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10 Characteristics of a Real Leader


February 8, 2021

By Rowan Van Dyk

10 Characteristics of a Real Leader

6 min

In a previous book, Why Great Leaders Are Catalysts, I introduced you to the Leadership Flag. This Leadership Flag was and acronym using the word leadership and identified ten (10) characteristics or attributes you had to acquire in order to be great leader.   Here are those ten attributes you need in order to be a leader and therefore know how to lead your team successfully.


If you want to influence or direct others to achieve an objective, you must be the role-model. You must be aware of:

  • How you talk to people
  • The way you look or dress
  • The company you keep

My belief is that through observing the behaviour of successful leaders, people can be taught to be successful leaders themselves. Therefore, it is vital that as a leader being observed or imitated, you do not create the wrong impression.

As mentioned previously, Warren Buffet said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and only 5 minutes to ruin it. Think how you will do things differently”. People look to you as the leader and also as the role-model. If you stumble they will pick up on it immediately and it will tarnish your reputation as a leader. The lifestyle you live is similar but also distinctly different from the example you set.

If you are a strict disciplinarian type leader at work who enforces the ethics and values of the organization religiously, but on weekends you are the proverbial party animal and you disregard societal rules in the process, your followers are not going to trust you because of your double standards.

If you, as the leader, are the one always telling the dirty jokes, or you constantly cuss and use foul language in the workplace, or outside the workplace, you will not gain the respect of your followers and achieve the objectives of the company or team will be fruitless.

I have heard many hair-raising stories of company functions or get-togethers where the staff talk, for years to come, how the CEO or the boss was drunk at the last office party and how they made a fool of themselves. This, at the time, may seem to the boss that they are the life of the party, but as a great leader you need to show the way to the team and “walk the talk” by being the same person at work that you are in your social life.

You have to also have a leadership personality. What I mean by this is that not everyone wants to be a leader, and similarly not everyone has what it takes to be a leader. If you want to be a leader you firstly need to realize it is a clear choice only you can make, you cannot automatically become a leader when promoted, and you must have the necessary personality. Later in Part 2 I will discuss the personality types a bit more.

To be a great leader you will need the following personality attribute:

  1. You must be an outgoing type of person. If you are a recluse you will never be able to successfully interact with your team and if there is limited or no communication, your team will not perform.
  2. You must have lots of energy to constantly motivate the team and keep them moving towards the end objective. If you lack energy you will also lack passion and then you team will not buy into your message and follow you.


If you expect your followers to produce the results you desire, you are going to need to lead by example. Nothing motivates a follower more than seeing the boss roll up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty along with all the others in the trenches, showing them that hard work takes place on every level. By proving your commitment to the business and your role as leader, you will earn the respect of your followers and you will also set the work ethic benchmark that will generate the same hard working energy among your followers.

You must be prepared to lead by your example, which is not the same as Lifestyle. In order to lead by example, you should not expect your followers to perform tasks you are not prepared to perform yourself. We have established that the difference between a leader and a manager is that a leader “leads the way”, so you should be prepared to set the pace; to show the direction; to have the capacity and ability to do what you expect your followers to do.

Carlyle believed that leaders were great men and cited examples of people such as Napoleon Bonaparte, but great military leaders do not lead the charge, they remain behind to strategize. A true leader sets the example and leads from the front.

Another way in which a leader sets the example is, not just by knowing the Vision, Mission and Core Values of the organisation, but by being completely committed to them and living them out in every action and deed. The core values of the organisation determine the culture of the organisation. By enforcing, living and even being the culture, you as the leader will set the correct example for your team to follow.

Your overall attitude should be a positive one. True leaders do not see problems but instead see opportunities. A true leader will use the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats identified in a SWOT analysis and turn them into opportunities for success.

You want to keep your team motivated towards the continued success of the company, and keep the energy levels up. Whether that means providing snacks, coffee, relationship advice, or even just an occasional beer in the office, remember that everyone on your team is a person. Keep the office mood a fine balance between productivity and playfulness.

If your team is feeling happy and upbeat, chances are they won’t mind staying that extra hour to finish a report, or devoting their best work to the brand.

There may be days where the future of your business is uncertain and things aren’t going according to plan. This happens with any business, large or small on occasion. The most important thing is to not panic, because it is part of your job as a leader to put out fires and maintain the team morale. Keep up your confidence level, and assure everyone that setbacks are natural and the important thing is to focus on the end goal.

