Poor leadership is common, with 82% of people admitting they’ve had a bad leader at some point, according to research for SEEK.
Leah Lambart, career coach at Relaunch Me, says many experts become managers because they have very good technical skills, but their people skills may be lacking.
"When they move into a leadership role, it's really important that they develop those soft skills as well. This allows them to build relationships with their employees, colleagues and customers, but also to influence change and to lead people through change," she says.
Here she shares five ideal leadership traits and ways to develop them.
What makes a good leader?
Leadership comes in many styles, but there are common traits that make good leaders.
Research for SEEK reveals the top traits employees want in a leader. Overall, employees want a leader who is honest, a good communicator, organised, a good listener and open-minded.
Good leadership traits foster a positive work culture, which is motivating for employees and retains them for longer, Lambart explains.
Honesty is key to building trust and is at the core of respected leadership, Lambart says.
"If people don't trust their leader, they're not going to be motivated or inspired by them. If there's any sort of dishonest behaviour, you're going to lose staff."
Leaders need to communicate not only the company's vision or strategy, but also what's required of employees, she says.
"If there's no clarification on what their expectations are, it's very hard for them to perform well in their roles."
"This is being able to put themselves in the shoes of others, whether that's employees, customers or colleagues, to really understand where they're coming from," Lambart explains.
While leaders can have varying degrees of organisation (with some relying on assistants), they should all possess an ability to plan.
"They must be able to prioritise and delegate effectively, and they need to keep campaigns or projects on track."
Some employees, particularly those who are creative and imaginative, really value a leader who's open to change, Lambart says.
"Many employees want to work for organisations where they can raise issues and contribute new ideas. If a culture doesn't encourage this, employees who are progressive will move on quickly."
Leaders must also be open-minded with customers and clients, she adds.
"It's being able to respect the ideas and opinions of others outside the organisation in order to be collaborative and take the company in new directions."
The dangers of poor leadership
Good leaders are able to build a culture of respect and trust and empower employees to achieve their goals. Poor leaders, on the flip side, can contribute to a toxic work culture and high staff turnover.
"If there's a lack of trust or respect for the leadership team, things can turn ugly," Lambart says. "The culture becomes toxic, people find it hard to stay engaged and eventually they leave, which can be very costly for the organisation."
Lambart says the most common traits of bad leaders are:
- Poor communication
- Not being authentic
- Being unwilling to listen
- Not communicating and guiding the team through change
- Not recognising strengths and weaknesses in a team
- Not providing regular and timely feedback
- Not showing appreciation for hard work
She adds that losing good employees is a concern for all industries but particularly those that are currently experiencing high demand for staff such as hospitality, health and education.
How can leaders develop good traits?
Developing positive leadership traits, better managing a team and improving relationships with staff all start with self-awareness, Lambart says.
For leaders, this means understanding their own behaviour and personality, and how this impacts those around them.
"Leadership coaching and self-assessment can really help leaders, especially new ones, to understand their leadership style, work style and communication style."
It can also help leaders to better understand the personalities, strengths and working styles of their individual team members.
To get the best out of your employees, regular communication is key, she adds.
"Unfortunately, we often see companies that do one or two performance reviews a year and not much in between. Leaders want to have regular check-ins with each member of their team to be clear on where they're tracking and what's expected of them."
Listening is the first step
Lambart says taking on a leadership role can feel overwhelming because it not only requires seniority and experience, but often a whole new skill set.
She suggests leaders schedule one-on-one time with each team member in the early days to find out more about them as a person. This could include their career aspirations, their strengths and weaknesses, their work and communication preferences, what challenges them, their personal values, the type of work that energises them and what motivates them in the workplace.
She then recommends leaders plan regular follow-up meetings every 30, 60 or 90 days with each individual to ensure that they build transparency and trust.
"Start by being curious and being willing to listen and observe before jumping in and making changes," Lambart says.
"This can be difficult for a results-focused manager who wants to get some runs on the board, but taking the time to get the lay of the land and to get to know your team will set you up for long-term success."
Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published April 2023.