Great leaders inspire people to do their best work. Sometimes, they break the rules. Many times, they break people’s perceptions of what they are capable of. We follow leaders because they see a bigger picture before everyone else. The ability to see change, to buck the status quo, is infectious, but also necessary.

But what critical DNA makes someone a leader vs. someone who’s just innovative? There are a few traits that leaders exhibit across the board that make them different than the rest of us, but what are they?

They listen

A good leader listens to his team. They take the time to examine data, people, and problems, and make the best out of any situation. Because leaders are always in demand, it’s critical for them to take the time to sit down with staff and hear not just their ideas, but also their frustrations. When a leader stops listening, they isolate themselves, and people begin to think they no longer matter in the development of the company.

They remain humble

An innovative, great leader recognizes that much of their success is due to working with the right people. Big ego’s poison everything from relationships, to bands, to the culture around an office. Being a humble leader allows you to focus on the development of your employees.

They’re empathetic

Real leaders know their team. They’re also in tune with their customers and their network. When you’re in charge, it’s critical to know if someone is in a rut, both professionally and personally. A leader needs to be someone that’s accessible, not this untouchable being that’s locked away at the top floor. Being able to discuss a problem at a high level makes staff feel important and that they matter. By being open and available, you’ll make a difference in their lives when it gets tough.

They want to inspire you

A leader cares less about themselves and loves to focus on you and your goals. A good leader sees talent, even if it’s not the exact talent they need for a project right now. They recognize hard work and unlocked potential. They see this and use it to inspire their team to think bigger and do more.

They’re honest

Honesty and integrity are the two most desirable traits a leader can possess. Without these, success isn’t possible. People don’t want to follow someone who is dishonest, they want to follow someone who they trust when times get tough. The best leaders are honest with themselves and with others. They always stick to their values and beliefs.

They’re willing to make the hard choices

Capable leaders make the right decision at the right time – even if others disagree. Leaders think about the effects of their choices, but once they make their decisions, they stand by them. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, but then he came back and changed the company forever. But, that change could have only happened under Jobs’ watch.

They remain accountable

A good leader will take the blame when something fails. Like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, leaders have to accept that they stand at the helm of their companies. When something goes wrong, it’s on their watch. But, more importantly, a good leader can navigate those tough times, and help the team move forward.

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They set goals

If you want to work on your leadership skills, set clear goals. Leaders see goals as mile markers for success and are dedicated, and sometimes obsessed with breaking their goals. Even if the targets are small, there’s a powerful motivator of continually moving the bar, if only incremental. Because the goals are set and the leader has a strong sense of self-confidence, people are magnetized to that presence and will be apt to help the company move forward.

They build teams that win

The all-time greatest leaders build teams that last. Leaders know when someone is a contributor they need on their team. They inspire others and motivate their employees to strive for greatness. Leaders can move the right people into the proper roles that make the biggest impact on the company.

Leaders also understand they need to network, all of the time – not just to advance their careers, but for the benefit of their team. By creating a vast network, leaders establish relationships that could change the projection of their company, even if it’s just a meeting over coffee.

They never stop learning

If there’s one truth we can all adopt in our lives: it’s to never stop learning. A good leader is successful because they realize they need to continually grow and develop. Knowing as much as possible about your industry is critical for professional growth. Being knowledgeable in a few different areas is also a big help when networking, or just trying to think about problems from different angles.

What are your top leadership tips? We’d love to know what you look for in a leader, or if you are a leader, what you do to make it across the finish line? Hit us up on Twitter or LinkedIn. For everything else, there’s the ScaleFactor blog.

Derek Felderhoff &Derek Felderhoff
Director of People

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