Leadership is not for everyone. In fact, even some people currently in leadership positions do not belong there.

Having worked for numerous leaders during the course of my 25 years in the business world, I can tell you there is a wide array of leadership types and levels of competency. I have learned from both the amazing and the not-so-great leaders — and one thing I’ve learned is that the amazing leaders distinguish themselves from the average ones through a number of shared characteristics.

During my professional marketing career, I worked at both startups and well-established companies (e.g., Constant Contact, Dell EMC, Hitachi). The startup leaders were the ones I learned the most from. I attribute this to the fact these leaders had to be so dynamic and multitalented with their skill sets, as this enabled them to grow their companies in the face of continuous high risk, especially when new products or services were being launched.

In my opinion, the No. 1 skill the best leaders all possessed was a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ). To the best of my knowledge, this is not a skill which is taught in business school; it is purely an innate talent.

Having a high degree of EQ does not guarantee someone will be a successful leader, but the best leaders I’ve worked for have all leveraged this skill every day in demonstrable ways. For example, many successful leaders are able to easily read people and figure out how to motivate them. They are also able to get along well with almost everyone, regardless of the role they play in the organization. Providing a crystal-clear vision both verbally and in writing of where and how a company will achieve its goals is also an essential skill the best leaders possess.

The majority of the best leaders also exude charisma and are very likable people. They earn your respect, they don’t just expect it. They tend to be demanding, having extremely high standards across the board — but they are also fair and not judgmental. Being open-minded is another common attribute I’ve found in the best leaders.

Funnily enough, not all of the people whom I would classify as “leaders” were in fact leaders. However, they all possessed the characteristics associated with successful leaders, and they were clearly heading toward becoming leaders at some point in their careers. I’m sure you know a few people who fall into this category, and I hope they will be given the opportunity to step into the leadership roles they are destined to fill.

If you think you are a leader in the making, wish to be one someday, or are in fact already a leader, know that this is one of the most important roles you will play in your professional life. Having worked for some of the best leaders in the world, I encourage you to model your leadership style after well-known and highly successful leaders, regardless of the industry they are in. It’s never too late to do so, even if you’re already in a leadership role.

Please do not delay in developing your leadership skills! Otherwise, you are doing a disservice to yourself and those you lead.

Kathleen E. R. Murphy is the founder, chief performance strategist, and CMO of Market Me Too. She is also the author of a newly published business book, Wisdom Whisperer, which is available via Amazon. 

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