33 Qualities and Skills You’ll Need as a Social Impact Leader

If you ask more than one person what leadership is, you will receive multiple different definitions. Regardless of your own definition of leadership, you should know that being a true, likable, and successful leader comprises certain skills and qualities, all of which I will discuss below.

A great leader comes with a long-term vision, knows how to motivate and inspire others, and does his or her best to transform those ideas into reality. There are four big categories of leadership skills but you will find more about each of them in the following sections. 

A. Develop Inner Resources

1. Stress Tolerance

How Does Stress Impact Leadership?

High levels of stress can truly affect your leadership potential. Even charming extroverts can be negatively impacted by stress. This happens because, under stress, cortisol is released into the organism. Further on, this substance curbs testosterone. All these factors combined lead to a higher level of competitiveness and aggression. So, simply put, lowering stress unleashes one’s leadership potential

How Can Leaders Handle Stress?

There are several things you can apply to manage stress:

  • Start noticing the response your body sends under stress – how do you react when stress kicks in?

  • Start saying no more often – it’s ok to refuse to do something if you’re engaged in another important task;

  • Exercise – maintaining an active lifestyle can seriously help you tackle the effects of stress;

  • Recreate a more effective work process – streamline and carefully organize all the daily tasks because planning and prioritization are effective stress managers;

  • Confront your stress sources – determine the element or person that has created your emotional reaction and, instead of procrastinating, try to deal with that issue immediately;

  • Delegate in order to lower your workload – lead by example. Accept the fact that you cannot do it all and trust your employees.

How to Build Stress Tolerance 

  • Look at every challenge as an opportunity – letting yourself be overwhelmed by stress will eventually make you single-minded. Therefore, you won’t see the positives in a stressful situation. While that behavior works for high-stake or time-sensitive situations, the majority of stressors are less immediate. Focus on solutions instead of problems and improve communication within the company. Simply put, you must find the silver lining;

  • Always keep in mind the bigger picture – at times, you might face multiple stressors at a time or one after the other. All these issues can make you forget the greater purpose. Remember the things and values you care about. Focusing on your core values when it comes to work might prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by stress;

  • Build some recovery time – human organisms can tolerate stress when it comes in short bursts: you use a lot of energy to tackle the problem but then this brief moment is followed by a longer period of relaxation. Well, unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time. Still, you need breaks between stressors in order to recover. Most people try to fight stress with unhealthy habits such as smoking, overeating, drinking, etc. 

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2. Flexibility

Flexibility is a valuable asset that every leader should have. Moreover, if you lead by example, your subordinates will also become more flexible and open to change and useful suggestions. Flexibility is also known as adaptability and it is an important trait in leadership. This particular skill is meant to help the leader create, maintain, and develop relationships with co-workers, employees, collaborators, stakeholders, and other managers. 

To see whether or not you’re flexible enough, ask yourself these following questions:

  • Do you have bad behavioral patterns that you want to break free from?

  • Do you depend too much on someone’s personal behavior?

  • Have you thought about trying alternative strategies or approaches when it comes to fixing problems?

  • Are you open enough to receive and apply suggestions and ideas that others provide?

  • Are you aware when you need to make some behavioral changes?

  • Do you encourage and support your employees to develop a flexible mentality? 

Here’s what you must do to increase your flexibility:

  • Seek advice from others and listen to them;

  • Actively look for situations that require you to become more flexible;

  • Keep track of your personal progress

3. Self-Regard

Although a true leader should never be vain, he or she should definitely cultivate a positive self-image and high self-esteem. Otherwise, how could leaders expect others to trust them if they don’t trust themselves? Self-regard is an essential characteristic because those feelings and emotions that you feel inside will transform into beliefs and ideas which will further guide how you perform at the workplace. 

Having self-esteem isn’t about being the boss. It’s about accepting feedback from your team, being open to others’ ideas, and supporting your employees. So, a healthy amount of self-regard is always welcome while vanity and a bossy attitude can ruin everything. Bosses, unlike leaders, have low self-esteem. That’s why they micromanage every action, are arrogant and tend to bully their staff members.  

4. Emotional Self-Awareness 

Self-awareness in leadership appears when a manager is aware of his or her weaknesses, strengths, personality, personal preferences, needs, style, and more. When you’re aware of your own individuality, it’s called you have a high level of self-awareness. According to experts, this trait is a huge part of a person’s emotional intelligence. Someone with a strong sense of self-awareness can easily handle his or her own emotions but also influence the emotions of other people. 

It is about what I like to call “being in tune with oneself.” Self-aware leaders are strong and confident yet humble and fair. They are constantly doing their best to become better at what they do. Striving for more and being forgiving are also essential features of a self-aware leader. 

