The 5 Most Important Traits of Successful Leaders

5 most important traits of successful leaders

When we think about a traditional office boss, the first thing that comes to mind is often some sort of hulk-like creature stomping around slamming doors and barking orders.

I once had a boss who was so loud and inappropriate on the phone that they had to actually build a sound-proof corner office for him so that he wouldn’t scare the interns.

I also once had a boss who every week, without fail, would wind up blacked out drunk under a table during our not-required-but-you-would-probably-get-fired-if-you-didn’t-show-up Friday happy hour.

We’ve all had horrible bosses like this – they’re intimidating, they’re ridiculous, they’re ruthless, they’re sad, and oftentimes, they’re ineffective.

How can we stop the stereotypical furrowed-browed powersuits and single, miserable workaholics from ruling the world? How can we be effective without being mean? How can we gain respect without making enemies?

Is it possible?

The five adjectives below should serve as a reminder for everyone. Yes, I mean everyone. You’re going to be in a leadership role at some point in your life, even if it’s not today. Whether it’s the leader of your household, a team of interns, or an entire company, everyone should learn the traits of effective leaders so we can all create more and live better.

Effective leaders are:


The worst kinds of leaders are the ones that aren’t even there. They sit in their corner office for an hour a day, shaking hands and signing papers. They know nothing about the people around them, and their favorite pastimes include cutting out early while watching their bank accounts grow.

These kinds of leaders aren’t really leaders at all. And it’s not because they’re rarely in the office. The equally ineffective leader could be in their office for 12 hours per day on phone calls or buried in paperwork.

You don’t need to be physically present to be omnipresent, and simply showing up doesn’t make you omnipresent.

An omnipresent leader is someone who puts their people and their culture first. They have eyes and ears throughout the company, helping them develop a clear picture of everything that’s happening (or not happening). They understand that if their teams don’t have the resources they need to do their work, they won’t be prepared for success.

And they understand that a happy, motivated team has a lot to do with a shared respect for internal culture.

Start by affecting change internally with your attitude. Live and breathe the ethics, responsibilities, and professionalism that you want your entire team to embody. Because they’re always watching you for inspiration, just like children silently look to their parents for cues and habits as they grow up.


When you know what’s going on in your organization (and this is an ongoing process, not a one-time action), you can strategically think about what will help drive you to the next level. This, in addition to building culture, is another reason why omnipresence is so important.

Being strategic can mean different things for different organizations. If you’re in the digital or technology space, being first might be more important than being best. If that’s the case, testing and re-testing different models or ideas in order to make a strategic decision may serve you best.

If you’re in a more high-touch environment with expensive products or services, surveying and interviewing your current and prospective clients to develop the most effective prototype might work better than throwing things out there and seeing what sticks.

Regardless of your situation, considering what’s best from an internal wellness as well as a bottom line perspective is important. You’ll miss the mark sometimes, of course, but you’ll feel good about it because you did your due diligence to get there. And if you’re consistently practicing being thoughtful and strategic, over time you’ll learn everything about your audience to the point where you’re giving them what they need the first time.


The tough thing about being strategic is that it can be paralyzing. You’ll have a lot of data to sift through, a lot of conflicting ideas and personalities, and a lot at stake. This makes it difficult to make a decision with conviction.

But it’s one of the most important things a good leader can do. Being decisive not only helps things move along more quickly, but it also gives your team the confidence that you know what you’re doing and will stand by them as long as their actions are driven by your decisions.

The crucial thing to keep in mind about being decisive is that you won’t always make the right decision. You need to be comfortable with listening to your trusted colleagues and leaving yourself open to the possibility that the ideas you have in mind may not be the best ones. You can’t let pride get in the way here.

You also need to understand that your decisions won’t always make everyone happy. And if you truly believe you’re doing the right thing, then you need to stand by your decision and help it be successful.

As a leader, this is your job.


You know that saying about seeking to hear before being heard? It’s a real thing!

Listen to what’s going on around you, and not just in the literal sense. Body language is an important indicator of feelings. Notice someone showing up late or generally looking forlorn? Check in with them to see if there’s anything you can do. Same thing with someone who suddenly has a spring in their step. Maybe they just got into a new relationship or heard some other great personal news. And maybe this newfound happiness is positively affecting their work performance.

Let them know that you notice. Simply recognizing their actions and their words will empower them to make better decisions (and remind them that their work, good or bad, is not going unnoticed).


This is a hard one. One might argue that if you’re nice to your team, you put yourself at risk of being taken advantage of.

I see leaders everywhere putting up a wall, never letting their colleagues in for a personal conversation or a pat on the back. I believe it’s their fear of getting too close or of not being taken seriously that holds them back.

There’s a difference between being kind and being a wet towel. You can do kind things like give positive feedback and moral support when it’s warranted, while also being firm with your decisions and your rules. If you show your human side once in a while, most of the time people will respect you more, not less.

Just be sure to hold on to the things that could weaken your perception as a leader, such as marital problems or otherwise, and keep those things to yourself.

What am I missing? What traits do your most respected leaders hold? 

photo credit: Halfway to heaven

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Jess Tyson, CEO & Director of Calm

Jess is the founder and proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. (And yes, she invented that title because that’s what you do when you’re the boss!) She wrote the book on how building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant can make all the difference in helping business owners get to the next level. Her life is often a whirlwind of wrangling her toddler, speaking at conferences (virtual and beyond!), researching productivity hacks, and meticulously making matches between overworked entrepreneurs and focused virtual assistants. Jess's first book, Panic Proof: How the Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business is available now:

  • Current location: Redding, CT
  • Go-to Karaoke song: “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette
  • Favorite kind of cheese: Aged Goat Gouda
  • Beverage of choice: Champagne
  • Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
  • Superpower: Delivering miracles, especially when all hope is lost.

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