91 Characteristics of a Great Leader

–Gee, That's All?

One morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down at my computer, and read through leadership articles from well-respected sources just to see how many characteristics, traits, and behaviors experts say we must exhibit if we want to be successful leaders.

The Top 5…The 7 Critical…The 10 Most Important…

After 20 minutes, I stopped and looked at my list. I’d collected 91 different descriptors as shown in the image above. Look over the image. Does it make you think:

“Wow, that’s a lot. Do I really have to be all these to lead?”

“I hope I don’t have to be all of these at the same time because I have no idea how to be meditative and high-energy simultaneously.”

“Am I the only person who doesn’t know how to be strategic, visionary, relentless, and most of the other 88?”

For me, this illustrates how confusing, intimidating, and ineffective some leadership articles and courses can seem. There’s plenty of advice about what we should be, but often we aren’t given practical guidance for how to be strategic, visionary, relentless, and 88 othersIf we don’t learn how to do something, we can’t practice. And if we can’t practice, how long will we retain what we’ve learned?

Even if an article or leadership course attempts to teach us how not everyone will walk away confident they know what to do next.  In other words, the content doesn’t “stick.” The consequences include wasted time and money, disappointment in ourselves, and a continued lack of effective leadership in our organizations.

Why is it so difficult to develop as a leader – on your own or through corporate and other programs?

It’s likely you are trying to learn new information too early, like taking an algebra class before learning addition. You’re attempting to learn what it takes to be an effective leader before having a solid grasp on the definition of leadership itself. In other words, you’re skipping the prerequisite. And what is this prerequisite definition of leadership? You’ll have to wait for another post to learn the definition I use in my programs and to find out the answer to the question, Do I Really Have to be All These to Lead?

In the meantime, here’s an exercise that doesn’t have a prerequisite:

Find Your Knowledge Gaps

  1. Select a descriptor from the image.
  2. Search the web for “what does it mean to be a [type your descriptor here] leader”. For example, if you select humble search for “what does it mean to be a humble leader”.
  3. Read one article.
  4. While reading, make note of what seems clear, what is even a little confusing, and what you wish the author had explained.
  5. If you have time, try another article to see if it adds clarity.

You’ve now learned a bit more about your descriptor. You’ve also purposefully identified your knowledge gaps; doing so has made you more self-aware.

Purposeful and self-aware are on our list, and you’ve practiced both. Keep it up – only 88 more to go!


Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
Mel is a leadership consultant, coach, writer, and speaker focused on helping people become confident, influential leaders who have the courage to step outside their comfort zones. Her Not-So-Mad Path blog and services offer insights into organizational leadership, influence, creative problem solving, agile decision making, critical thinking, and communication. For fun, she does stand-up comedy, writes nerdy poetry, reads research papers, and cultivates her tortured genius persona.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. Love the post! You know, I have wondered about the same. Every study I read the characteristics are different. There are a few that repeat at the top, like honesty. However, even that needs quite a few side characteristics in the play to work correctly. You have to remain ethical, politically correct, aware, courteous, etc. for honesty to work in a correct manner. So there we are…only 88 more to go, as you say :).