7 Essential Leadership Qualities illustrated graphic

The 7 Most Essential Characteristics of a Good Leader

The Bailey Group | March 14, 2023 | Blog | 16 minute read

The modern world looks significantly different than it did only five years ago. The emergence of a smarter, more connected world has dramatically changed both customer and employee expectations, while successive crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertain economy have forced companies to stay on their toes and learn to react in real-time.

As these changes have shaken businesses to their foundations, the most successful leaders have learned new skill sets to become better equipped to handle emerging challenges.

In particular, empathycommunicationdecision-makingresiliencedelegation, self-awareness, and agility constitute the seven most important leadership traits in today’s business environment.

If you’re a leader looking to further develop these skills, contact one of our executive coaches for a free consultation today, or read on.

What are the best qualities of a leader in the modern work world?

A strong sense of collaboration and a commitment to psychological safety are among the shared themes that link each leadership characteristic together. The command-and-control leadership style that characterized successful organizations a few decades ago is now outdated and obsolete, unable to meet the needs of employees or the demands of the market.

Employees don’t just want to show up to work, work through tasks and go home (or log off). They want to feel like a valued part of a larger mission they can believe in. Additionally, they want their employers to respect and accommodate their personal lives by offering fair compensation packages while also providing the flexibility that enables them to tend to non-work priorities in a remote work setting. According to a survey from Bankrate, 55% of employees now say flexibility is their top workplace priority.

What makes these 7 Characteristics of a Good Leader essential?

Here’s why these leadership traits are among the chief qualities that constitute great leadership in today’s business environment:

1. Empathy

Roughly 9 out of 10 employees see a link between job satisfaction and empathetic leadership, according to a survey from EY. Empathy refers to the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel and to see things from their point of view. Empathetic leaders can examine circumstances from the perspective of others and understand their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes toward a given situation. Empathy is critical to good leadership because it creates an open and psychologically safe environment that lets each team member express their authentic self, free from judgment.

According to a survey from Harvard Business Review, about half of employees felt a sense of pressure to conform in their organizations, and over half stated that people in their organization never question the status quo. The ability to empathize with not only what employees say, but also how they truthfully feel about day-to-day operations and why underscores the importance and value of this leadership quality. When employees feel afraid to speak up about their opinions, an empathetic leader can sense that and work to create a more empowering environment for them to speak their minds. Rather than taking everything at face value, empathy provides insight to new opportunities.


  • Empathetic workplaces make each employee feel valued, respected, and safe, which is important to satisfaction and engagement.
  • These types of work environments are typically more innovative because they encourage employees to bring new ideas to the surface without fear of judgment or punishment.
  • Organizations with a strong culture of understanding and compassion are better able to attract, hire, and retain top talent.


  • Empathetic leaders might become too bogged down in the personal lives of their employees, making it harder for them to focus on their own responsibilities. The best leaders will find the right balance.
  • Leaders might become too close personally with their direct reports, hindering their ability to make difficult decisions, like passing someone for a promotion. Again, good leaders learn to be “compassionate witnesses” to their employees’ personal challenges, without becoming too enmeshed.
  • Excessively investing in the emotional needs of others can also be draining, and this can create undue stress for the empathetic leader.

2. Communication

Strong communication skills are a critical competency in the toolkit of an effective leader. This skill enables great leaders to convey ideas, visions, and strategies, while at the same time building a shared sense of community and purpose on the team. How a leader says something can be almost as important as what they say, because the most engaged employees will be able to easily discern their level of authenticity. Pairing the Empathy leadership quality with a focus on improved communication can be a powerfully effective combination. When a leader’s words demonstrate that they have heard and evaluated what others have communicated, their team is more likely to listen and follow.

Of course, listening is the fundamental counterpart to good communication, and it’s what separates average leaders with their own good ideas from great leaders who integrate the valuable ideas of their team.

While some people consider listening to be a passive exercise, many successful leaders use a practice known as “effective listening” to gain a better understanding about what someone else is communicating. Beyond hearing a person’s words, this strategy involves paying attention to other telling cues. Effective listening means noticing a person’s tonality, body language and the situational context of the conversation. When you truly hear someone and convey back how you understood them, they take notice, which is what makes it such a good team leader characteristic.


  • Employees don’t want to feel like simply a number or a cog. Strong communication ensures that they are heard, making them feel like a valued part of the team.
  • Good communication skills ensure goals, plans, and expectations are conveyed clearly and accurately across the whole organization, creating a strong sense of alignment.
  • An open style of communication leads to a culture of general openness in which employees feel free to share their ideas, concerns, and perspectives without fear of reprisal.


  • While there are few disadvantages associated with good communication, poor communication (like messages that go out too quickly, frequently, or without coordination) can lead to apathy and a sense of confusion among employees.
  • A lack of communication manifests in poor conflict resolution skills, which can cause tension between individuals, teams, and departments to simmer if left unaddressed.
  • When organizations aren’t bound together by strong communication, cliques and favoritism can emerge, further deepening division and fostering intense rivalries.

