What Makes an Effective Leader?

Leader sharing ideas with coworkers

The quality of an effective leader can make or break a team. Effective leaders know how to lead in such a way that their followers want to work with them and help create their vision. Acquiring good leadership skills and practices takes effort and time. However, it is worthwhile because the results can increase the chances of success for you and your team. What makes an effective leader? What are the keys to effective leadership? Let’s take a closer look.

In This Article:

Characteristics of an Effective Leader

Certain characteristics differentiate great leaders from mediocre ones. Developing these character traits can help you hone keys to effective leadership practices. Effective leaders are:


Collaboration is very important for leaders. Effective Leaders must be able to work with others to bring ideas and projects to fruition. An open-minded leader recognizes the potential and value in other people’s ideas. People respond to such recognition by working harder and communicating better. To accomplish goals, effective leaders should cooperate well with others, including employees, other teams and even clients.


Making good, timely decisions can showcase the skills of how to be an efficient leader. Leaders often have multiple options and must choose the best course of action to take. Sometimes these decisions are made under pressure or in a time crunch. There may sometimes be ethical considerations. Leaders may also make hard decisions when employees or other colleagues have conflicting opinions.

Consider these effective leader tips for making good decisions:

  • Don’t let little decisions cause stress. When you are a leader, chances are you make many decisions on a daily basis. Many of these decisions are probably of minor significance. Try not to waste too much time or energy on them.
  • Practice confidence. Showing confidence in your decisions is very important for a leader. If you do not believe in your decisions, it is unlikely other people will either.
  • Resist overthinking. When a decision becomes overwhelming, it can be easy to overthink it. Streamlining your decision process can save time and reduce stress.
  • Pursue insight. Recognize that some decisions will benefit from seeking the insights of other team members or individuals who may be affected by the decision.


The effectiveness of leaders depends on the respect of the people who work for them. It is difficult to get people to follow someone they do not respect. Maintaining a consistently professional appearance and attitude can help foster respect.

Beware of being hypocritical with your words and actions. Employees do not readily respect leaders who fail to follow their own advice or meet the standards they hold employees to.


Transformational leaders model what they expect from their team members, inspiring the team to follow their example. Transformational leaders have a vision of the end goal and can communicate it clearly to their team members. However, they care about more than achieving the goal. They also care about those they work with and are interested in their contributions. A transformational leader inspires their team to reach their full potential, often by setting a good example in their own strong work ethic.

Successful in Communicating

Being able to communicate successfully is advantageous for professionals in all kinds of fields. Leaders who provide clear instructions and explanations can foster employees who understand how to accomplish their tasks efficiently. Effective leaders often consider these communication tips:

  • Be clear. Clarity can help team members know exactly what the expectations are. Including detail and reasoning in your communication can help people understand directions better and know how to adapt to exceptional cases.
  • Answer questions and address concerns. Asking if an employee or colleague has any questions can clear up issues in advance. If someone is confused about the process or the steps to take, things will proceed more efficiently if you address this promptly.
  • Listen and keep an open mind. Most people appreciate it when their ideas are heard in a professional environment. Listening to what your employees have to say not only increases their engagement but also augments your pool of potentially useful ideas.
  • Give constructive feedback. Providing feedback and follow-up communication is essential to keeping things running smoothly. If someone is not meeting the expectations for a project, a pointer in the right direction can work wonders. If a colleague is doing something well, consider acknowledging that to encourage more of the same.


The goal of many leaders is to instill a vision in the minds of their followers. Being able to see what could help your company or organization in the future can set you apart as a leader. Bringing new vision and ideas to the table is greatly beneficial.

Creativity can play a part in being visionary. Effective leaders should have the creativity to solve problems. They may devise solutions and plans that bring their visions to life effectively.

How To Be an Effective Leader

You may wonder how these skills and characteristics of effective leaders are developed. It takes time and effort to realize your leadership potential, along with plenty of practice. The following are some ways that you can work toward becoming a more effective leader.

Earn a Leadership-Related Degree

In pursuit of a career in the C-suite, many individuals across industries decide to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. An MBA, particularly one with a concentration in leadership skills, can teach you how to refine your own leadership style and how to work collaboratively with your team to solve problems creatively.1 This degree can enable you to pursue leadership positions with confidence, such as:

  • Regional manager
  • Supervisor
  • Chief executive officer
  • Corporate trainer

Evaluate and Practice Your Skills

Another way to develop your leadership skills is through practice. If you struggle with being decisive, you can practice making choices by following a rational, logic-based decision-making process. Practice will render decision-making easier for you as a leader. If collaborating with others is a challenge for you, consider committing to a project or taking a class that requires collaboration.