Remember that having a positive attitude is not measured by how happy you are or how much you smile, it is measured by how quickly you bounce back from a negative incident. Your team will be watching you to model their own behaviour, so how quickly you get up and dust yourself off after being knocked down, is going to determine how positive and enthusiastic they will be towards your vision or message. By staying calm and confident, you will help keep the team feeling the same. The ultimate objective is to keep everyone working and moving ahead.


Authority could also be described as being assertive. The most important factor that develops your authority as a leader, is trust. Your team however will only trust you if you are truthful with them in all aspects of the business

It is important to not only show your commitment to the work at hand, but also to your promises. If you promised to host an office party, or to implement Casual Fridays, then make sure you keep your word. It is of utmost importance, not only to create the reputation of work ethic, but also to be a fair leader and the catalyst in building trust relations throughout your entire organization. As soon as you gain the respect of your team, and they trust you as a fair and reliable leader, they will be more likely to deliver peak performances at the highest quality work possible.

  • Your word must mean something.
  • If you promise to do something, do it
  • Are you dependable?
  • Can you be trusted?
  • Do you keep your word?

Authority also refers to having INTEGRITY. This implies that you can be trusted and that you will stand up for your team.


The difference between good leaders and great leaders often is their discipline. Having a whole range of positive traits does not serve as an excuse for a lack of discipline. Having proper discipline allows leaders more flexibility, but subjecting yourself to the rigour of discipline is not easy, although it is essential if you want to maximize your effectiveness as a leader. The best leaders usually are extremely disciplined people and they simply do the things others are not willing to do. Are you disciplined in all facets of your life, or just those which come more easily to you?

You don’t need to observe a leader for long to know whether or not they’re disciplined. Disciplined leaders stand out because they’re the ones that get things done, the ones you can count on.

Being a disciplined leader means that you are prepared to stand your ground at decision time but that you are flexible enough to also accept the input from your team. Remember that you can listen to others’ opinion without needing to act upon them because ultimately you are the one that remains accountable.

Leaders that display a strong sense of self-discipline are leaders that know how to control their actions and emotions, and are also leaders that can be trusted to do the right thing. Disciplined leaders are fully committed to both their objective and the team.

Being a disciplined leader means you will see things through to the end no matter what the odds and what happens along the way.

Emotionally Intelligent

Great leaders are mature and do not get caught up with petty things.

Being able to keep your emotions under control when things go wrong is a very important attribute of a leader. As the leader, you are looked to for guidance and support and if you lose control over your emotions in a crisis then you will lose your effectiveness as a leader.

We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing our emotions. As mentioned I will address these personalities in Part 2 of this book. If we hope to succeed in life and business, especially as a successful leader, emotional intelligence becomes important.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence are usually successful in the things they do because they are the ones that others want on their team. When people with high emotional intelligence send an email, it gets answered.

When they need help, they get it. Because they make others feel good, they go through life much more easily than people who are easily angered or upset.

This is perhaps the second-most important element of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships and listening and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.

Emotionally Intelligent leaders have confidence in themselves and their team and know how to remain clam under pressure. Having this emotional stability allows you to keep your when everyone else is losing theirs and has a positive impact on your decision making skills:

  • Because you are not stressed out, you can react calmly to problem situations and make rational decisions.
  • Because of your emotional maturity you are able to other people’s opinions into account when making decisions that impact the team.
  • Because you are emotionally mature you are able to handle and deal with conflict a lot more effectively as you are able to reason with your head and not always your heart or emotions.


To be reasonable means to be of sound judgement, but also to be fair and practical. It means that you allow creativity in your team and you are also lenient when they make mistakes. Being reasonable also means that you are fair in all your dealings with the team and that you do not embarrass them publicly.

As a reasonable leader, you further have to examine your values and beliefs. Are these values (your vision or message) sound beliefs and how strictly do you enforce them? Are you convinced that your values and beliefs as the leader are the correct ones? Are you prepared to accept new ideas?

As a reasonable leader, you would be firm in your convictions of your values and message while at the same time still being open to new ideas. What we mean by this is that even though you are convinced of your message (values and beliefs) and you determinately drive that message to your followers and do not allow anyone to sway you from your message, where there are better ways of implementing your message, you are still prepared to listen to them. This is the difference between a reasonable leader and an autocratic leader.

Reasonable leaders lead with an implied authority. They are able to convince their team to carry out the actions required in order to achieve the end result. They do not have to be instructed or forced to act, instead they do it because they actually want to.