5. Emotional Expression

Nowadays, a true leader should lead through emotion. Effective managers allow their emotions to show while also handling them effectively. As long as you’re well-developed in terms of emotional expression, you will always ask yourself the way you feel about a certain strategy or direction. Leaders with high emotional intelligence also know how to listen to their intuition and find out what their gut is telling them about making a certain decision. 

Besides thinking about his or her own feelings, a good leader also knows how to discover and reveal the emotions of the company’s employees in order to deal with them properly. Those who know how to effectively express their emotions also use body language a lot. To see if your attitude is the correct one, pay attention to how others react when you express one of your feelings. 

Arianna Huffington

6. Independence

Most people believe that being a manager or a leader comes with a lot of freedom and independence. Well, that’s not entirely true because there’s a special kind of freedom that a leader can enjoy. In fact, a true leader must achieve the perfect combination of independence and interdependence. Most individuals tend to perceive the world through their personal beliefs and only a few of them are willing to shift that perception from “I” to “we.” 

Being at the top of your career ladder can get lonely at times. There is when independence comes in handy. As long as you’re independent, you won’t feel bad about the level of isolation that comes with your role. You’ll be able to establish boundaries and make somewhat objective decisions. As a leader, though, you must also lean towards relying on others, foster healthy and fruitful relationships while also empowering your employees. 

7. Self-Actualization

Self-actualization is another important piece of the puzzle in the leadership world. It is another stepping stone towards conscious leadership. You may recall, from the Maslow’s pyramid of needs, that self-actualization represents the highest type of motivation. Once you reach that position, you become able to achieve your highest potential. However, self-actualization cannot be met until you have achieved all the other needs, starting from the most basic ones, going through safety, security, and belonging. 

Here are the core competencies that a self-actualized leader has:

  • The ability to recognize this particular trait in other people;

  • A leader must follow his or her own words. If you say you’re on your way to self-actualization, then you must also show that you’re doing everything you can to accomplish that;

  • The ability to engage and develop a certain vision;

  • A true leader prefers to collaborate instead of monopolizing;

  • A self-actualized leader is oriented towards action.  

8. Optimism 

Research has shown that optimistic individuals are better leaders. First of all, optimists are focused on finding solutions rather than on the problem. Moreover, these people aren’t afraid to fail. In their opinion, failure is nothing else than a lesson. They are more resilient; hence, they bounce back quicker after life’s setbacks. To continue with, optimists are amazing communicators because they lift the spirit of their employees. 

An optimist leader focuses on the future and uses the remarkable language of motivation. We all like being around an optimistic person because the vibe we’re getting is simply infectious. Finally, optimistic leaders truly value communication and collaboration. 

B. Connecting with Others

9. Humility 

Substantial research has proven that humility leads to effective leadership. It’s true, however, that this specific trait is quite underrated, especially when it comes to the characteristics a leader should have. Leaders who practice humility can avoid making status differences. They will know how to solicit input, listen to employees, admit their mistakes, and have the willingness to change their initial plan when things don’t seem to work. 

Leading a humble life means you’re ready for self-improvement. To achieve inner well-being, we all need to include humility in our lifestyle. Humility makes us accept losses or life issues without becoming irritated or frustrated. Simply put, it helps us become better human beings.  

10. Vitality

Vitality is another element that should be one of the priorities of a good leader. According to specialists, one should master energy instead of managing time. This is the key to high performance. There are four types of energy:

  • Quantity represented by physical energy – you need enough sleep; you must consume nutritious and well-balanced meals; regular exercise is also recommended; HIIT workouts can also help;

  • Quality represented by emotional energy – practice breathing exercises; give and receive positive feedback; spend quality time with friends and family members; avoid negative or toxic people and environments;

  • Focus represented by mental energy – try to reduce the number of distractions and interruptions; be optimistic but in a realistic kind of way; prioritize workload;

  • Force represented by spiritual energy – define your work and life purpose; practice self-care; have the courage to stand by your personal values. 

11. Active Listening

Effective listening will definitely make you a better manager and a true leader. This kind of responsibility cannot be found in your job description. Nevertheless, a leader who pays attention to his or her subordinates is perceived as compassionate and empathetic. This can truly change the entire organizational culture. Here’s how you can practice listening:

  • Show that you really care about your staff members;

  • Become engaged in aspects that are very important to the people you work with. Embrace the style of each of your employees;

  • Cultivate empathy in the workplace. Don’t avoid all emotional interactions and become aware of what makes your employees stressed out;

  • Don’t judge other people. If you’re too busy making harsh criticism, you won’t have time and energy to listen to your subordinates and learn from what they have to say;

  • Be mindful. Become aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to both verbal communication and body language. Be present and be there for your employees;

  • Let your staff members speak without interrupting. Focus on what they have to say and try to solve their problems. Help them figure out solutions. Finally, respect them and see them as equals. 