Learn From Other Effective Leaders

Learning from other leaders can also help you develop your leadership skills. As you observe the style of other leaders, you can incorporate what impresses you into your own leadership style. Asking for other leaders’ advice can also contribute to your understanding of leadership. Consider looking for mentorship opportunities.

Three Keys to Effective Leadership

What makes an effective leader? Becoming an effective leader is about more than the end goal. Rather, it’s an ongoing process that requires continual refinements and adjustments. Even after you attain a leadership position and you feel that you are effective in that role, it’s important to re-evaluate your impact periodically and identify areas of improvement. The following are three questions that an effective leader can reflect upon.

1. Are Your Employees Willing to Follow You?

Anyone who has spent time studying leadership knows that a leader must have willing followers. Having positional authority — serving as manager or being in a leadership position — does not automatically make you a leader. While positional authority gives you a legitimate right to provide direction to your employees, it does not necessarily make you influential. A manager can direct and control employees, but it is often without influence. In the case of poor leadership, employees may do just enough to keep management off their back. While some people are intrinsically motivated, and can work well, even with a bad leader. Most employees, however, may engage in bare minimum compliance and simply check the boxes that need to be checked, providing the manager, team and organization with minimal energy, effort and time. In short, they are not willing followers driven by commitment; rather, they are compliant automatons who complete their work because their work because they have to instead of because they want to.

To properly evaluate yourself in this area, you need to determine whether the people that you lead follow you willingly.

  • Do your employees feel empowered to perform their job to the best of their ability?
  • Do they maximize their performance by giving you their full energy, effort and time?
  • Do they go above and beyond the demands of their role without being asked?

If so, you have done a terrific job building trust and commitment, and you've likely become an influential part of your team’s lives.

2. Do You Make Your Employees Better?

One of the first steps in becoming a great leader involves helping your employees become better at their job. After all, you hired them to perform a specific role. Newly hired employees may expect you to be more directive until they have become proficient enough to complete their work on their own.

As an employee matures into their role, they might expect you to become more supportive while helping them grow and develop. Leaders often do not place enough emphasis on the growth and development of their employees because there is a perception that these activities detract from overall performance. This belief is misguided. Helping employees grow and develop creates more commitment because they believe you have their best interests in mind.2

To address this second area of self-reflection, you should evaluate your role in the area of employee growth.

  • Have you trained your employees to become highly proficient in their current role?
  • Has employee performance improved or declined?
  • Have you worked with your employees to create unique, Individual Development Plans (IDPs) to help them acquire new skills?
  • Have you created a path for exceptional employees to pursue promotional opportunities?

If you have executed on these tasks, you have shown a tremendous commitment to making your followers better and improving their lives.

3. Do You Adapt to Employee Needs?

We all have a worldview, which means we all see the world through our own unique filter. From a leadership perspective, if you apply your filter to every employee, your effectiveness will suffer. Conversely, if you can alter your style and customize your leadership to meet the needs of each employee and situation uniquely, you have a chance to create productive relationships and remarkable results.3

Accomplishing this often depends on your commitment to becoming acquainted with each employee’s preferences, motivating factors, receptivity to feedback and goals. Without knowing what makes your employees tick, your ability to modify your leadership style is compromised.

To evaluate your ability to adapt, you need to assess how well you know each of your employees on an individual level. Here are a few key questions to consider:

  • Do you treat new employees different than longer tenured employees?
  • Do you apply a varied incentive structure to all employees the same way?
  • Do you provide feedback to your employees that uniquely meet their developmental needs?

Grand Canyon University’s Colangelo College of Business offers degrees designed to teach professionals within any type of organization. The Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Leadership is an MBA program that can teach you how to be an effective leader and how to lead your organization with confidence. Fill out the form on this page for more information.


1 Dignity Health Global Education. (2023). 15 top management skills that can lead to C-suite status in healthcare organizations. Retrieved Aug. 29, 2023.

2 Chen, L., Zhang, Z. D., & Jia, W. T. (2020). When and why leaders' helping behavior promotes employees' thriving: exploring the role of voice behavior and perceived leader's role overload. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 553512. Retrieved Aug. 29, 2023.

3 Harvard Business Review. (2020). Adapt you leadership style to your situation. Retrieved Aug. 29, 2023. 

Approved by the academic program manager of the Colangelo College of Business on Aug. 28, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.