7 Examples of Effective Leadership Qualities & Behaviours

We explore the essential qualities of an effective leader, with examples of real-world business leaders who have successfully embodied them.

By: Leadership Dynamics team


6 mins

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A business is a function of its senior leadership team. Their competencies, experience and behaviours are the deciding factors in how well it will perform, meaning organisational effectiveness rests on the quality of the leaders. An effective leader will be able to inspire and motivate employees, shape a healthy work environment and drive their teams towards achieving shared goals. But there are a few key qualities all leaders should strive to develop if they are to become part of a high performing leadership team.

In this article, we will explore diverse aspects of effective leadership, highlighting real-life examples of leaders who embody each quality.

1. Communication

An effective leader must be able to convey their thoughts and ideas clearly, verbally and in writing, in order to inspire a workforce to turn their vision into a reality. The key, however, is knowing one’s audience. Leaders who understand that communication is more than broadcasting to a mass audience will be able to get the best out of their teams. High performing organisations are made up of a diversity of employees who solve problems using different ways of thinking and so respond to leadership in different ways. Good leaders understand how to alter communication styles to frame ideas in the most appropriate way for their employees. 

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors (GM) is known for her clear and concise communication style, and for her ability to connect with employees and stakeholders at all levels of her organisation. She encourages employees to share their ideas and feedback, and is willing to work with others to find solutions to complex problems. This collaborative approach has helped to build a culture of openness and innovation at GM, and has helped to position Barra as a respected and effective leader in the automotive industry.

2. Empathy

Emotional intelligence is a highly important quality in effective leadership. A leader with a well developed emotional intelligence can understand and manage their own emotions and recognise the emotions of the people around them. This ability allows them to build trust, inspire team members and handle conflicts in a constructive manner. 

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, is a good example of a leader who displayed emotionally intelligent leadership. By valuing empathy and building strong relationships with employees, she successfully led the company for 12 years. She made a point of visiting PepsiCo's facilities around the world to meet with employees and listen to their concerns. She also encouraged staff to balance their personal and professional lives.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft has emphasised the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence in leadership, and has encouraged his employees to prioritise these qualities as well. 

3. Integrity

Integrity is a crucial aspect of strong leadership – a leader’s actions build corporate culture. So, a leader with integrity practises what they preach; they are honest, reliable, and consistently uphold their values and principles, inspiring their teams to trust them and their vision for the company. By setting an example for their team, they will also influence the behaviour of other employees.

Leaders with integrity are committed to doing what is best for their organisation and their stakeholders, even if it means making difficult choices or taking unpopular positions. They are consistent in their behaviour and their decision-making, and they are willing to be held accountable for their actions.

Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has a reputation for honesty and being transparent with his shareholders. Most importantly, he follows up his values with actions. When he talks about the importance of ethical behaviour in business, he refuses to invest in companies that he believes engage in unethical practices and has pledged to give away the majority of his wealth to charity.

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, has set an example of integrity in his leadership by staying true to his principles. His company is famous for its commitment to environmental sustainability and fair labour practices. He instituted a number of initiatives to reduce Patagonia's carbon footprint, promote sustainable business practices and ensure that its suppliers and contractors uphold ethical labour standards. For example, shifting from cheap cotton to organic cotton, which is grown without the use of harmful pesticides and with more sustainable farming practices. While this decision brought higher costs to the company, it ultimately proved to be a successful move.

4. Adaptability

Adaptability means having an openness to new ideas and perspectives that will help guide decisions, as well as a ‘growth’ attitude to their competencies believing that they can improve their abilities and quickly adapt to unfamiliar challenges – often called a growth mindset. Adaptive leaders exhibit flexibility and resilience when facing challenges, allowing them to navigate through uncertain situations and make quick, informed decisions.

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon has been able to transform his company from an online bookstore to a global e-commerce giant. He has also been able to diversify Amazon's business, expanding into areas such as cloud computing, streaming services, and artificial intelligence. He has shown a willingness to experiment and take risks, which has helped Amazon stay ahead of the curve and remain a dominant player in the tech industry. For example, by encouraging a culture of experimentation within the company, they have produced profitable divisions such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Echo smart speaker and Alexa assistant.

