What Are the Primary Qualities of a Good Business Leader?

Steve Jobs presenting an iPod iStock

Modern leadership is a particularly tough gig. Aside from the traditional challenges of management that every business owner must face, there is also the added uncertainty of a volatile global environment. When you also factor in the need to understand a radically changing workforce, it becomes clear that those in charge have their work cut out.

In the context of such tribulations, it is fair, then, to ask: what makes a good leader? You can develop specific skills, of course, and adopt a particular style of leadership, but what are the core personal attributes that are required?

Qualities of a Good Leader

To discuss what it takes to guide a business successfully, we've compiled a list of the traits that you should possess to get the best out of your people. From integrity to vision, these are the nine core qualities that every good leader should posses:

1. Vision

The most impactful leaders begin their journey with just one thing: an image of their goal. Having a vision of what you want to achieve is essential, so if you can't see beyond what is in front of you, you may start to struggle as a leader.

Steve Jobs is a prime example of this, to the extent that Apple's entire business strategy is now defined by how its employees and customers buy into its vision.

If you possess vision, then it identifies that you have belief in the success of your business, and this will be reflected in how you come across to employees, investors and consumers. As with Jobs at Apple, this means people will trust you, and they will share your belief. 

2. Integrity

For employees, perhaps the one leadership quality valued above all others is integrity. If you are honest and consistently demonstrate moral principles, then your people are far more likely not just to trust you, but to reciprocate, too.

In the same vein, your integrity has to be genuine; people can see when you're "faking it". Remember: real integrity is doing the right thing even when it's difficult, not just when it suits your agenda.

3. Confidence

All leaders - regardless of in business, sport or elsewhere - have to possess confidence in their convictions. If you don't have confidence in yourself and your company's potential, then how are investors and employees supposed to buy into it?

Confidence doesn't mean that you have to be on the main stage of TechCrunch, telling everyone how brilliant you are, either. You can be quietly confident in your abilities, backing yourself to do what is necessary for your business without having to shout it from the rooftops. Ultimately, if you believe in what you are doing and have faith in your conviction, then leadership will be a lot easier.

4. Courage

Likewise, without courage, a leader is no leader at all. According to Canadian-American public speaker Brian Tracy, "one of the more important qualities of a good leader is courage. Having the quality of courage means that you are willing to take risks in the achievement of your goals with no assurance of success."

This probably rings true to anybody who's ever taken the entrepreneurial plunge, which is why not everybody is cut out to take that final step. Courage will serve you well during tough times, too, when it's necessary to make difficult or unpopular decisions.

5. Commitment 

If you, as a leader, are not committed to the cause, then why on earth should anyone else be? Good leaders don't just talk the talk; they demonstrate their commitment by going the extra mile, working harder than anybody else, and by standing up for their vision, even in times when it may be difficult.

Commitment also means investing all of your time and resources into something, usually to the detriment of something else. If you're not prepared to sweat and bleed for your business and, more importantly, for your people, then you are not a true leader.

6. Communication

When you think of all the bad bosses you've ever worked for, it's highly likely that there is one common denominator linking them all together: terrible communication.

Indeed, as with all things in business - communication is everything. If you don't know how to talk to people and, perhaps even more crucially, listen to them, then you are going to have a lot of issues. To put it bluntly, leaders cannot accomplish any of the tasks within their mandate if they can't communicate, so explore ways in which you can develop yourself in this area.

7. Foresight 

In the business world, it's almost impossible to predict anything (no matter how many management consultants might try to convince you otherwise).

Good leaders always have a strategy in place to deal with uncertainty, however. They pay heed to market developments, always seeking to understand how things will change and where trends are emerging, creating a plan accordingly. The most successful leaders aren't the ones who react to change; they are the ones who are proactive in ensuring that their company is prepared for it.

8. Good Judgement 

All good leaders need to be strong judges of character, particularly when it comes to recruitment; after all, you are going to need to select the best people not just for the job, but for their alignment with your company culture and their ability to work with others.

Not everybody is capable of applying such clarity to their decisions, particularly if you are young and inexperienced. Of course, in the short term, you can hire consultants and HR staff to fill this void, but ultimately it's your business, and only you can truly understand what exactly you're looking for.

9. Fairness

A good leader never differentiates between people without reason, because they understand that biases (unconscious or otherwise) are toxic and detrimental to the growth of the company.

From a people management point of view, employees should always feel that they are being treated equally. Not only does this enhance cohesion and eliminate the risk of cliques or resentment, but it means that employees will feel more comfortable raising ideas, making them more effective and productive members of your team.


Ultimately, as a leader, you need to show your employees that you care. A leader usually has a cause – a result in sight and a sharp sense of focus to achieve their goal – but what separates good leaders from bad is in how you treat people to get to that goal.

If you regularly apply the characteristics in this list, always seek to hone and develop your leadership skills, and are open to receiving feedback and constructive criticism of your approach, then there is no reason why you can't be an effective leader for your company.

Meanwhile, to see these qualities in practice, don't forget to take a look at these prime examples of leadership!

What do you think? What are the qualities of a good leader, in your opinion? Let us know in the comment section below.