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The Secrets of Extraordinary Leadership: 10 Critical Characteristics and Their Telltale Signs

Executive coaches serve as vital catalysts in unlocking the true potential of leaders, propelling them towards success. To truly make an impact, coaches must possess a deep understanding of the defining characteristics that distinguish competent and strong leadership. By immersing themselves in these qualities, executive coaches can customize their coaching sessions, honing in on specific areas of improvement and development. This strategic alignment empowers coaches to guide leaders towards embodying these sought-after traits, fostering growth and excellence. The knowledge of these characteristics equips coaches to provide invaluable insights and feedback, enabling leaders to gain clarity on their growth areas and chart a path to enhance their leadership effectiveness. Through their expertise, the understanding executive coaches have of what makes a great leader fuels leadership performance, drives organizational success, and cultivates exceptional leaders primed for excellence.

In this insight article, we explore the world of exceptional leadership, uncovering ten pivotal characteristics that define great leaders and the undeniable signs that accompany them. By exploring these key traits and their indicators, you will gain a roadmap to understanding the transformative journey towards leadership greatness. Whether you aspire to be a great executive coach, leader, or simply possess a keen eye for exceptional talent, this comprehensive guide identifies the qualities to seek in those who have truly mastered the art of leadership. Join us as we unlock the secrets to becoming an extraordinary leader and uncover the telltale signs that set them apart from the rest.

10 characteristics to look for in a competent leader

Strong communication skills

Effective communication is a vital trait for a competent leader, encompassing the ability to convey their vision and ideas while valuing the input of others. Three indicators of a leader with strong communication skills include:

  1. Clarity: A competent leader communicates their thoughts and ideas clearly, using language that is easy to understand. They avoid unnecessary complexity or jargon, ensuring that their message is accessible to everyone on their team.

  2. Active Listening: An effective communicator listens attentively and actively engages in conversations. They show genuine interest in understanding different perspectives, ask relevant questions, and provide thoughtful responses. This demonstrates their commitment to creating an open and inclusive communication environment.

  3. Empathy: A strong leader recognizes the importance of empathy in communication. They are able to understand and relate to the emotions, concerns, and needs of their team members. By demonstrating empathy, they create a safe space for open dialogue and collaboration.

Emotional intelligence

A leader with high emotional intelligence exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their ability to understand and manage their own emotions and effectively respond to the emotions of others. Here are distinct indicators of a leader with strong emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness: Leaders with high emotional intelligence have a deep understanding of their own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and triggers. They are aware of how their emotions affect their behavior and decision-making, allowing them to regulate their responses effectively.

  2. Effective relationship building: Leaders with high emotional intelligence excel in building and nurturing relationships. They are skilled at establishing and maintaining meaningful connections with others, creating a positive and inclusive work environment. Their ability to navigate interpersonal dynamics and manage conflicts with empathy contributes to strong team cohesion.

  3. Emotionally resilient: Leaders with strong emotional intelligence can effectively manage stress, setbacks, and challenges. They remain composed under pressure and maintain a positive attitude. They bounce back from failures, learn from them, and motivate their team to do the same.

Strategic thinking

A leader with strong strategic thinking skills demonstrates several telltale signs that highlight their ability to think strategically and anticipate future challenges and opportunities. Here are three indicators of a leader with strong strategic thinking skills:

  1. Long-term Vision: A leader with strong strategic thinking skills has a clear and compelling long-term vision for their organization or team. They can articulate their goals and objectives, aligning them with the broader mission and purpose. They consider the bigger picture and have a forward-thinking mindset.

  2. Analytical Thinking: Leaders with strong strategic thinking skills are adept at analyzing complex situations and data. They can break down problems into manageable components, evaluate various factors, and identify patterns and trends. They make informed decisions based on a careful assessment of available information.

  3. Future-oriented: A leader with strong strategic thinking skills has a keen focus on the future. They anticipate potential challenges, market trends, and emerging opportunities. They proactively seek new ideas, technologies, and approaches that can contribute to the long-term success of their organization.

Decision-making ability

A leader with strong decision-making ability exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their capacity to make informed and effective decisions, even in challenging or uncertain situations. Here are distinct indicators of a leader with strong decision-making ability:

  1. Analytical Thinking: Leaders with strong decision-making ability possess analytical skills that enable them to assess information, evaluate alternatives, and consider potential outcomes. They approach decision-making with a logical and systematic mindset, weighing the pros and cons of different options.

  2. Sound Judgment: A leader with strong decision-making ability demonstrates sound judgment by making well-reasoned and rational choices. They can evaluate risks and rewards, anticipate potential consequences, and consider both short-term and long-term impacts. They rely on experience, expertise, and critical thinking to make sound decisions.

  3. Decisiveness: Leaders with strong decision-making ability are decisive and capable of taking action. They do not shy away from making tough decisions when necessary, even in situations where the available information is incomplete or uncertain. They have confidence in their judgment and can navigate ambiguity effectively.


A leader with strong adaptability skills exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their ability to adjust to changing circumstances, environments, and demands. Here three indicators of a leader with strong adaptability skills:

  1. Flexibility: A leader with strong adaptability skills is flexible in their thinking and approach. They can embrace change and quickly adjust their plans or strategies as needed. They are open to different perspectives and are willing to consider alternative solutions. They can shift priorities and allocate resources effectively in response to evolving circumstances.

