13 Tips on Developing Leadership Qualities

Wike: To be a leader, you don’t have to be an elected official or a CEO. Whether in day-to-day life, at school, or in the workplace, a leader is someone who provides example, guidance, and direction. A fancy title doesn’t make someone a true leader; rather, qualities and actions do. If you want to be the best leader you can, put effort into developing your skills, balance authority with compassion, and demonstrate that you’re worthy of your team’s trust.

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1. Be confident, even when you don’t have all the answers. Maintain good posture, make eye contact, keep your head up when talking, speak loud and clear, and use the right gestures when you speak to emphasize key points. Project confidence, and have faith in your ability to get your team from point A to point B. Additionally, be secure enough to admit when you don’t know something without letting it phase you.

  • Imagine saying, “I don’t know,” while looking down and fidgeting. Now imagine saying, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll look into it and get back to you,” as you stand up straight and look the person in the eye.
  • Not knowing something doesn’t make you a bad leader. Ineffective leaders, on the other hand, get insecure and refuse to admit when they’re wrong.
  • Keep in mind there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Acknowledge that you don’t know everything, and avoid acting like you’re superior to everyone.

2. Learn as much as you can about your field. Take every opportunity to refine your knowledge, whether you’re managing a sales team or the president of a school club. Knowing what you’re talking about will build your confidence and earn your team’s trust. While it’s impossible to know everything, your team will doubt your abilities if you say “I don’t know” to every question they ask.

  • Even worse, if you don’t have an answer, make something up, and turn out to be wrong, your team won’t trust you.
  • For example, if you’re planning a fundraiser at school for a charity, check the organization’s website for guides on coordinating events.
  • If you’re the head of an engineering team, learn everything you can about the products you create, attend professional development events, and stay updated on relevant new technologies and software.


3. Find a more experienced mentor. There’s always room to grow, even if you’re in a top leadership position. Reach out to a person you admire who has strong leadership skills. You could ask them to chat over coffee or lunch, or see if they’re open to being a long-term mentor.

  • Look for role models who’ve overcome challenges and reached goals similar to your own. For instance, if you’re a young woman in high school or college, attend public speaking events by women in leadership positions.
  • It might be intimidating to ask someone to be a mentor, but try to relax. Just get in touch with someone who’s achieved the goals you’ve set for yourself, show interest in their achievements, and ask for advice.
  • In addition to seizing opportunities to learn from those with more experience, you should mentor those you lead.

4. Learn how to manage conflicts. If there’s a heated disagreement between team members, tell those involved to get their emotions in check. Have them take some time to cool down, if necessary. Identify the source of the conflict, and take steps to address it.

  • Try to see each person’s perspective, and remain objective. If there’s a way to find a win-win scenario, do your best to negotiate a compromise.
  • Suppose you run a factory, and a blueprint typo led to a canceled order. The salesperson is angry that they lost a commission and yells at the designer who made the typo. Instruct them to cool down, stress that getting angry is unacceptable, and assure both that a new double-check system will prevent future issues.
  • Keep in mind in a professional setting, you might need to let HR handle an escalating conflict between employees.

5. Be firm, but be kind. As a leader, you need to enforce clear rules and boundaries. However, your team will turn against you if you don’t balance authority with compassion.

  • When you enforce a rule, explain to your team why that rule is important. Instead of barking, “Don’t waste paper,” tell your team, “Please try not to print something unless it’s absolutely necessary. Our supplies costs are way up, and it’s hurting the bottom line.”


6. Be decisive instead of second-guessing yourself. Stand by your decisions, but don’t be a tyrant. Gather information, listen to a range of opinions, and make time for debate. Then, when the time for discussion is over, make a firm decision.

