means being knowledgeable in your field. That doesn’t mean you need to know everything or be an expert. But it does mean that you take the time to understand your organization's operations, the key issues that relate to your role and the impacts of your decisions. 

4. Accountability 

When things go wrong, it’s natural to feel a raft of emotions—anger, denial and embarrassment, to name a few. Learning to be accountable at a young age will help improve relationships. We are all human. There is no point in pretending or placing blame. 

So, to lead well, it’s essential to be accountable when mistakes happen and take action to ensure things are done differently in the future. Seeing these moments as learning opportunities will help boost your trustworthiness. 

5. Supportive 

It's been proven that people tend to perform better and work harder when they receive the necessary support to do their jobs effectively. According to a Zippia survey, about 85% of employees take more initiative when given work feedback.

As a leader, you can help your employees excel by providing them with supportive feedback, the necessary tools to do their work, and assistance when they face obstacles. Regular daily or weekly check-ins can be a great way to communicate what you observe and hear and can significantly impact the outcomes of projects and the overall success of your team.

6. Reliable 

Being a good leader also means being reliable. As a leader, it’s essential to honor promises made—attending meetings on time, delivering projects efficiently, or completing tasks you’ve committed to. Be there when you say you will be there. Failing to honor commitments is the opposite of leading by example.

7. Empowering 

No one likes to feel like someone is looking over their shoulder, watching and critiquing their every move. Teachers who give their students the tools to complete a project, walk away, and wait for the completion are eventually rewarded. This is a sign of good leadership. Rather than micromanage, empower team members to work independently, make decisions, and take ownership.

8. Authentic

To have others follow you, respect you, and be motivated by you, you must be authentic, genuine, and honest in all situations. Acting authentically means being yourself in the workplace, being honest about challenges, and telling the truth even when it is difficult. 

9. Adaptable 

When it comes to business, many things are in a state of flux. Customer demands change, expectations increase, and new competitors continually enter the marketplace. Sometimes, it’s about seeing the possibilities of what could happen and designing a plan accordingly. Have some options in your back pocket. 

Great leaders aren’t surprised by change. They expect it (and plan for it) and are willing to adapt continually to stay competitive and lead their teams to success. 

10. Solutions focussed 

Deadlines will inevitably move, budgets may get cut, or a team member won’t be able to fulfill their obligations. While these situations can be stress-inducing, good leaders focus on solutions rather than bemoan the challenge. 

As a solution-focused leader, you’ll be able to shift in times of crisis and turn problems into opportunities. For instance, in response to a security breach, a solution-focused leader mobilizes a team, strengthens cybersecurity measures, and transforms the crisis into an opportunity for innovation and improvement.

11. Curious 

Effective leaders refrain from jumping to conclusions. Instead, they are curious and strive to understand other points of view by asking "why?". They explore the root cause of the issue and seek solutions. Being curious helps leaders recognize that personal or organizational problems are often complex and nuanced. This approach can improve decision-making skills and bring a sense of calm to challenging situations.

12. Optimistic 

Any leader must be inherently optimistic that change is possible. For instance, consider the CEO of a struggling company who remains optimistic about its turnaround potential despite facing significant funding challenges. If you’re leading your team to achieve a goal or vision, you must expect that success is possible and that your team are the right people to do it. 

13. Confident

Having confidence in your ability to lead others to success is essential in gaining trust and belief from people, regardless of your public speaking skills or extroversion. 

14. Continually developing 

The perfect leader doesn’t exist—all great leaders recognize that they’re in a continual stage of development. 

Being a better leader means committing to personal development regardless of job title or responsibilities. That includes learning from others, gaining feedback, upskilling and having mentorship to grow continually.

15. Purpose-led 

Without a destination, there’s nowhere to lead your team. Being a good leader means having a sense of purpose—an overarching vision, a specific goal, or a reason to be doing the work. Elon Musk sets ambitious goals for himself and his companies.  Being purposeful helps you motivate and inspire your team to achieve great things. 

16. Grateful 

Showing gratitude to your team members may be one of the most powerful ways to help them thrive. According to an American Psychological Association survey, 93% of employees said feeling valued motivated them to do their best at work. 

Being thankful and showing recognition can boost motivation, improve team culture, and increase employee success. Consider asking about each team member’s preferred communication and feedback styles. Knowing these can help you customize appreciation according to their preferences. For instance, some people thrive on public recognition, while others might prefer private acknowledgment.

17. Clear on expectations

No one can thrive in a role where the expectations aren’t clear. As a good leader, it’s important to ensure that your team members clearly understand their roles and responsibilities, where they can turn for support and what success looks like. Don’t ever assume. Sometimes, you need to spell things out for people. It may come across as being over the top, but can save some confusion later. 

18. Inclusive 

As individuals, we all have different backgrounds, beliefs, abilities, religions, genders, and educational levels. A good leader recognizes this and is inclusive in embracing unique perspectives, new approaches, and relevant ways of working that help promote diversity and inclusion.

19. Open to feedback 

While no one enjoys hearing criticism, constructive feedback can be beneficial. Being open to feedback can help you improve, stay humble and build trust with those around you. Consider taking the lead and asking team members for feedback. It will strengthen relationships and create ease when the time comes to give and receive feedback. 

20. Caring

It's noticeable when a leader genuinely respects and cares for their team members. Demonstrating genuine care for your team fosters feelings of respect, motivation, and encouragement, which in turn empowers them to thrive in their roles. 

