The right leader can quickly transform even the most lackluster organization by drawing on inner passion to inspire and empower employees at all levels. While top leaders might appear to possess natural gifts that are out of reach for the average individual, their skills are not as innate as they might seem.

Keep reading to discover what, exactly, sets the most impressive leaders apart—and to learn how you can develop these qualities to improve your leadership potential.

What Are the Top Qualities of a Good Leader?

No two leaders look quite alike. They are shaped by their natural abilities and their experiences in both the professional sphere and life in general. That being said, a few basic qualities tend to set the best of the best apart. These include:

1. Empathy

One of the most crucial traits for modern leaders, empathy fosters a greater understanding of what, exactly, motivates team members, clients, vendors, and other influential individuals. Empathetic leaders can predict the responses various initiatives will elicit while also fostering goodwill and strong brand loyalty.

2. Self-Awareness

The best leaders are in tune not only with the thoughts and perceptions of their cohorts, but also with their own feelings. These individuals are well aware of their weaknesses, and, rather than letting such concerns spark worry, they make a systematic effort to improve. They also understand their personal strengths and can draw upon them as necessary to achieve their goals.

3. Flexibility

Given today's staggering pace of change, it's more important than ever for leaders to roll with the punches. This means shifting their approach when necessary. Some situations call for staying the course, but effective leaders will know exactly when they need to move ahead with a previous strategy or change things up.

4. Communication

From leading conferences to composing business emails, leaders know how to make their thoughts and intentions known. Their communication skills allow them to inform and inspire all those with whom they converse.

5. Collaboration

The best leaders understand that they constitute only one small part of broad organizations or industries that require a diverse array of talents and insights. To this end, they emphasize collaboration and are happy to delegate tasks, rather than micro-manage employees.

How to Be an Effective Leader

Effective leadership isn't stumbled upon by chance. It requires a conscious effort to develop the traits highlighted above. Top leaders make a point of implementing these key practices as they develop their preferred management styles:

1. Listen

Comprehensive feedback is essential, as it alerts leaders to concerns they might otherwise neglect to observe on their own. As such, it's important not only to gather detailed insights, but also, to actively listen to them and, when possible, implement them in both big decisions and everyday business practices.

2. Don't shy away from failure

Stories abound of major failures giving way to groundbreaking successes. Rather than dodging or smoothing over mishaps, top leaders welcome them as learning opportunities. They're willing to own up when they've made mistakes. Most importantly, they use the lessons imparted by failure to shift their strategy as needed.

3. Develop a system for delegating

It can be difficult for leaders to know when to let go, but an inability to do so can destroy efficiency and innovation. Without a plan, however, the very act of delegating can prove time-consuming. Leaders should plan ahead so that they can quickly delegate based on talent and capacity when needed.

How Do Great Leaders Inspire Action?

Perhaps the most remarkable quality of great leaders is their uncanny ability to inspire action. With the best leaders, something as simple as a brief conversation or an email message can prompt an impressive level of motivation, ultimately giving way to action and desired results.

In a popular TED talk, motivational speaker Simon Sinek highlights the concept of the Golden Circle, which reveals why we are "inspired by some people, leaders, messages, and organizations over others." He regards the most successful motivators as those who focus on "why" before delving into "how." In other words, most people are inspired by purpose-driven leaders.

Sinek also believes that the most inspirational individuals lead "not for themselves, but for others." Often referred to as servant leadership, this approach involves putting team members first, rather than ascending to leadership positions for the sake of maintaining power or control.

By focusing on the needs of the organization and the individuals who make it thrive, servant leaders empower people at all levels—and spark a level of passion that prompts far better performance.

How to Be a Better Leader

It's one thing to understand the logic behind effective leadership and another matter altogether to apply this knowledge to your personal life. Leadership takes practice—and like any skill, it cannot be counted on to improve on its own when neglected.

Thankfully, a variety of simple strategies can be called upon to foster swift development. Many of these can immediately be implemented in your day-to-day life, regardless of your current professional status. Examples include:

1. Volunteer to lead small projects

No matter how much time you spend studying the principles of leadership, you'll struggle to put these insights into practice until you take on opportunities to lead. These don't need to be upper-level positions or huge projects. Take small steps with short-term, low-stakes initiatives at work or even volunteer positions. You can learn a great deal from coaching a high school team or organizing fundraisers.

2. Take on a mentorship role

From high school students to entry-level employees, a variety of people can benefit from mentorship—just as you can benefit from acting as a mentor. This is a great opportunity to build skills such as empathy and listening. On the flip side, you could also seek your own mentor who already occupies a leadership position. This person can help you grow into your new status as a leader.

3. Attend leadership seminars

When dealing with the daily demands of life, it can be difficult to implement the small actions that support philosophies such as servant leadership. Sometimes, an extra boost can help. This can be supplied by leadership seminars, which provide a blend of theory-oriented insights and motivational anecdotes. If you're unable to attend such seminars in person, try virtual events on Zoom or videos of TED talks.

4. Pursue a graduate degree 

Leadership skills are explicitly built into the curriculum for a wide variety of graduate programs. This is the case not only for specifically designated leadership degrees, but also for many programs that, at surface level, appear to focus on other subjects. Your graduate studies can help you develop better communication skills or cultural awareness, both of which are crucial for effective leadership in today's world.

Nobody is born a great leader. Rather, the best leaders draw on passion and empathy to improve their own skills while also inspiring others. With commitment and hard work, you could have all the makings of a remarkable leader.

If you are interested in learning more about the graduate leadership degrees offered at the University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.