  • Suppose you and your friends are debating on what to do that night. Everyone is dilly-dallying and nixing each other’s ideas. Then someone steps up and says, “Guys, we’re doing ‘this.’” That person rose to the top, saw the situation needed direction, and took charge.
  • Keep in mind there will be times when you’ll have to make decisions yourself and times when you’ll need input. Ask yourself, “Will a snap decision compromise morale? Does a decision have to be made right now, or do I have time to discuss this with everyone else?”
  • Be flexible and, if necessary, shift gears when new information becomes available.

7. Delegate tasks and explain roles clearly. A leader doesn’t micromanage their team or try to do everything themselves. When you assign tasks, define your expectations clearly and provide any necessary training. It’ll be easier to trust team members to perform a task if you set them up for success.

  • A clear expectation would be, “Complete specification profiles for at least 5 installation projects by the end of the week.” A vague expectation would be, “Do some specification profiles.”
  • When you need to train someone, demonstrate the task yourself, and narrate the steps as you perform them. If possible, observe them when they start and, if they make an error, gently correct them.


8. Treat your team with respect. Show them sincere compassion, as they’ll be able to tell if you’re genuinely concerned for them. Hear them out when they express their opinions, praise them for their hard work, and never use inappropriate language. Remember, you set the tone, so model the type of behavior you’d like your team to display.

  • Bear in mind showing them respect doesn’t mean you should cave in to their whims. You’re in charge, and you know what’s best for the team.
  • If someone disagrees with you, listen to their argument, and use their input to refine your decision. If you can’t use their suggestion, let them know that you respect their opinion, but are going in another direction.

9. Keep your promises. Break your promises and you’ll lose respect. You may be charismatic and knowledgeable, but you’re bound to have a mutiny on your hands if you break your word.

  • In order to keep promises, you have to know what’s doable and what’s not. Be realistic when you make a promise, and make sure it’s something you can deliver.
  • For example, don’t promise your staff big raises unless you’re 100% certain you have room in the budget. If you’re an officer of a club at school, don’t promise that you’ll get more funding when you haven’t even talked your principal or school administration.

10. Ask for feedback from those you lead. As a leader, people may be intimidated by you, and they might not rush to lend you constructive criticism. Instead of waiting for someone to speak up, ask your team specific questions about how you can improve your performance.

  • Don’t ask yes or no questions about whether or not they like you. Instead, ask specific questions, such as, “In your opinion, what can I do to be a better leader,” or “What are some ways I could communicate more clearly?”


11. Hold yourself accountable. Stand by your decisions, and take responsibility for the consequences. If things go wrong, the buck stops with you, so don’t blame others to cover your mistakes.

  • Think of yourself as the captain of a ship; the fate of the ship is in your hands, and it’s up to you to steer everyone in the right direction.
  • When things don’t work out as planned, a good leader perseveres. Instead of sticking your head in the sand, treat setbacks as learning opportunities.

12. Dress in a way that’s consistent with your role. Your appearance can inspire confidence, but know the difference between dressing to impress and dressing to influence. Dressing to impress, or being overdressed, could drive a wedge between you and those you lead.

  • For instance, if you manage a casual restaurant, wearing a suit and tie is impractical, might turn off your customers, and could alienate your staff.
  • If you’re president of your high school class, wearing a crisp button-up or neat dress to a meeting is better than wearing ripped jeans and a stained, wrinkly tee-shirt.


13. More tips

  • Help your team to achieve both individual and collective goals. Remember, setting individuals up for success is part of getting the group from A to B.

  • Always practice what you preach. There’s no better way to lose your credibility as a leader than to be a hypocrite. If you set a rule, be sure to follow it. Lead by example and others will follow in your steps.

  • Don’t be a manager, but a leader.

  • Charisma is helpful, but it’s more important to be trustworthy than charming. Sincere kindness will get you farther than phony charm.


  • As a leader, you’re in the limelight, which means your moves are under a microscope. Your morals and values are just as important as your knowledge and skills.

  • Be mindful when forming close relationships with members of your group. Don’t pick favorites or give people preferential treatment.

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