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Essential Leadership Traits for Success

December 19, 2022
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Business leaders may be judged by their ability to bring in star talent, build a successful team, instill good attitudes among their employees and raise company profits.1 But what are the leadership traits that inspire others to perform at their highest potential?

In this article, we examine the traits that help top business leaders create the strongest teams and the greatest company success.

The Importance of Personal Integrity in Leadership

A survey of 300,000 business leaders, who were asked to rank various leadership traits and skills, found that the two most important traits were integrity and honesty.2 Leaders with integrity follow moral and ethical principles in their personal and professional lives. Integrity comes into play in their decision-making and interactions with employees, colleagues, customers, and clients. When managers and executives model integrity for their workforce, it sets the tone for the whole organization, encouraging team members to behave ethically. 3

How does personal integrity relate to company ethics and corporate success?

It has been shown that companies with a strong moral compass and ethical leadership achieve greater success than those that are unethical. For example, businesses that have graced the list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies have consistently outperformed not only less ethical organizations but the S&P 500, as well.4

What Is Ethical Leadership, and Why Is It Important?

An ethical leader behaves in a way that furthers the common good—in the case of business, that is the good of the organization and society. Ethical behavior from leaders has a positive effect on those around them, enhancing their reputation. Ethical leadership benefits companies by increasing the sense of belonging among employees, improving customer relationships, and winning community respect. Ethical leadership can also lead to less employee turnover, better morale, increased motivation, and greater market stability.5

Two recent studies show a positive correlation between ethical leadership, worker job satisfaction, and reduced employee turnover. Conscientiousness is seen as an important leadership trait in ethical leadership.6, 7

More than 100 studies about ethical leadership, covering almost 30,000 workers, found that this style of leadership leads to:

  • Higher levels of trust and perceived effectiveness among employees
  • Improved job satisfaction, commitment, and desire to stay at the company
  • Increased motivation and improved performance8

It’s crystal clear that ethical leadership is good business.

Key Leadership Traits and Principles an Ethical Leader Must Have

So, how does one become a more effective and ethical leader? Ethical leadership encompasses a wide range of behaviors and actions, but it focuses on the leadership traits of honesty, justice, respect, integrity, responsibility, and transparency.5


When leaders are honest, they inspire trust. Honesty means sharing the facts, however difficult, treating competitors fairly, and being truthful when communicating with those inside and outside of the company.5


Integrity means “walking the talk”—aligning one’s values, words, and actions. Consistency is the key.5


Ethical leaders show respect for all those around them, regardless of their characteristics or their positions within the company. A true leader listens to every stakeholder while promoting diversity and inclusion.5


Being fair and just means treating every person equally, with no show of favoritism when offering opportunities. A just leader condemns any type of corruption or improper behavior, as well as any action that can cause someone harm.5


To be a responsible leader is to accept being in charge. This means embracing the power along with the duties that come with the position, and always being present and responsive to meet any challenge.5


In the case of a company, transparency concerns stakeholder communication. Transparent leaders keep an open dialogue with everyone in the organization. They accept feedback and disclose whatever information is needed so that others can work effectively.5


Another important ethical leadership trait is altruism. For ethical leaders, the well-being of their workers is important. They value every employee for what they bring to the organization. This helps to build community.9

Other Important Leadership Traits

Whether they’re referred to as skills, traits, or virtues, there are many other qualities that top-tier, successful executive leaders demonstrate. Effective leaders must wear many hats and be adept at interpersonal interactions with a wide variety of people. Although there can be many different leadership styles, these additional leadership traits tend to be universal:10

  • Decisiveness: A leader can make smart decisions quickly, without over-analyzing or second-guessing 10
  • Empathy: A leader who shows compassion for employees earns their respect and loyalty11
  • Endurance: The ability to persevere through difficulties and be comfortable with ambiguity is one mark of a leader10
  • Enthusiasm: Showing excitement for what the team is doing and leading by example will inspire others
  • Growth Mindset: The willingness to evolve and embrace lifelong learning keeps a leader up to date with the latest innovations and changes in any given industry11
  • Imagination and Creativity: The ability to generate new ideas can move the company forward10
  • Knowledge: Staying on top of the latest facts, figures, and best practices is essential for leadership in any field10
  • Self-awareness: Strong leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses10
  • Vision and Purpose: Clarity of intent and a well-defined goal inspire confidence and trust in the team11

It takes work to grow into a truly great business leader—and committing to continuous learning is key to being at the top of your game.

Master Ethical Leadership Skills and Transform Business

With an Online MBA from Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics, you can expand both your earning potential and your influence in the business world. With a rigorous, innovative curriculum that incorporates 17 leadership challenges, the program helps you deftly navigate the complexity and ambiguity of today’s business world.

The Online MBA, designed for busy professionals, combines today’s business knowledge with in-demand soft skills that will transform you into an ethical leader ready to steer your team to great success. Connect with an Admissions Advisor today.