21 remarkable traits that make a person an exceptional leader

Are you leading a team? Do you think you make a good one?

We rounded up the most remarkable traits of exceptional leaders so you can size yourself up. Or, improve, if you don’t embody these characteristics. 

1) They have a vision

Steve Jobs was a visionary. He had an idea and influenced people to back him. An exceptional leader has an equally exceptional idea. 

Their vision will propel a special mission. They can turn that idea into meaningful purpose, and engage their team or organization to play a part in it.

2) They are strategic

Great leaders are always thinking steps ahead. They have the ability to build upon their ideas and plan for the future.

In my experience, leaders who make informed decisions are able to steer their teams the right direction.

Their team’s short-term activities and tactics will align with a long-term goal. Plus, they are the driving force of that goal, motivating all of the people who play a part.

In order to motivate, the leader has to have a high moral compass… 

3) They have integrity

Not every leader will have integrity, but the leader who doesn’t have strong ethics or values won’t succeed for very long.

It’s important for leaders to have integrity so they can inspire a team.

Demonstrating honesty, trustworthiness, and consistency is key to influencing the masses. 

And, the exceptional leader will need sharp communication skills to share their ideas and delegate tasks… 

4) They can communicate effectively

Exceptional leaders need to be excellent communicators. This quality is important because they need to translate their vision clearly to their teams, collaborators, and stakeholders.

If the leader doesn’t convey their vision the right way, it can be misconstrued or simply not inspire the team.

As the leader shares their vision and provides action items, exceptional ones will ask people for their opinions and ideas… 

5) They accept feedback

The best leaders I’ve worked under were open to feedback from the top down. They will ask everyone from directors to interns for their thoughts. 

I once worked under someone who always said that everyone at the organization has the “permission to dissent,” and he meant it. 

When employees would challenge the status quo, problems would be solved.

6) They don’t have an ego

While some leaders definitely have egos, the exceptional ones don’t. 

They don’t make everything about themselves. They think about priorities and the big picture. The success of their organization is not just for them. It’s for their staff and customers. 

7) They are humble

There is such a thing as being “too big for your britches.” It means that you’re too confident.

The exceptional leader is humble and has humility. The best leaders I’ve come across came from humble beginnings. Because they know what it’s like to have less, they work hard to attain more.

It’s that same quality that also makes them scrappy…

8) They are as scrappy as they come

habits of people who consistently make wise decisions under pressure 21 remarkable traits that make a person an exceptional leader

The best leaders get their hands dirty. They’ve worked from the ground up. 

They know what the people under them have to do to reach their full potential.

They’ve been there and done that, so they can lead by doing. Exceptional leaders use their firsthand experience to direct their team, solve problems, and improve process.

They’re excellent at delegating… 

9) They delegate with trust

Exceptional leaders are able to give clear direction to their teams. And they do it with confidence in their people. 

In addition, the best leaders will delegate with these in mind: 

  • With trust
  • WIth empowerment
  • Without micromanaging 
  • With a sense of what success looks like
  • With support when they need it

They set their people up for success, so they can fly with autonomy…  

10) They give their people autonomy

No one likes to be micromanaged. You don’t want someone breathing down your neck as you get through your assignments. 

They trust they hired the right people for the part they are playing in their mission. And with that trust comes autonomy

Great leaders will tell their people what the desired outcome is, but not tell them how to get there. They will give their teams decision-making authority so they have ownership of their work. 

However, when things go awry, the exceptional leader will take responsibility… 

11) They hold themselves accountable

While leaders will and should hold their teams accountable for their actions, the exceptional ones also give themselves the same standards.

If expectations on a project aren’t met, the exceptional leader will often take responsibility. They will then set expectations for next time, and include ways to improve. 

Mistakes happen, but the exceptional leader will know how to handle failures… 

12) They take risks

Being a leader is not just about making sure your team wins all the time. Exceptional leaders are instrumental in fostering a culture of ownership and learning. 

