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9 Leadership Qualities and Skills You Need to Be a Great Leader

Last Updated on December 8, 2022

Leadership Qualities

What makes an effective leader is not only their ability to inspire others but also their ability to work well with people from different backgrounds and cultures. A good leader needs to be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes and understand what they need.

It takes much more than just being charismatic or persuasive and there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to leadership style. The best leaders know how to motivate others by engaging them so as to achieve a common goal.

Throughout my career as an airline pilot, I have been able to achieve the rank of Captain (the boss, head honcho, big cheese, top dog, you get the idea). This was by no means an easy task to achieve.

In this post, I’ll be giving you nine leadership qualities I have learned as a pilot to keep my passengers and crew safe on a daily basis, and the best thing is that these traits work just as well from small side hustle businesses to large corporations.

Ready? Let’s Fly!

Which Leadership Qualities Make You a Better Leader?

When I came up with ideas for this post, I initially came up with 62 leadership skills that can make someone a better leader.

Now that may seem a little bit excessive (and probably impractical to try and implement all of them). So I’ve cut it down to what I would consider the most critical leadership qualities, and who knows, I may even add some more in at a later date as a sequel.

Developing Into a Leader.

While you may think that some people are natural-born leaders, the good thing is that you can learn to be a leader. To give you an example, as a teenager, I would be the kid that would be sitting up the back, hoping no one would notice me.

I would try to blend in with the rest of the population.

Then I took my first flying lesson (apart from the thrill – which I can still remember like it was yesterday) and I was thrown into the deep end. Having to talk on the radio absolutely scared the living daylight out of me.

What if I got it wrong? What do I say to this person who I can’t even see? What will others think of me and my voice?

Fortunately, I quickly learned that no one cared about any of that. What was important, was the safety of the operation and could I get everyone from A to B safely and efficiently.

Over the next 20 years, here’s what I learned about leadership itself, becoming a great leader, the problem-solving skills required, and how to get the best out of a team to achieve a common goal.

1. Communication.

Team Communication

Probably the most important skill to have if you want to be an effective leader. Without effective communication, how will anyone in your team know what your objectives are? They won’t have the clear expectations that you require and thus will miss the mark.

This doesn’t mean you need to be an over-the-top extroverted type (I’m a real introvert at heart). But you may need to adapt to the different communication styles depending on your team.

The most effective leaders understand that different people within an organization will all require different levels of information. Whether that’s technical detail around a project, or even a level of honesty between parties, knowing who you are talking to will make it easier to get your point across.

Of course, the other part of communication is listening.

If your team can voice their opinions, expressions, or concerns then the result will be a more engaged and motivated group. This will likely lead to an increase in productivity.

On the other hand, if you don’t actively take an interest in your team then they will very quickly close up and will be there to protect themselves. And then good luck trying to get any kind of favors out of them!

Those who can take the time to become better communicators will most likely see an increase in their leadership qualities almost immediately. Everyone will then be working on the same page and the operation transforms into a well-oiled machine.

2. Emotional Intelligence.

Otherwise known as the emotional quotient (EQ), it is similar to the intelligence quotient (IQ) test that everyone knows about. But instead of how smart you are, it’s how well you can react toward your team under different situations.

For example, a bad leader is more likely to start yelling at their workers when they are under a lot of stress. Whereas a good leader will be able to recognize the situation, stay calm, and be in control. They will then work with their team to help manage the stress.

According to Kendra Cherry, there are five components that make up emotional intelligence. They are:

Self Awareness
Self Regulation
Internal Motivation
Social Skills

The way it works is that the better you are at managing all of these components, the higher your overall EQ.

A good way to help practice this is instead of jumping to conclusions and blaming the situation or a specific person for an incident, try to find out what actually caused the problem in the first place.

It will help to gain your team’s trust in you and give you a better insight into each individual.