  2. Continuous Learning: Leaders with strong adaptability skills have a thirst for learning and self-improvement. They actively seek new knowledge, skills, and perspectives to stay ahead of the curve. They are open to feedback and take it as an opportunity for growth. They encourage a learning culture within their team and foster an environment that supports ongoing development.

  3. Resilience: A leader with strong adaptability skills demonstrates resilience in the face of challenges or setbacks. They can bounce back from adversity and remain focused on their goals. They maintain a positive attitude and inspire their team to persevere in challenging times. They view obstacles as opportunities for growth and are not easily discouraged.


A leader with a high level of integrity exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their commitment to honesty, transparency, and acting in the best interests of their team and organization. Here are three indicators of a leader with strong integrity:

  1. Honesty and Truthfulness: A leader with high integrity is honest in their interactions and communications. They tell the truth, even when it may be uncomfortable or inconvenient. They do not engage in deceitful practices or withhold important information. Their words and actions align with their values and principles.

  2. Consistency: A leader with strong integrity demonstrates consistency in their behavior and decision-making. They have a clear set of principles and ethical standards that guide their actions. They treat all individuals fairly and equitably, avoiding favoritism or bias. Their decisions are not swayed by personal interests or external pressures.

  3. Accountability: Leaders with high integrity take responsibility for their actions and decisions. They admit their mistakes and take appropriate measures to rectify them. They do not shift blame onto others or avoid accountability. They lead by example, fostering a culture of accountability within their team.


A leader with strong empowerment skills exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their ability to empower their team members and foster their growth and development. Here are three indicators of a leader with strong empowerment skills:

  1. Delegation: A leader with strong empowerment skills delegates tasks and responsibilities to their team members. They trust their team members' abilities and provide them with the autonomy and authority to make decisions and take ownership of their work. They avoid micromanagement and allow their team members to demonstrate their skills and capabilities.

  2. Supportive Environment: A leader with strong empowerment skills creates a supportive environment where team members feel safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and share ideas. They encourage open communication, actively listen to their team members, and value their contributions. They provide guidance, feedback, and resources to help their team members succeed.

  3. Skill Development: A leader with strong empowerment skills invests in the development of their team members' skills and capabilities. They provide opportunities for learning and growth, such as training programs, mentorship, or challenging assignments. They encourage their team members to stretch their abilities and provide constructive feedback to help them improve.


A leader with strong collaboration skills exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their ability to work effectively with others and foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork. Here are three indicators of a leader with strong collaboration skills:

  1. Communication and Transparency: A leader with strong collaboration skills communicates effectively and transparently. They share information openly, keeping their team members informed about relevant matters. They communicate expectations clearly, ensuring that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. They encourage open and honest communication and provide regular feedback.

  2. Facilitation and Conflict Resolution: A leader with strong collaboration skills facilitates productive discussions and problem-solving sessions. They guide conversations and help team members reach consensus or make decisions. They manage conflicts constructively, addressing issues promptly and finding mutually beneficial resolutions. They encourage a collaborative approach to resolve disagreements and foster a positive team dynamic.

  3. Results Orientation: A leader with strong collaboration skills focuses on achieving collective results rather than individual accolades. They emphasize the importance of working together to accomplish shared objectives. They align team goals with the broader organizational vision and ensure that everyone understands how their contributions contribute to overall success.


A leader with strong vision skills exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their ability to develop and communicate a clear and inspiring vision for their team and organization. Here are three indicators of a leader with strong vision skills:

  1. Purpose: A leader with strong vision skills has a clear understanding of their team's and organization's purpose, goals, and direction. They can articulate their vision in a concise and compelling manner. Their vision is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART), providing a roadmap for the future.

  2. Strategic Thinking: A leader with strong vision skills thinks strategically and considers the broader context and long-term implications. They anticipate future trends, challenges, and opportunities that may impact the organization. They align their vision with the organization's mission, values, and strategic objectives, ensuring consistency and coherence.

  3. Inspirational Communication: A leader with strong vision skills can inspire and motivate others through their communication. They convey their vision with passion, enthusiasm, and conviction. They use storytelling and compelling language to engage and energize their team members. Their communication instills a sense of purpose, meaning, and excitement.


A leader who possesses a strong sense of commitment exhibits several telltale signs that reflect their dedication to their work, the success of their team, and the achievement of organizational goals. Here are three indicators of a leader who demonstrates commitment:

  1. Persistence and Resilience: A committed leader demonstrates persistence and resilience in the face of challenges and setbacks. They remain determined and focused on their goals, even when confronted with obstacles. They do not easily give up or become discouraged, but instead, they find alternative solutions and adapt their approach to keep moving forward.

  2. Going Above and Beyond: A committed leader is willing to go the extra mile and put in the necessary time and effort to achieve their goals. They demonstrate a strong work ethic and are willing to invest additional resources, whether it be time, energy, or personal commitment, to ensure success. They set an example for their team by consistently giving their best.

  3. Leading by Example: A committed leader leads by example and sets high standards for themselves and their team. They model the behaviors and attitudes they expect from others, demonstrating a strong commitment to their work. They take ownership of their responsibilities, show up consistently, and meet deadlines with a sense of urgency.

In this article, we delve into the “10 key characteristics to look for in a competent leader” chapter found in Next 10: Coach Wisdom for Entrepreneurs, Business Owners, and CEOs Wondering What Moves to Make Next, a book written by the Host and Curator of Arete Coach Podcast, Severin Sorensen, with contributions from Amelia Chatterley.

Copyright © 2023 by Arete Coach LLC. All rights reserved.


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