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Do you have the DRIVE for leadership?

5 Key Traits of Great Leaders

Throughout history there are examples of leaders inspiring others to follow a vision. Great leaders, although all different as individuals, share a set of common leadership characteristics. They are/were visionaries, motivators, confidence builders, innovators and above all focused on making things better. In the volatile, uncertain and forever changing world that people now operate in, we need leaders with tools, techniques and, most importantly, a mind-set that is fit for modern leadership at all levels of organisations to drive transformational change and to take others with them.

This article looks at 5 of those key characteristics/traits.


Are you passionate about what you do? Do you have a real desire to succeed and be the best that you can be? Great leaders throughout history have had real passion for what they do. If you don’t have a high level of passion for what you are doing then why are you doing it?

“There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living” Nelson Mandela

Desire questions to ask yourself

  • Am I genuinely passionate about the work I do?
  • If not, can I re-energise the passion in me that made me do it in the first place?
  • If not, why am I still doing it?


The volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous world that we now operate in means we have to have a good level of resiliency to survive as a leader. The ability to tackle difficult conversations is a key skill for developing resiliency. When having difficult conversations it is important to maintain a level of empathy and to be very clear on what the conversation is about – i.e. what is the real issue. Ensure that you back up your stance with evidence and facts and present your points in a clear, calm way and always ensure that you are looking for solutions to issues and not just moaning or criticising. Read my separate article on this topic here.

Using visualisation to reframe or re-programme your mind for resilience

Imagine a time in your life when you were confident, assertive and resilient. Visualise this situation as if you were watching a film of it. Play the film to yourself and see your behaviour and imagine your thoughts at the time.

If you cannot think of a situation that involves yourself, think of a person you believe is confident, assertive and resilient and picture their situation and behaviour.

Play the film (visualisation) over and over again and use a trigger word to remind you of the feeling and the situation. Your trigger word could be any word – but let us say it is the word ‘resilient’.

If you do find yourself crumbling under pressure or being less resilient than you want/need to be then ask yourself why. Step back from the situation and ask yourself these questions:

Resilience questions to ask yourself

  • Am I asking helpful questions rather than saying hindering statements? (More on that here).
  • Am I just moaning about stuff without taking responsibility to change it/tackle it?
  • Is the situation as bad as I think it is?
  • What plan B, C & D etc. do I have?
  • Is my reaction to the situation because of something based in fact or am I assuming things?
  • What can I find out to change my view point on the situation/problem?


You can’t motivate people! (You can find more on this subject here).

What you can do is inspire people to be self-motivated and make them want to be the best that they can be.

There are two types of people in terms of inspiration. The first is the radiator – this is the person that others are drawn to, they radiate heat, positivity and warm a room up with their presence. Some say that they have charisma. The second type of person is the mood hoover – these people simply suck out the good atmosphere in a room by being negative, argumentative, and unaware of how their behaviours and words affect others. You know the sort – completely uninspiring.

Inspiring questions to ask yourself

  • Are you a radiator or mood hoover?
  • Do you have emotional intelligence? (See later point in this article).


Have you ever tried to tackle and important issue/challenge when you are over tired, stressed or angry? How did that work out for you? Generally speaking, it doesn’t really work. When you are feeling tired, stressed and upset, it can be all too easy to neglect your own wellbeing and a lack of wellbeing will directly affect your leadership. Losing your appetite, overeating, not exercising, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much alcohol, not drinking enough water, driving yourself too hard, are all common reactions to a crisis situation. A lot of these situations aren’t crisis at all – we simply make them so. These are the times when you need to work on building your vitality. Making time to invest into your wellbeing will boost your overall health and resilience and you will be better equipped to be face challenges. If you are not in a good state of health and wellbeing and you lack vitality, how can you effectively lead others? As they say during the inflight safety brief – fit your own mask first before helping others.

Vitality questions to ask yourself

  • Are you fitting your own mask first?
  • How often are you getting some exercise?
  • How balanced is your diet?
  • How is your life-work balance looking?
  • How good is your general health and well-being?
  • Are you getting enough quality R & R time?
  • Are you using the “I don’t have time” excuse? (See my article on this here).


I have recently been reminded of the importance of emotional intelligence by a close colleague. She reminded me that I need to constantly keep on top of my game and not let emotional intelligence slip in difficult times.

Being emotionally aware and recognising how you can potentially react in certain situations will help you to take more self-control. It will also help you to be more considerate with regards to how your reactions can affect other people. High emotion can be quite exhausting so managing emotions during any ordeal will help you to focus your energy where is best placed. People who have better emotional awareness and understand their own emotions have been shown to be far more resilient.

We will all receive criticism at some point in our careers and we won’t always like what we hear. Here are few resilience tricks when dealing with criticism:

  • Listen to the criticism. Understand the content of the criticism rather than the way in which it has been phrased. What facts are present?
  • Decide honestly whether there is truth in the criticism. Do the facts add up?
  • Decide how to deal with the criticism: agree, partially agree or disagree.
  • Choose appropriate language when replying. For example, if you say 'you're wrong', this leaves fuel to argue further. Whereas, if you say 'I disagree', they can’t argue with your feelings. This is a more constructive way of getting your point across without fueling an argument.
  • Label your feelings, rather than labeling people or situations.
  • Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.
  • Take more responsibility for your feelings.

Responsibility is a key element of emotional intelligence. Let’s look at this word ‘responsible’ – what does it mean? Often it has been said that responsible means ‘response’ and ‘able’: we are able to respond. So often responsibility can have negative connotations and yet, with responsibility on your shoulders, there is no room for ‘chips’. As youngsters we lived with the word responsible used in accusatory questions such as “Who is responsible for breaking that window?” “Who is responsible for this mess?” “Who is responsible for these muddy foot prints or the broken toy?” Used in a positive way, however, it is a marvelous word with many positive connotations. It is vital to take responsibility of our choices, actions and leadership style.

Emotional Intelligence questions to ask yourself

  • Do you know who you are?
  • Do you use emotional self-control?
  • Are you aware of how you react to others and the impact it has?
  • Do you genuinely take responsibility or just blame others?

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About the author

Dave Dayman

Dave Dayman

I'm passionate about leadership. I believe that thinking is not only the most powerful tool that we own but is also the one thing we have total control over. Sometimes we just need a little help to change the way we in which we choose to think!