3. Decisiveness.

Being decisive is a quality of a good leader

A leader who can’t make a decision is very frustrating. This is because not making a decision is a decision in itself (and that’s not a play on words). Great leaders are the ones that take on those risky decisions.

So you’ll need to be able to justify your decision when the time comes. And it’s totally okay to change your decision too. Things can move at a fast pace and you need to be able to be fluid when you come to the fork in the road.

Of course, you won’t be able to please everyone. But if others can see that you have used good judgment, used all the facts to make a much more informed decision and it ended up being the right one then you would have earned the trust and respect from others.

But not every decision will be the right one, and that’s ok. What will mean more to people is if you don’t dwell on it. Acknowledge that it has happened, move on, and now you can decide on a new path.

A good leader makes the right decisions and doesn’t always take the easy way out.

4. Delegation.

Being able to delegate effectively is possibly one of the hardest leadership skills to learn for new leaders. It’s the art of learning to let go from doing all of the tasks yourself and giving them to other team members to perform instead.

This isn’t just so you can put your feet up and relax. The aim of being able to delegate is to allow you a bit of extra brain space and in turn that provides for better decision making.

This is why some Captains may ask the First Officer to fly the plane during certain emergency situations. It allows them to be free of that task and not become too overloaded when coming up with a plan.

When delegating, it’s important for good leaders to give their subordinates all of the necessary resources to complete the task. And once you’ve handed them the task, don’t keep hovering over them and micromanaging every decision they make.

This allows the team members to develop their own skills and shows trust in your leadership position that they can perform autonomously.

5. Responsibility.

As a Captain, you are responsible for everything and everyone. If a cabin crew member makes a mistake and accidentally opens the aircraft door when they’re not supposed to and the escape slide inflates instead, you are responsible.

If a team member accidentally adds an extra zero when sending money out to another party, you are responsible.

To get to the most out of this leadership quality, give credit where credit is due but also hold your team partly accountable for their actions as well. This will keep them in check and continue to perform the tasks to the best of their abilities.

6. Morale.

Team Morale is key to your leadership style

If your team members seem unhappy and productivity consistently remains low then you may need to look at your team’s morale and boost it if necessary. A team that is enthusiastic about their work will lead to an increase in performance.

Tips to boost morale include:

Recognize special events in your staff members’ lives. Things like birthdays or their work anniversary are good examples.
Reward your employees. This doesn’t always have to be an increase in pay necessarily. Perhaps they can have the morning off once a fortnight, or tickets to an event of their choice can work just as effectively.
Keep the communication channels open. Staff members like to speak their minds, so it’s important to allow them to come to you with any problems so you can both work together through it rather than finding out via other channels.

Boosting morale is part of the developing leadership skills required of a good leader to build self-confidence within your team.

7. Problem-Solving.

To be an excellent leader, you need problem-solving skills and the ability to identify problems.

Good leaders are equipped with this innate quality that allows them to analyze issues quickly in order to make better decisions on how best to handle whatever comes their way.

They are also aware of enough data analytics at hand so as not to miss important trends or what is happening around them. This is also known as having situational awareness and is something that is taught very early on in pilot training.

To help solve a problem, pilots use a mnemonic to help with decision-making when faced with certain challenges. This is a continuous process until we are safely on the ground and the threat no longer exists.

The same can happen in your organization. Here are the six steps to solve any problem:

  1. Gather the Facts.
    Figure out what is actually going on. What has happened? Collect all the facts to properly assess the situation.
  2. Look at Your Options.
    What choices have you got? Look at all reasonable options and determine if they need to be handled through a standard operating procedure (SOP), or are you going to do this without the book?
  3. Determine the Risks Involved.
    Take a look at the risks versus the benefits with each option you’ve identified in the point above.
  4. Decide.
    Based on points two and three, which option provides the least risk for the maximum benefit? It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan just in case you need to pivot.
  5. Execute the Plan.
    Let everyone know who will be doing what, where they need to be, and when they’re going to be needed.
  6. Check the Progress.
    How is the plan going? Does it need to be revised at all? Did you get the desired outcome from the actions you took? If not then you can always go back to start and go through the process again.