In order to learn, calculated risks need to be taken. Leaders will often give their teams that opportunity.

And when their teams do fail, they know how to bounce back… 

13) They are resilient

After risks are taken, when leaders fail, the exceptional ones know how to bounce back.

They are able to face challenges and setbacks, and lead their team through adversity and uncertainty. 

The best leaders can adapt… 

14) They can continuously adapt

In today’s rapidly changing world, the best leaders are able to constantly pivot.

As the world changes, exceptional leaders can navigate ambiguity and embrace new ideas. 

Because they’re always growing, they’re able to keep going with a positive outlook…

15) They are optimistic

The best leaders are “glass-half-full” people. They have a positive outlook and are optimistic about the future because they have to be.

They need to see the potential in what’s to come even if it’s an uphill battle. Their optimism will motivate their team.

But if there are challenges, they will work towards solutions…

16) They are solutions-oriented

people with high level of self awareness never do 21 remarkable traits that make a person an exceptional leader

There’s not always a perfect scenario. And in the leader’s life, they will face many challenges. 

Exceptional leaders tackle issues with solutions or task subject matter experts with finding solutions. 

Great leaders know the importance of collaborating with other pros to solve problems or innovate.

17) They are excellent collaborators

Great leaders know how vital collaboration is to success. 

They value teamwork, as well as diverse perspectives and subject matter expertise. 

Leaders will often facilitate collaboration in order to attain a specific goal. Every person on a project has a part to play, and great leaders recognize that it’s a team effort. 

They know it’s not a one-man show…

18) They have a sense of self-awareness

There is no “I” in team after all. Great leaders are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Self-awareness in itself is a strength. Knowing what your gaps are (and working towards filling them) will make you a great leader.

If you’re the leader is not great at something, exceptional ones will know to hire someone to be the expert in that key area.

19) They show appreciation

This is not one of the most obvious skills of a leader. However, in my experience working under leaders, the exceptional ones are always grateful for their team.

They actively recognize the hard workers producing great results. They will give praise where it’s due. 

They—not only provide constructive feedback—they make sure the positive recognition floats all the way to the top and spreads across an organization.

Doing this empowers the team… 

20) The empower and inspire

Exceptional leaders aim to empower and inspire. They can propel their mission by motivating others.

They know that empowerment is integral to boosting productivity and seeing results. 

The best leaders do this by:

  • Giving people the opportunity to share ideas
  • Sharing clear goals and direction
  • Providing purpose 
  • Focusing on the long-term
  • Celebrating wins

21) They celebrate wins

Whether big or small, the best leaders know to acknowledge good work. It fosters enthusiasm among those involved.

It encourages everyone to continue to perform, while also creating a bond between members who took part in the success.

Not only will doing so motivate their team, it also gives them the opportunity to look at what they did right. Taking note of all the right steps and moves can be instrumental in future wins. 

So do you embody these traits?

After reading every attribute on this list, do you think you’re an exceptional leader? Or, do you have more work to do? 

While one’s overall leadership style is not going to be identical to another’s, the most important role of a leader is to support their team. Doing so will boost morale and productivity. 

As a leader, if you put motivating your team on the backburner, you may lose your best players. The team members who will stick around won’t be as invested as the top performers you want to retain.

The culture you foster will engage and influence. Don’t sleep on your leadership skills if you want to succeed. 

Picture of Ysolt Usigan Schmidt

Ysolt Usigan Schmidt

Ysolt Usigan is a lifestyle writer and editor with 15+ years of experience working in digital media. She has created share-worthy content for publishers WomansDay.com, Shape, WhatToExpect, CafeMom, TODAY, CBSNews, HuffingtonPost, TheBump, Health Magazine, and AskMen. A working mom of two, her editorial expertise in relationships, spirituality, mental wellness, shopping, and home are rooted in her everyday life.

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