The top 5 traits of a successful leader

I want to start by dispelling a myth about leadership: Leadership is a skill, not something you are born with. And just like any skill, it can be learnt, honed and improved upon.  Now some of these traits may come more naturally to you than others – great! then you have a head start in those areas.

While leadership styles can vary greatly, certain traits consistently emerge among those who excel in this role. In this article, I explore the top five traits of a successful leader, some of whom may be familiar with and others not so, providing valuable insights for aspiring leaders and those looking to enhance their leadership skills.

1. Forget vision – focus on clarity

Whilst a clear and compelling vision is the foundation of success, depending on where you are in the organisational structure, that vision doesn’t have to be yours. Great leaders possess the capacity to rally behind a brighter future and comprehend the broader perspective, even if the vision itself does not originate from within them. They are capable of delivering results without needing the project, vision or outcome to be exclusively their brainchild. Exceptional leaders aren’t focused on satisfying their ego.

What distinguishes successful leaders is a profound sense of clarity: an innate grasp of the direction necessary for the project, vision, team, or organisation; an awareness of the potential risks and challenges to be encountered; a candid recognition of their own limitations; and, most crucially, an understanding of the essential team members required to achieve the goal.

Clarity holds immense power, as it magnetically attracts people towards you. In contrast, confusion fosters feelings of uncertainty and mistrust. As humans, we are naturally inclined to gravitate toward what makes us feel secure. Clarity helps create that sense of safety.

2. Effective communication

When you have clarity, effective communication is going to come more easily. Your mind is already focused on meeting what is required to deliver the objectives, and the outcome and make the project or task at hand a success.  You will be able to instil a sense of purpose and direction in your team effortlessly.

Empathy is a critical trait for effective communication. It involves the capacity to understand and connect with the emotions, needs, and perspectives of others. Empathetic leaders create a positive and inclusive work environment where team members feel heard, valued, and supported.

Effective communication also serves as a vital tool for resolving conflicts. Leaders who can empathise with their team members can address issues with compassion and fairness, fostering trust and collaboration within the group. By showing genuine concern for their team’s well-being, successful leaders build strong, cohesive teams that are more motivated and productive.

However, effective communication isn’t solely about the words you use or how you convey your message; it equally involves active listening. Understanding the delicate balance between when to speak and when to listen is crucial for one’s journey toward becoming a successful leader.

3. Accountability

Accountability is a cornerstone of effective leadership. Successful leaders take responsibility for their actions and decisions, whether they lead to success or failure. They lead by example, demonstrating a commitment to high standards and ethics that inspire their teams to follow suit.

Furthermore, understand the difference between accountability and responsibility allowing them to delegate appropriately.  They establish clear expectations, delegate responsibilities but not accountability, and hold their team members to high standards. By promoting this approach, leaders create a culture of growth and development that drives productivity and innovation. But all within a safe environment.

4. Adaptability

In a rapidly changing world, adaptability is a trait that sets successful leaders apart. Leaders who can quickly adjust to new challenges and opportunities are better positioned to thrive in dynamic environments. They embrace change as a chance for growth and innovation, rather than a threat.

Adaptable leaders encourage their teams to be flexible as well, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and learning. By staying open to new ideas and approaches, they can capitalise on emerging trends and remain competitive in their industry.

What underpins this trait is focus on their own self-development and continuous learning.

5. Relationship building

Successful leaders go beyond mere inspiration; they possess an innate understanding of what drives individuals and the challenges they confront. This fosters a sense of mutual trust, ensuring that those in their sphere feel genuinely valued and appreciated. Consequently, this engenders heightened productivity, enhanced effectiveness, and improved overall well-being among those they lead.

One often overlooked facet of leadership is the influential role of a network. Leadership journeys are not without their share of trials and tribulations, and having a diverse and supportive network can significantly bolster your resilience.

Furthermore, successful leaders recognise the inherent value of a network in propelling their careers forward. Such networks not only benefit their teams and organisations but also contribute to their personal growth, as they are constantly surrounded by other accomplished leaders striving for collective excellence.


Effective leadership is a multifaceted endeavour, requiring a combination of traits and skills. While these five traits – clarity, effective communication, accountability, adaptability, and relationship building – are among the most crucial, they are by no means exhaustive. Successful leaders are continually evolving, honing their abilities, and adapting to the evolving landscape of their industry and organisation.

Leadership is a journey of growth and development, and those who embody these traits can inspire, motivate, and lead their teams to success, leaving a lasting impact on their organisations and the people they serve. Whether you are an aspiring leader or seeking to enhance your leadership skills, cultivating these traits will undoubtedly help you on your path to success.

About the author

Rebecca Ann is a career expert and mentor who specialises in helping women unlock their full potential. She is the founder of The Successful Leader’s Collective, an exclusive networking and professional development community for high-achieving women and a sought-after speaker and workshop facilitator.

Read more career advice here.

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