This cycle can be completed as many times as you need to get the outcome that you are looking for.

FORDEC - The Decision Making Process

8. Self-Awareness.

Being self-aware of your own limitations and always looking to improve your own personal development skills are key qualities of a good leader. Traditionally, successful leaders are the ones we look up to. They’re the ones who seem to have all the answers.

This is how they stay on top of the latest company memos and notices. They take pride in their work and look to better themselves each time they come to work.

To develop your own essential leadership qualities, look to set realistic goals for yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses and work on them a little bit each day. Accept that you may never have the “perfect day,” but if you achieved your main goal, then it was a success, and you should be happy with that.

9. Human Factors.

Human factors ties in with everything we have just spoken about. Being humans, we are prone to making mistakes. Good leaders should understand this and acknowledge that mistakes will happen.

Aviation, in particular, has learned a lot about mistakes that were made in the past.

This is why pilots are now trained to an extremely high standard with the “human factor” added into simulator sessions. We are not robots and so are not expected to perform like one.

Instead, the focus is on learning from our mistakes. Gaining that experience to make the operation as safe as humanly possible. It’s why standard operating procedures (SOPs) are so rigorously followed.

It has taken years of previous accidents and incidents to have changed the way we do things. So much so that flying is now one of the safest forms of travel in the world.

Pilots openly share their mistakes with the rest of the industry for everyone else to benefit from what was learned so they can adopt the same approach.

At the end of the day understanding more about human behavior and why we do the things we do can help relieve the stress and the expectation that everything needs to be perfect 100% of the time.

Leadership Qualities and Skills FAQ

What Does it Mean to Be a Leader?

A leader is someone who people are willing to stand behind. They have a unique set of skills that are used to get a team to achieve a common goal.

Good leadership qualities such as self-confidence, mutual respect, active listening, good communication skills, and more are what make true leaders.

What Makes a Strong Leader?

A strong leader will set the tone for the day. If they are enthusiastic about their job and generally have a positive attitude then it will flow down to the workers.

Strong leaders will have great communication skills and leadership attributes that resonate with their team members on a personal level. This will allow them to gauge their performance and work ethic.

What Qualities Make a Bad Leader?

No doubt we’ve all had some type of boss that continuously talks down to us or yells the second they get in the room. It makes for a very unpleasant workplace.

Here are five traits that you should never possess if you want to be an effective leader:

1. You think you know it all (when in fact you don’t).
2. You never support your teammates.
3. You talk in a condescending tone.
4. You lie and gossip about other coworkers.
5. You expect nothing but perfection (whether it’s for yourself or your subordinates).

What is the Most Difficult Job of a Leader?

There’s no doubt that being a good leader is hard work. There’s a lot to manage and oversee. But what happens when a team member’s performance continuously slips?

In my experience, having to let someone go is without a doubt the worst part of being a leader. It’s not a topic that gets brought up a lot, and for good reason. It’s a very awkward situation to be in.

To combat this feeling we need to find a way to deal with these types of issues. It affects us as individuals differently and unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all type approach when we’re put into that situation.

But now that you know it exists, you can mentally prepare yourself and focus on making the toughest decisions so you can focus on the important leadership qualities to bring out the best of junior members.

Bottom Line

It’s important to understand the difference between being a boss and a leader. Bosses are in charge of making decisions and delegating tasks, but they do not care about your growth or development as an individual.

Whereas leaders invest time into developing their team for the betterment of themselves and others around them.

Leadership is not just something you have, it’s something that you get better at every day, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not perfect right away, it can be taught!

Finding a leadership program to join can put you on the right path to developing effective leadership characteristics.

Remember, leadership isn’t the destination, it’s an ongoing journey.

Which skills do you need to become a more effective leader?

It’s time to be the pilot of your life and not just the passenger.

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