Without overstepping boundaries, take an interest in their personal lives and significant life events. Doing so helps demonstrate your genuine care (beyond what they can contribute professionally). 

While it's okay to inquire about family, hobbies, or interests, steer clear of topics that could be too personal or sensitive, such as financial issues or relationship problems. Pay attention if someone seems reluctant to discuss specific topics (if so, gently redirect the conversation to a more neutral or work-related topic.

21. Collaborative 

To become a great leader, it's essential to acknowledge that there will always be people with better skills than you. Being open to collaborating with others can help you avoid working in isolation, gain unique perspectives, and achieve the best possible results.

22. Inspiring

People look to leaders to be change-makers and visionaries. You must first inspire people to work towards an overall vision. Inspiration can come through in many ways, such as being passionate, using a compelling narrative and clearly explaining why your vision matters. 

23. Vulnerable

Leaders can benefit from being open about their struggles, challenges, and experiences. Unfortunately, vulnerability is often perceived as a weakness. However, treating vulnerability in this way can be counterproductive. Instead, leaders should embrace their vulnerability as it can help promote trust, create a sense of unity, and foster a more positive team culture. It's important to remember that being open and vulnerable makes you more relatable and human to your team.

24. Creative

Creativity is the essence of innovation, progress, and solutions. Encouraging your team to be creative will ensure that you don’t just maintain the status quo but drive positive transformation across the team and organization. Find different creative outlets to foster creativity: vision boards,  creating a mural, or taking a pottery class. 

25. Decisive 

Leadership often requires making decisions with confidence, particularly in times of crisis. However, it is still important to consider all the available information before taking action. Having a plan in place for dealing with potential crises can be helpful in guiding your decision-making and ensuring that the necessary steps are taken. This can also help to promote clarity and direction among the team.

26. Emotionally intelligent 

Some say emotional intelligence (EQ) could be even more important than IQ in the workplace. EQ includes self-awareness, stress management, social skills and empathy. 

Improving your EQ can help you lead with self-awareness so that team members can thrive emotionally and feel psychologically safe in your presence. 

27. Relationship building 

As a great leader, try not to see team members as just another resource. Instead, they’re individuals with unique needs, feelings, and skills with whom you can build relationships. 

Relationship building helps you to nurture your team member’s skills and promote feelings of appreciation and safety.

28. Servant qualities 

Servant leadership is a leadership style characterized by leaders primarily serving their team. This could be through support, encouragement, and the promotion of employee well-being. 

While a servant leadership style won’t be appropriate for all situations, embodying some of the principles of servant leadership can be helpful. Consider how you can better serve your team through guidance, support, and offering your expertise.

29. Effective delegation 

While it’s tempting for a leader to take on endless tasks, no one is effective when overloaded. Knowing what to take on and what’s best to delegate is essential. This puts trust in your team and allows you to lead without overwhelm.

30. Resilience 

Challenges will naturally arise in any context or role. Resilience plays a key role in getting through these stressful times. That doesn’t mean you won’t experience stress, but you have the tools to move through difficulties and make reasoned decisions to benefit your subordinates and the broader organization. 

31. Customer-centricity  

Great leaders are also customer-focused. Considering the customer's needs, wants, and preferences helps you innovate effectively, provide solutions that fit a market need and continually please the end customer. 

Examples of good leadership behaviors in practice

Ready to take your leadership skills to the next level? Consider these examples as ways to put key leadership behaviors into practice.

  • Active listening: an employee comes to you to discuss a work issue. You refrain from looking at distracting screens, face the employee, and ensure you listen intently to understand the problem deeply.
  • Being of service: your team members work hard to deliver on a tight deadline. Although they’re technically not your responsibility, you roll up your sleeves on some key tasks to keep things moving and relieve some of the pressure on your team.
  • Curiosity: customers aren’t responding well to a new product release. Rather than jumping to conclusions, you remain curious and seek more information to understand why this might be.
  • Vulnerability: a new team member tells you they feel imposter syndrome. You assure them that you have been in their shoes and explain that having felt similarly when you started. Knowing they’re not alone helps to put them at ease. 

Striving towards excellent leadership 

As a great leader, there’s always room for improvement and growth. 

Continuous learning, gaining feedback from others, and having a mentor can also help boost this growth. Access to key resources can also drive success and provide critical value to your teams. 

At Pip Decks, we’ve created business recipe cards that are popular worldwide for helping highly effective leaders get the best from their teams. 

Whether you coach individuals, lead a small team, or run a large organization, we provide expert knowledge in handy cards to help you deliver more value. Learn more about how you can transform your leadership with Pip Decks.

FAQs

What are the seven habits of leadership? 

Some leadership habits have been made popular by the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Those seven habits are: 

  • Habit 1: Be Proactive®: focus not on what’s going wrong but on how to take positive actions to work towards solutions.  
  • Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind®: consider your overall goal or mission before starting. This will ensure you work towards a desired outcome.
  • Habit 3: Put First Things First®: prioritize essential tasks to be productive and efficient without getting distracted.
  • Habit 4: Think Win-Win®: be open to mutually beneficial solutions rather than being competitive when collaborating.
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood®: practice empathy to truly understand other points of view.  
  • Habit 6: Synergize®: understand that differences can be positive. Don’t be afraid to collaborate and synergize to get the best results.
  • Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw®: focus on continuous improvement (including taking care of yourself) to be your best. 

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