3. Decision-making

Ultimately, your leadership team is your organization’s final decision-maker. Whether they head a team of five or sit atop the organization in the C-suite, leaders are the ones who must assess all the information at their disposal and make a decision that is in the best interests of the organization. Every leader is human, and at times, will have deer-in-headlights moments where the gravity of making a decision will feel overwhelming. Developing a sense of mindfulness can help leaders overcome these difficult choices — notice when a feeling of fear arises, simply acknowledge it, and let your values guide the decision.

Remember that the better informed a leader is about a situation, the better equipped they are to make the right call. Gathering many options for a resolution can open a leader’s eyes to choices they may not have previously considered. It’s important to recognize that while a leader is ultimately responsible for a decision, the people around them can provide unique perspectives that help shape a well-informed decision. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!


  • Put simply, great leaders know how to get things done. They don’t ruminate over decisions for longer than they need to, ensuring everyone around them can complete projects and advance goals.
  • Strong leaders are also good at staying committed to a decision once it’s made. They don’t falter and avoid the trap of looking for the best of both worlds.
  • Ultimately, because they don’t get tied up in the decision-making process, organizations with decisive leadership are more productive and efficient.


  • Leaders that are too quick to make decisions without forming a broad-based consensus risk alienating other stakeholders with direct (or indirect) interest in their decisions.
  • A deliberative approach to decision-making is advantageous, but too much deliberation can cause leaders to become indecisive and unable to advance organizational goals.
  • Leaders should also avoid becoming over-decisive, taking an inflexible approach to their decisions and refusing to adapt when new information comes to light.

4. Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of resilience to the success of modern businesses. Despite the eventual end of the public health crisis, businesses will still need to have resilient processes and plans in place to withstand unexpected crises with the least operational disruption. Doing so not only helps to preserve their long-term growth and success, but also demonstrates to employees that they can feel confident and secure in their leadership’s ability to overcome serious challenges.

Resilience is a leadership trait that rocket scientists get right. In fact, it’s the reason spacecraft designs improve after test failures. A rocket that explodes on the launchpad may look like a monumental disaster, but by embracing failure, engineering leaders use it as an opportunity to build something better. Without getting things wrong occasionally, it’s easy for a leader to become complacent. Resilience to adversity strengthens with every new challenge that arises.


  • The most resilient organizations are the ones that turn inward and focus on supporting employees throughout a crisis.
  • Employees that feel cared for and supported are much more likely to stay in their roles despite disruptions, creating needed stability for organizations in crisis.
  • Organizations that successfully withstand a crisis are better prepared to overcome new challenges again in the future.


  • The main risk associated with resilience is that organizations can slip into always-on crisis modes, creating a constant sense of uncertainty throughout the business.
  • Businesses that are over-resilient risk losing their humanness, weakening their connection to employees on a personal level.
  • The stress, overwork, uncertainty, and insecurity that are associated with highly resilient work environments can lead to burnout, absenteeism, and churn.

5. Delegation

Many leaders struggle to delegate assignments and responsibilities to other members of their staff. This is particularly true of leaders who level up from one leadership position to the next, like when a sales director becomes the CRO and must now focus on the priorities of the entire organization as opposed to just the sales department. However, delegating tasks appropriately is critical to the efficient operation of both leadership teams and the organization at large.

Effective delegation is a leadership trait that can help a business grow. A Gallup study analyzed Inc. 500 CEOs and found that those who were adept at delegation had a 112% higher median growth rate over three years than CEOs with limited or low delegation ability. What’s more, they were able to create more jobs than the latter group. By recognizing when an organization is missing someone with a specific skill set, a leader can more efficiently work to onboard that type of person through effective delegation.


  • Delegation of authority helps build trust and confidence between leaders and each team member, creating tighter, more productive bonds.
  • Spreading responsibilities around and trusting employees with challenging work takes the pressure off individuals to deliver more than they are capable of, allows employees to grow and develop, and keeps engagement and satisfaction high.
  • Delegation also creates space between leaders and their teams, giving direct reports the freedom to manage their responsibilities in the way they feel is more appropriate.


  • A failure to delegate can cause even a great leader to become overburdened with other team members’ responsibilities, leading to excessive stress and eventually burnout.
  • On the other hand, too much delegation can make it seem like a leader is avoiding doing hard work, causing frustration and even resentment.
  • Leaders might also pass off responsibilities to another person that they themselves are best suited to complete, putting the quality of work at risk.

6. Self-awareness

Reflecting on one’s own strengths and weaknesses is universally valuable for anyone within an organization. A strong leader is in tune with their emotions, and is able to identify personal biases and how they may impact their leadership approach. Leaders who can look at themselves with a clear, honest lens are able to put themselves in the shoes of others and empathize with how their own actions make other people feel and behave. For this reason, self-awareness is a leadership quality that plays an important role in emotional intelligence.

