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7 Must-Have Characteristics of an Effective Leader

Updated: Jan 25

Two primary attributes stand out for the most effective leaders: a leadership mindset and authentic executive presence. Most of us can further develop these areas as we continue striving toward excellence.

If you suspect that there's some overlap between mindset and presence – you're right. Part of having executive presence means thinking like a leader– and vice versa. But for this article, we'll focus on specific qualities that promote effective leadership.

If we trim it down to the simplest terms, leadership mindset means you:

· Are always cognizant of the big picture (the vision, the goal)

· Recognize you're leading the team (not a member of it)

Here are 7 characteristics to emulate as you seek to further develop your leadership skills.

For more specific information about executive presence, check out my e-book, Authentic Presence: Living Out Your Purpose on the Other Side of Fear, or download a free sample copy.

1. Keeps Top 3 Priorities in Sight

The death of many business executives and entrepreneurs is too much focus on a to-do list of seemingly urgent tasks. Organization and time management are essential to success, but if you want to be a more effective leader, don't become a slave to your task list.

Focus your time and effort, first and foremost, on your top three priorities. Take those one-thousand little things you need to get to and prioritize them appropriately.

Evaluate priorities and their alignment to your daily actions. If you’re behavior doesn’t align with your priorities, understand why, and adjust. What was critical yesterday might not be so urgent today, so adjust your focus every morning - Control your schedule or it will control you!

Most of the time, your priorities will be big-picture items that have real impact and real consequences. The smaller, less important, items can be addressed as time and schedules permit.

Keep in mind the Big Rocks philosophy proffered by Covey and prioritize them first.

2. Stays Focused on Driving Value

For most business executives, your top priority should be creating value for your customers, shareholders, and team members.

Exactly how you do this will vary from day to day – but the idea is that it becomes your daily focus.

An effective leader regularly assesses and reassesses what's driving value for customers (and if their company is hitting the mark).

When your priorities are in order, you spend more time determining what more can be done for stakeholders – and devising a plan to make that happen.

As you look at your priorities for the day, be sure that at least one of them focuses on value creation.

3. Delivers Messages that Connect

An effective leader wields influence carefully and intentionally. Whether you realize it or not, you're constantly sending messages to your team and clients. Not all those messages (and maybe not most of them) are motivational or effective.

Influence is where executive presence and leadership mindset directly converge. Authentic executive presence means you're comfortable in your own skin and in your position as a leader.

It also means that your influence over others is both natural and intentional. (More on this when we discuss self-regulation – characteristic #9.)

Whether it's one-on-one or in an official corporate meeting, when you communicate, make it your mission to connect with people. Banish corporate propaganda-speak and inspire your audience with your vision.

Motivational tactics of lesser leaders include intimidation, threats, coercion, begging, venting, and many other negative approaches.

But that's not you – or at least – not who you want to be.

Instead, be your authentic self. Be intentional. Let your passion show and share your vision.

Find out more about shaping your vision in the Authentic Presence e-book.

4. Recalls Company Mission Daily

Before you can motivate someone else, you must have a firm grip on your inspiration. An effective leader recalls his mission each day.

It's simply knowing your purpose, your company's purpose, and the purpose of your role in it.

Having a vague sense of your mission won't work because your buzzing thoughts and daily activities wash it away.

Effective leadership means hashing out your mission and creating a concise but powerful statement of your purpose. Then you must choose to fulfill that purpose every day.

That's how the great executive leaders do it. It's not by chance or accident (at least not in most cases). Every day, they're keenly aware of why they do it. It's an essential aspect of the leadership mindset.

When you know you and your company are making a difference, it keeps you encouraged and moves you toward your vision.

When you're living out your mission and purpose – you'll naturally and intentionally influence others to follow suit.

You can get more information about crafting a mission statement for your company (or your position) when you download the e-book.

5. Takes Responsibility as Overseer

An effective leader inspires others to action but continues to coach the game. Does a football coach hand down the play and then head to concessions? As business executives, we're sometimes guilty of precisely that.

Delegation doesn't mean hands-off. Leaders are responsible for maintaining company standards and professional expectations for themselves, their team, and related outcomes.

Your job is oversight.

In other words, effective leadership means striking a balance between abdication and micromanagement.

Ensure your team has what they need to get the job done. Monitor their progress. Trust but verify. Give them space to work but don't stray too far from the action.

6. Aims for High (Achievable) Goals

Ignore your team members' calls to start small. Often, fear, insecurity, and (frankly) laziness drive these suggestions.

What makes a good leader - recognizing that small goals hinder growth.

When it comes to achieving company and departmental objectives, an effective leader challenges the team to meet achievable goals.

Rather than judging your ambitions by their size (or the steps it takes to get there), adopt a leadership mindset and consider the larger picture.

Evaluate goals according to your resources, team potential, and time available.

At first, it might seem like a giant leap, but is it achievable within reason?

If yes – then it's a green light, regardless of how small or large it seems to your team. Now your biggest challenge is using your influence to motivate and inspire.

7. Commits to Self-Regulation

This is one of the most critical characteristics of an effective leader. It should be first on the list. However, the topic is heavy enough to warrant its place at number seven. I suggest taking some extra time with this one.

Self-regulation is grounded in authentic executive presence, which requires awareness and acceptance of your flaws, both personally and professionally.

Self-regulation takes humility. It takes strength. It's the hallmark characteristic of effective leadership.

So, what is it exactly?

Self-regulation is knowing you're responsible for your actions and the emotions that drive them – and then adjusting accordingly.

Far too many times, we blame other people for our emotions and the irritation or anger that pushes us to react (or overreact).

But effective leadership means learning to regulate what lies beneath the surface. This manifests as composure or self-control.

My most straightforward tip for developing self-regulation: exude (authentic) confidence in the office – but take time for private reflection.

If you don't process your emotions (and yes, guys, we have them too), they will spill over eventually – and often at the most inopportune time and place.

Evaluate your day and associated emotions. Mediate, ponder, pray – whatever suits you.

If you're drawing from a more extensive emotional well fueled by the past, then it probably needs to be dealt with. Seek counseling to help you process and heal.

You don't want the past to hinder your path to success.

Again, I have much more to say about self-regulation in my e-book, so check it out if you want more information.

Develop a Leadership Mindset Through Authentic Executive Presence

Most of the leadership skills and qualities outlined above come more easily as you learn to accept yourself (flaws and all).

When you have a firmly rooted identity, mission, and goal, confidence becomes a state of being. You just have it. You live it. It's not manufactured.

This internal freedom makes you an effective leader who exudes authentic executive presence.

That's when the leadership characteristics listed above become a simple matter of awareness. They flow more naturally.

It's also when your personal vision becomes an achievable reality.

Want some guidance to help sharpen your leadership skills? Ready to unleash authentic presence. Book a free consultation for executive coaching.


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