12. Self- Development

You may be the boss but that doesn’t mean you don’t have room for improvement. As a manager, but more importantly, as a human being, you should constantly work on improving your abilities, confidence, and skills. This will boost your company’s overall achievements and productivity. You can develop your leadership skills through the following methods:

  • Engage and increase your motivation for development;

  • Asses your developmental needs in terms of strengths and weaknesses;

  • Develop your social and cognitive abilities as well as your emotional skills;

  • Ask for feedback from your employees;

  • Practice discipline;

  • Inspire others;

  • Empower your teammates;

  • Solve conflicts; etc. 

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13. Build Assertiveness

Being assertive doesn’t mean being cocky. Instead, it refers to showing positivity and calmness in solving and fixing problems. Moreover, it means you should stand up for yourself and others without being aggressive. Assertive behavior refers less to what you say and more to the way you say it. Feel free to express your feelings but don’t hurt those of someone else. Unfortunately, most people choose to be either passive or aggressive and only a few of them know how to practice assertiveness. 

Handling conflict with assertiveness in mind means you should never make it personal, you should always take responsibility for your actions, consider the other person’s perspective, and you shouldn’t avoid conflict but deal with it in a proper manner. Being assertive also means to be firm, saying no once in a while, and expressing negative and positive emotions. 

14. Practice Empathy

You are empathetic when you’re able to recognize and understand the perspectives and feelings of those around you. Many times, empathy is an overlooked leadership skill. This is considered a soft skill but let me tell you that there isn’t anything soft about empathy. Sometimes, it can be hard to apply it but through empathy, you can get closer to your employees. 

If you are an empathetic leader, the people who work for you will become more engaged and loyal. They will be more productive and will get along better with each other. More importantly, staff members will enjoy coming to work every day and the will be happier. When you see quiet employees don’t ignore them but encourage them to speak up. Take a personal interest in what they are going through. 

15. Find Commonality

Discover the things you have in common with your subordinates and let those traits show. Maybe it’s humor, or perhaps your workers are curious and authentic just like you. Commonality is crucial, especially when it comes to teams who work face-to-face and not remotely. If you want to get along well with your employees, you must figure out the features that you share with them. A high level of commonality leads to better communication. 

16. Expressiveness 

Great leaders should master the way they express emotions and use those feelings to boost the entire cognitive process while also improving their decision-making process. Mastering expressiveness will inspire your workers in the following domains:

  • They will be willing to develop collective goals;

  • They will understand and appreciate the importance of their work;

  • You will develop and support an environment of confidence, transparency, trust, enthusiasm, cooperation, and optimism;

  • You will be open to management changes and decision-making flexibility;

  • All these steps will lead to a meaningful organizational identity. 

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C. Leading the Team

17. Sponsorship

This trait isn’t about the people you know but more about those who know you. Just like a mentor is meant to help you develop, a sponsor should be your advocate; someone who commits to your advancement. A sponsor catalyzes change and paves the path for that change to take place. Sponsorship integrates all four essential elements of a successful company: leadership, innovation, collaboration, and branding. That can be done through performance, control, efficiency, and execution. 

To attract a sponsor you must develop a spotless reputation. Also, you must be reliable and friendly. Manage your career in such a way that you keep potential sponsors updated about your accomplishments. Once you reach your desired management level and become a leader, you should return the favor by becoming a sponsor of worthy employees. 

18. Co-Creation

Innovation is the secret ingredient to profitable company growth but that wouldn’t be possible without co-creation. You must co-create by involving your employees but also interacting with your customers and including their view on your products into the manufacturing and marketing processes. Still, co-creation isn’t a straightforward strategy although it is a fresh one. 

To be successful, you must create a supportive workplace environment. In other words, you must support open corporate cultures. As long as your co-creation strategy develops the proper combination of innovative techniques, then you can use it freely because it will bring great value to your company. 

To co-create, you must work with the right people, ask the right questions, and always find out what your clients think about all aspects of your organization. 

19. Servanthood

Leadership should also be about serving others: clients, stakeholders, and employees. Unlike traditional leadership, servant managers delegate, empower others, and share power while also taking care of the employees’ needs and helping them develop. It is a cycle: you serve because you’re in charge, and you’re in charge because you serve. Among the most important traits of a servant leader are awareness, persuasion, empathy, conceptualization, community building, and more. 