5. Planned Ambition

Effective leaders understand the importance of making ambitious long-term plans and setting clear goals for their teams to achieve them. By establishing well-defined objectives, leaders provide their team with a sense of direction and help them understand the purpose of their work. 

Indra Nooyi demonstrated her ability to set clear, visionary goals by launching a long-term plan called "Performance with Purpose." This plan focused on achieving financial and environmental targets while committing to health and societal goals. By clearly communicating these objectives, Nooyi helped guide her team to work towards a unified vision.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE) was known for a rigorous goal-setting process, which he called "stretch goals." He believed in setting ambitious targets for the company and then holding employees accountable for meeting them. He also emphasised the importance of transparency and communication in goal-setting, ensuring that everyone in the organisation understood the company's objectives and how their work contributed to those goals. 

6. Empowering team members

Leaders empowering team members involves providing staff with the necessary tools, resources, and opportunities to realise their potential. Empowered team members feel valued and are more likely to take ownership of their tasks, leading to increased productivity and better outcomes. 

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, has implemented a number of initiatives to empower employees, such as a "One Microsoft" initiative, which aims to break down silos within the organisation and encourage cross-functional collaboration. He also created the "Microsoft Aspire Experience," which provides training and mentorship opportunities to help employees advance their careers within the company. For the wellbeing of his employees, Nadella brought in flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options and flexible schedules, to help people balance their work and personal lives. Another of his programmes, "Microsoft Cares," provides resources and support for employees dealing with personal or family issues.

7. Influence

One critical aspect of effective leadership is the ability to influence others. A leader with a strong capacity to sway his or her team members helps cultivate a sense of unity and alignment within the organisation. 

Steve Jobs, the co-founder and former CEO of Apple employed his charismatic personality, his ability to inspire others and his persuasive communication style to great effect. He was a master at presenting his ideas in a way that captured people's imaginations, and he had a talent for getting others to buy into his vision and therefore do what he wanted them to do. Jobs was also known for his attention to detail and his insistence on excellence, which helped him to build a loyal following of employees and customers who were passionate about Apple's products. 

How to develop effective leadership qualities and behaviours

Leadership development is a key way to make sure an organisation has a supply of talented individuals ready to step up to management roles. This is especially important for those companies keeping to a timeline, such as private-equity backed portfolio companies that need to have a suitable leadership team in place at each stage of a value creation plan.

Developing your high-potential employees to either refine or build leadership qualities and behaviours relies on a multifaceted leadership development programme. The success of these programmes depends on a few key pillars such as self-assessment, feedback sessions, a continuous learning culture and mentoring.

Self-assessment and feedback

Self-awareness is a key component of emotional intelligence, which is a key pillar of effective leadership. One approach to developing self awareness is through self-assessment and feedback. Inviting honest evaluations from team members and peers can provide valuable insights into potential areas for improvement. Reflecting on one’s own strengths, weaknesses and communication style can enable a leader to enhance their impact on the team. 

At Leadership Dynamics, we believe that one’s default behaviours are a better indicator of future leadership performance than personality or past history. Our behavioural assessment tool PACE helps potential leaders build self-awareness and shows them a roadmap for developing their leadership qualities.

A culture of continuous learning

Individuals with a growth mindset still need to be pointed in the right direction. An organisation that promotes a continuous learning culture with leadership development programmes and a culture of honest feedback will benefit from better long-term leadership sustainability. Engaging in leadership training programmes can help leaders improve their abilities, acquire new knowledge and stay updated with the latest practices. 

Mentoring and networking

Establishing relationships with experienced leaders and mentors can provide guidance, inspiration and support during challenging situations. Equally important is expanding one's professional network, which offers opportunities to observe effective leaders in action, learning from their experiences and strategies. Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Facebook, attributed her success in leadership to her mentors and the valuable lessons she learned through networking. Participating in networking events and building relationships can help aspiring leaders enhance their skills and achieve success in their roles.

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