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Five behavioural traits of real leaders

Illustration of a finger pointing at a leader

Karen Meager, co-founder of Monkey Puzzle, on the traits of a good leader

A study of over 60 leaders from all walks of life and business was undertaken whilst writing our book, Real Leaders for the Real World. We wanted to find out if there were any themes in the traits that good leaders have developed, or are looking to develop and whether there were any issues that were common to most leaders. The results of the study gave us five key essential traits of successful and authentic leaders in any field whether it be business, public sector, community or family. We found that good leaders have developed the following essential traits:

They use feedback to succeed

They take feedback from many sources and evaluate it in a way that supports and helps them make decisions and take action. People encounter problems with this trait when they either delete or ignore feedback from some sources, or overly fixate on certain pieces of feedback. This means they do not have a balanced set of information from which to take them forward. 

Good leaders learn to take feedback from a variety of sources and pay attention to a balance of so called “positive” and “negative” feedback. This may seem like a straightforward trait to develop, but this has much to do with our individual thinking patterns and emotional processing which means that developing these traits involves addressing these first.

They take considered risks

Good leaders take more risks and they also evaluate them beforehand. They find a balance between being gung-ho and doing things without considering them and reflecting on something for too long or not taking risks because they are scared it will go wrong.

This trait is as much to do with self-awareness, than becoming perfectly balanced between activist and reflector, our talents are often in our preference. So the key is for leaders to be aware of when their preference might get them into trouble, and that reflecting is quality reflecting. If leaders can learn to identify how they are assessing potential risks and understand and change their own thinking patterns around the unfamiliar and new, they will be able to take considered risks.

They are forward thinking and flexible

They are working towards something that’s important to them and are flexible in their approach as to how to achieve this. To do this, leaders need to make friends with failure so that it is experienced as a learning experience rather than a disaster. For many people, encountering failure is an emotionally packed experience and so they will do anything, understandably, to avoid it. Countless really successful and famous people have had to overcome their fear of failure to get where they have. When leaders make friends with failure and develop flexibility they become more forward thinking in their approach.

They do what they say and say what they do

Good leaders are consistent, if they say they believe in something, they will also behave it in the workplace and their life in general. For example, if they say respect is important, you will see them demonstrate respect to everyone in their interactions. This is easier said than done for many of us. People pick up and copy leaders’ behaviours not their words, so an essential part of becoming a good leader is demonstrating consistency, honesty and integrity. 

Developing this is not always easy and can require some personal development work to unpick the unhelpful learned behaviour and internal conflicts that often drive inconsistent behaviour.

They develop real relationships with people

They do not play games or ‘politics’, they know the value of relationships and learn to become assertive rather than aggressive, supportive rather than taking over and vulnerable when appropriate. They take responsibility for their part in events and empower others to do the same.

This is not utopia, developing these traits is possible to achieve and the good news it you can do it and remain true to yourself, no need for a personality transplant. We need more real leaders in our organisations and the world in general with the capacity for complex, non-egotistical thinking and action. Could you be one of them?


Karen Meager, is the Co-Author of Real Leaders for the Real World and is the Co-Founder of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy. For more information visit


  • Timothy Taylor

    Do you have any evidence as to the extent to which using feedback from many sources, taking considered risks, being forward thinking and flexible, being consistent in what they say and do, and not playing games or politics are also common traits of less successful and unsuccessful leaders?

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