A servant leader values diverse opinion, cultivates trust and transparency, helps others grow and become leaders themselves, involves in the life of the employees (beyond work-related issues), thinks long-term, and keeps his or her promises. 

20. Empowerment 

Delegating and avoiding micromanagement are features of empowerment. Cultivate a culture of open communication. Become more approachable as a leader and as a person. Help subordinates discover their true purpose. Make them see that what they do has meaning. Show them how important they are for the company. Avoid micromanagement at all cost. Give your employees the freedom they need for them to come up with great and innovative ideas. Involve your staff members in all the decision making that’s happening within the company. 

21. Vision

Having a vision is essential in leadership. As long as you have a well-determined vision and you strongly believe in its mission, you will have greater chances to succeed. To do that, you first need to establish some basic things:

  • Set a clear direction and establish a purpose;

  • Inspire loyalty and lead by example; care about your employees;

  • Display and promote the core values of the company;

  • Inspire belief, excitement, and commitment in those around you;

  • Challenge your subordinates to overcome their own limitations. 

A vision will show you the right path. Vision offers motivation and helps you move forward no matter what. This kind of approach provides focus and determination. 

22. Harmony

If you want to achieve a harmonious workplace, you must be really engaged and even obsessed with the things you do as a leader. Like I said so many times before: a leader leads by example which means he or she sets the tone and infuses the energy in the entire company. At the same time, anyone needs some quality time with their loved ones or even some alone time to recharge and unwind. So, be dedicated but also take personal time. 

A leader focused on harmony doesn’t stop learning while also being present all the time. Before trying to develop a team based on harmony, you must first observe your team dynamics and listen to individual motivations. Then, you should rely on both your words and actions to show trust and the fact that you respect others. Good leaders are also good followers. 

Consider reading:

rachel faller change creator

23. Focus

Personality traits such as wisdom, IQ, EQ (emotional intelligence), resilience, and agility are more valuable than they’ve ever been. As a leader, you must focus on multiple work tasks but you should never forget about focusing on others as well. So, a healthy mix of outward and inward focus is always welcome. The outward focus brings innovative strategies while the inward focus makes you a better manager. 

Outward focus:

  • Focusing on others – being empathetic;

  • Building long-lasting relationships and displaying social sensitivity.

Inward focus:

  • Self-awareness – see what your inner voice is telling you;

  • Self-control – handle that inner voice and make it tell you what you need to hear to move forward and succeed. 

Focused on the Wider World:

  • Focusing on strategy;

  • Focusing on innovation;

  • Paying attention to systems and improving processes. 

24. Direction 

An efficient leader should have directional skills like planning things and making goals as well as solving problems when they arise. Organizing the company’s activities and setting a clear direction are part of a leader’s responsibilities. In fact, some say that the first and most important rule that every leader must follow is to set the direction. To establish the correct direction, you have to follow the right path or sequence of actions:

For the problem-solving aspect, here are some steps a leader has to accomplish:

  • Identifying the problem;
  • Gathering information and insightful data;
  • Developing proper courses of action;
  • Analyzing those courses of action and comparing them to see which one works best;
  • Making the final decision;
  • Coming up with a plan;
  • Implementing the plan. 

D. Setting the Tone

25. Worldview

A true leader has to think and act globally. Before doing that, you should understand the worldview. Someone’s beliefs will help that person move forward as a human being as well as a professional and a leader. That is if these beliefs are the right kind because some of them can hold a person back from attaining his or her peak potential. Being ambitious, hard-working, and driven are necessary but not enough. A leader must also be able to communicate easily with others. 

In some cases, the exact same traits that are considered strengths can also be seen as weaknesses because they can also cause conflict. For instance, a leader who lets ambition get to his/her head might be perceived as arrogant or pompous. Many times, even leaders need mentors or coaches to guide them through the process of becoming the best version of themselves. So, is your worldview holding you back? Because, if it is, you should definitely do something about it! 

Analyzing your personal worldview can be difficult at first because it feels uncomfortable and it takes you out of the zone in which you feel the safest. Still, this is the path towards personal development and growth. Start by thinking about how you treat others and the way you deal with conflict. This is how you will eventually change your behavior. 

Consider reading:

26. Openness

Be open and approachable if you want to be a good leader. Openness creates a stronger bond with your team. Hence, you will gain more engaged staff. Open leaders are more approachable. In other words, people will like working with and for them. Being open to communication and receiving feedback allows you to avoid further problems within your company. You can even prevent a potential crisis. Moreover, your subordinates will gain both trust and confidence in you. 

