Leadership is a challenging aspect of everyday work life. C-suite employees face a wide variety of difficult tasks and business decisions on a regular basis; balancing this with team or department management can be especially tricky. Executives may feel like they’re being pulled in multiple directions, but the best leaders are able to find what works for them and their employees. 

Not every leader manages in the same way, but there are typically a handful of common characteristics the best executives abide by. Here are five traits and behaviors successful leaders share:


The ability to relate to the thoughts, experiences and emotions of employees in the office is a driver of success in a team-oriented, performance-based culture. In fact, a recent white paper by the Center for Creative Leadership published findings of its “Empathy in the Workplace” study, noting this quality is positively related to job performance. Managers who show more empathy toward subordinates are viewed as better performers by their bosses. Employees are also more likely to respect and trust leaders they can meaningfully engage with. 


Effective leadership isn’t a black and white quality that certain people are genetically predisposed to, nor is it an analytical talent that can be learned through copious amounts of research. The strongest leaders figure out how to get the best out of their teams or departments and follow through. A large part of identifying what makes individuals and a team tick is by becoming self-aware, or recognizing the impact a leader has on people. Similar to empathy, self-awareness is an emotional watchdog, an abstract ombudsman that holds leaders accountable for their actions. Executives not only need to be able to read a room, but determine the impact they have on the people surrounding them.


A literal interpretation of this characteristic would reveal all leaders, their employees and all human beings for that matter, have guts. However, the figurative translation offers slightly different values. Risk-taking in the business world, particularly in the sales and marketing fields, is an important but often neglected aspect of effective leadership. Not that all executives are complacent, but the view from the boardroom is a lot more scenic when the company is doing well. Yet, the best leaders are willing to innovate and make calculated risks, Entrepreneur Magazine says. It’s difficult to grow at a competitive pace if a company is trending down the same path for many years. An informed business risk or ambitious goals aren’t counterproductive; they only help the company strive for more. 

An open mind

Similar to having guts, an open mind is the willingness to learn and try new processes, as well as take suggestions from subordinates or other employees. Open-mindedness also helps leaders handle unexpected demands with ease. In doing so, executives can pivot on a moment’s notice and steer the team or the company in the right direction. Today’s business climate is quicker than it has ever been, thanks to digital technology; leaders need to be agile enough to manoeuvre through any oncoming changes. 


Inspiring others is more so a behavior than a characteristic, as motivational leaders follow through with their actions. An inspirational executive is one who communicates clearly, concisely and often. They challenge subordinates to do their best at all times, but are also aware of their limits and can connect with staff when needed, Inc. Magazine suggests. Leaders can get the most out of their employees by setting high but achievable goals and them providing staff with the proper support structure they need to succeed.