Identifying emotional triggers is an impactful first step when practicing self-awareness. Consider the types of conversations that tend to stir your emotional responses. What do these situations have in common? How would you more diplomatically resolve a problem? These are questions that a leader can ask themselves to respond to challenges in a more thoughtful manner. By better understanding themselves, leaders also learn more about the people around them.


  • A leader who is self-aware understands how others may perceive them in a variety of situations. This type of leader can adjust the way they communicate to resonate with direct reports more effectively.
  • Self-awareness is a key element of emotional intelligence. A leader who demonstrates high emotional intelligence is easier to approach and converse with honestly.
  • Self-aware leaders understand that they are not always right about everything, and in turn, they’re more willing to absorb important information and take feedback from others.


  • Being self-aware means admitting you are not perfect. Yet teams feel reassured by a confident leader. Confidence and humility can at times feel contradictory, so a leader must find the right balance between the two.
  • It can be difficult to recognize the power dynamic between a leader and the people they are leading. When employees feel uncomfortable being open and honest with a leader, it’s a systemic problem.
  • Some leaders believe their role is only to deliver orders for others, but in truth, it’s the responsibility of a leader to always challenge themselves to improve.

7. Agility

Organizational agility is not a finish line. It’s a process of constantly gleaning new insights, improving, and changing when necessary. In a Forbes insights report, Bosch’s Corporate Project Leader Felix Hieronymi noted, “You cannot become agile without changing your behavior and your mindset. It’s not about transforming the company and then claiming success or victory. It’s about bringing the company to a state in which it’s regularly learning and adapting.” His insight highlights that agility is not something to be measured, but instead, incorporated into an organization’s culture.

Quickly adapting to a changing business landscape pays dividends for forward-thinking leaders. When the COVID-19 led to sudden lockdowns, 74% of companies made plans to shift some of their previously on-site employees to permanently remote roles. It represented a massive operational shift that required agile adaptability in the face of unforeseen circumstances. By swiftly making decisions that maintained organizational efficiency, these leaders were able to remain competitive while providing true flexibility that their teams needed.


  • Agile leaders are prepared to respond to unexpected changes in their workplace, industry, or the world at large.
  • An agile leader can provide a positive example for their team to follow. They demonstrate enthusiasm for organizational improvement and inspire others to do the same.
  • Agility can become an important tenant of an organization’s culture. When a leader fosters a culture of continual learning, everyone benefits.


  • Leaders may feel more of an incentive to work with agility than others within an organization. It’s critical to show your team why their efforts to be agile matter and prove it with concrete examples and incentives to do so.
  • When a process works, it’s easy to fall into a rhythm rather than looking for ways to complete it with greater agility.
  • Leaders who value agility over all other leadership traits may alienate their reports. Team members can be confused or lack clarity when agility leads to frequent change.

Enhancing your leadership skills: The Bailey Group approach

At The Bailey Group, we apply the elements of our coaching method to our own internal leadership style, giving us an intuitive understanding of key challenges and solutions. We take a holistic approach to leadership coaching. Our coaching bench consists of both psychologists and former business executives to give our clients access to the broadest range of expertise and resources.

At the beginning of our relationship with clients, we ask probing questions to get to the root of their challenges. Backed by findings we collect from science-based assessments and conversations with their colleagues and managers, we build a complete picture of our clients’ leadership profiles, which we use to establish a set of defined goals. From there, we work in an ongoing capacity to help them meet their objectives, identify new opportunities for improvement, and overcome challenges as they arise.

“Through individual and group coaching experiences, the team at Bailey authentically connects with leaders in a way that fosters trust and supports them in embracing the gift of self-discovery, while incorporating current organizational priorities and focus areas into the coaching process. This practical and high-impact approach has accelerated the cohesiveness and transformation of newly formed leadership teams, with results naturally cascading deeper into the organization. We look to The Bailey Group as a true partner in our commitment to developing highly effective and highly engaged leaders at Bremer.”

Teresa Biss, Director of Organizational Effectiveness & Training at Bremer Bank, a client of The Bailey Group

Our coaches are committed to meeting clients where they are, which is important to our collective success. We never approach an engagement assuming we already know the single best approach; instead, we take the time to listen to our clients’ concerns and objectives and work with them to find a strategy that is best suited to helping them become better leaders.

Today’s workforce is fundamentally different than in past decades, so knowing how to adapt the ways in which you interact with other people can make a difference in your leadership. Explore our whitepaper, “Hiring, engaging and retaining employees in today’s workforce” to see how you can help create happier, healthier, and more inclusive workplaces.

Wondering how we can help you take your leadership to the next level? Reach out to our team to schedule a free consultation today.