This type of leaders develops a safe working environment in which:

  • Decentralization is allowed as well as free decision-making;

  • Flexibility is key;

  • Information sharing is encouraged. 

As a leader, you can build an organizational culture of trust by:

  • Encouraging risk-taking by not being afraid of failure but learn from it, instead;

  • Seeing mistakes as learning opportunities;

  • Applying a transparent decision-making process;

  • Sharing information openly. 

27. Follow Through

Following through can also be translated into having integrity. If you feel drained of energy, worried, disconnected from your employees, guilty, and like you feel that something isn’t right, then you might want to work on following through. Pay closer attention to the way you feel inside. Then, have the courage to address your fears. You may even need to keep a journal which will enable you to reflect on both positive and negative things of each day. 

Leaders that follow-through have the following traits:

  • They acknowledge their employees’ accomplishments;

  • These leaders communicate honestly;

  • They always keep their word;

  • Leaders with integrity believe in their work and show both compassion and empathy

Not following through might:

28. Unselfishness

Not being selfish can be considered outdated today, in this self-centered and hyper-competitive society that we live in. Unfortunately, many individuals who gain a work position of high authority become selfish and they start to follow their personal interests instead of the ones of their company. Unselfishness is one of the most important skills of a leader that is easily noticed and highly valued by other people. 

An unselfish leader does the following things:

  • Shares credit with others –  they recognize the effort made by their employees;

  • Teaches employees about all kinds of processes, from business and technical concepts to company goals and ethical standards;

  • Takes responsibility and doesn’t blame others easily. Even when staff members mess up, an unselfish leader doesn’t make excuses for that mistake;

  • Accepts others’ ideas and input.

29. Responsibility 

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A true leader must assume responsibility toward his or her subordinates, shareholders, environment, and society as a whole. Responsible leadership refers to managing a corporation in a certain way, especially when it comes to its social interaction. This aspect includes:

  • Making well-informed and ethical judgments;

  • Showing moral courage;

  • Communicating openly and effectively with all stakeholders;

  • Applying long-term thinking;

  • Taking part in collective problem-solving. 

A truly responsible leader:

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30. Shared Ambition

Shared ambition is a great leadership value. It leads to shared success. Private sector companies must share their accomplishments with the public sector, local governments, and non-profit organizations in order to build an entire community characterized by wealth and well-being. For that reason, certain companies come together with public organizations because only through collaboration they can work smarter. 

This way, great ideas and common standards can be created to serve the public. If you want your company to thrive and grow in a fruitful environment, then you have to share your knowledge because working together with the local public services is way better and more effective than working alone. Together, you can come up with successful strategies and design services that are crafted around people. 

31. Balance

In leadership, it can be hard to maintain a balanced approach. Some say that being a leader is all about balance while others state that this concept is dual. When I say balance, I don’t refer to gender equality or diversity. It’s so much more than that. It’s about power. The power of generating ideas that provide harmony and pride to larger groups like companies and organizations. 

my balance wheel

Balanced leaders create amazing emotional architectures for their companies by respecting the emotional lives of the employees. Satisfied subordinates lead to happy and loyal clients. Work together with your staff members and make sure that their working schedule agrees with their personal lives. If you truly love and respect your team, then you will become a balanced leader. It’s about optimizing your organization’s potential. 

32. Recognition 

Instead of being just a simple management tool, recognition is a powerful yet overlooked leadership skill. Here’s how you can be a grateful leader that recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of the company’s employees:

  • Recognize the deed – instead of saying that a certain employee is awesome, you should state exactly what he or she did to deserve praises. Be very specific like in the following example: “Tom, you created an outstanding advertising pitch that landed us a big client;”

  • Do that publicly – reward employees in front of others because it has a greater impact. Rewards should be done in public while punishments should be done privately;

  • Do it now;

  • Encourage team members to thank their peers;

  • Do it justly. 

Recognition engages employees which further drives business performance. Meaningful recognition is sourced from peers. Things like communication, inclusiveness, and trust are crucial. 

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Overall – the 33rd Characteristic – Centeredness 

This is the way a leader who wants to have a significant social impact combines all the traits listed above and engages all the elements of his or her mind to become fully present. After all, all leaders should want to create a company where people want to adhere to their organizational culture and where employees grow, develop, and thrive. 

33 Qualities and Skills You’ll Need as a Social Impact Leader – Final Thoughts

To be an amazing leader, you must develop all these traits because only a combination of these skills will help you leave your mark within your company but also on your industry as well as society. In order for your employees to follow you, you should set a good example. That is where characteristics such as passion, integrity, empathy, humility, and honesty come into play. Creative thinking, a strong vision, dedication, and good communication abilities are also essential traits that make you stand out.

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