Being reasonable as a leader is the best way to maximize your positive leadership traits. Reasonable leaders are the leaders that team members and followers find admirable, approachable, and inspiring. Contrary to popular belief, you can be reasonable without compromising your ability to be daring, bold, innovative, or imaginative. You can have all of those characteristics and if you are prepared as a leader to consider a variety of viewpoints and collect and analyse all of the information you need to make decisions, you can be a positive, reasonable leader.

Being humane, according to the dictionary means showing understanding (empathy) and having a rapport with others. It means that you have the ability to be empathetic and place yourself in the other person’s shoes.


Sincerity and integrity lays the foundation for trust and respect and requires that the actions of the leader reflects the values of the organisation.

Not all the decisions you make will be so clear-cut or open for discussion. You may be forced at times to deviate from your set course and make off-the-cuff decisions. This is where your reliability and consistency in decision making will prove to be vital. It is during these critical moments that your team will look to you for guidance and you may be forced to make a quick decision. As a leader, it’s important to remember to keep the ultimate goal in sight and be consistent in the way you make these decisions. Your team needs to learn to depend on your decision-making skills and to trust you to make the best possible decisions that will benefit the organisation. By being reliable and consistent you will show your team that they can trust the decisions you make and therefore also put in the necessary effort to achieve the end goal.

When leading a team through uncharted waters, there is no roadmap on what to do. Everything is uncertain, and the higher the risk, the higher the pressure. That is where your reliability will be tested. Guiding your team through the process of your day-to-day tasks can be honed down to a science. But when something unexpected occurs, or you are thrown into a new scenario, your team will look to you for guidance. If you have proved you are reliable in these situations, your team will learn to trust you. Learning to trust yourself is as important as your team learning to trust you.

Integrity is the concept of basing of one’s actions on an internally consistent framework of principles. You are said to have integrity to the extent that everything you do is based on the same core set of values. While those values may change, there is always a consistency between your values and your actions.

Integrity can be expressed as personal honesty: acting according to your beliefs and values at all times. Integrity can be seen as doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

Integrity requires that accountability and moral responsibility are necessary for maintaining consistency between your actions and your principles.


Leaders that truly are catalysts need to be humble. Being humble does not mean that you cave into any adversity or that you do not exert your authority as required. No, being humble implies that as a leader you are often times prepared to take the back seat and let the team members who have more proficient skills in a particular area apply their skills to complete the task or solve the problem.

Being humble means that you as the leader accept that you are not necessarily the expert in every situation and that the reason you have a team of followers is that they too possess certain skills. If you harness those skills you can better achieve your end goal or objective

Humility also can include servant leadership.

The assumption is that if leaders focus on the needs and desires of followers, followers will reciprocate through increased teamwork, deeper engagement, and better performance.


The sharing of information is vital in any business today. If your janitor does not know where the company is going, or what their vision or mission is, how do you expect him to put in the required work effort to assist the company with achieving their vision? The vision, or message of the company, is not for the exclusive right of top management or the executive only, it is to be communicated to, and understood by, every single employee in the organization.

The sharing of information is conducted through communication. Without communication our team will fail.


Passion is that sense of devotion and dedication that drives you. It is what makes you get out of bed every morning with intensity. Passion is what propels you into action. Passion is not vision or mission, passion is what drives you to achieve you vision and mission. Vision is the long-term goal. Mission is what actions one takes to translate that vision into reality. Vision is what you want to do with your existence, and mission is how you will go about it. Simply put; passion is what makes you exist.

What corporations, organizations, and governments should invest in is a passion statement and not necessarily a vision statement. Your passion statement should be a declaration of why you exist as an entity and what drives you.

There is a difference between management and leadership. Though many think the two are interchangeable. They are not. Leadership is action, not just a position. Not all leaders are managers and vice versa. But there are rare individuals who are both.

Passion has the capacity to translate vision into reality. Without passion, leaders are just mere visionaries. Passion is the distinction between success and failure. True passion is that fire that never stops burning.

Passion is driven by the belief of what is not known as a fact yet. That belief that you will arrive at the end destination even though the rocky road you are traveling at the moment may be strewn with obstacles.

As an entrepreneur, leader or just a common blue-collar worker, you have two choices. Say what the people want to hear, do what they want you to do, and find all the right excuses why you don’t succeed; or start to sincerely and passionately care about what you do and say. Care about how you present yourself in the workplace. Become passionate again about the reason why you started out on this journey in the first place.

Become passionate again about why you are right here, right now. Ask yourself: “Would you believe in a person that does not believe in himself?”