Leadership skills vs traits

Leadership skills vs traits: what are they, and how are they different? Leadership traits and skills are two related but separate concepts that, while often used interchangeably, are quite different. One refers to the ability to perform a task and do it well, while the other relates to qualities and characteristics. Both help drive a team towards a shared goal.

Some people are natural leaders, with the traits to inspire and encourage a team; others have to work hard to develop their leadership skills. So, which is which? Let’s find out by assessing what we mean by leadership skills versus traits.

Looking at examples of leadership skills and attributes can help in separating abilities from qualities:

Examples of leadership skills 

Strategic thinking – Leaders who think strategically can help an organisation grow to the next level or successfully navigate a period of change.

Delegation – Assigning work to others shows a leader’s confidence in their team, building trust and helping individuals develop their own skillsets. 

Flexibility – Flexible leaders adapt to change and are open to pivoting or revising their plans when circumstances call for new ideas.

Active listening – Acknowledging someone fully and respectfully when they’re speaking shows genuine care and helps resolve conflict.

Problem solving – Pre-empting problems to minimise their occurrence and dealing with issues when they arise is a key element of leadership.

Examples of leadership traits 

Dependability – If you possess the leadership trait of dependability, you’re accountable, reliable and consistent in your approach.

Positivity – A positive leader is optimistic and helps lift morale, seeing new possibilities and inspiring others through their positive example.

Charisma – Having charisma means being charming and persuasive in how you communicate, bringing others round to your way of thinking.

Wooden blocks on a desk spelling out "Don't quit'Determination – Having a plan for success and the passion and motivation to achieve your objectives is a key trait that drivers leaders towards their goals.

Perseverance – Staying steady and persisting during challenging times helps leaders guide teams to success while setting an inspiring example.

 

When it comes to leadership, which are more important: skills, or traits? The answer is that it just isn’t that clear cut. In fact, it can be helpful to possess a good mix of the two.

Global leaders, when asked what leadership requires, replied with a combination of skills and qualities, from having high moral standards to communicating often and openly, which highlights the importance of a rounded leader with both the inherent personality traits to lead and the skills to put those qualities into practice.

Leadership skill… or trait?

What about when the lines between leadership skills vs traits begin to blur? There are a couple of leadership skills and traits that overlap, namely integrity and empathy.

Having integrity is being principled and of upstanding character, and while some people have integrity from a young age, others develop the trait later on in life.

Displaying integrity is where the confusion comes into play regarding leadership skills vs traits. As a leader, having integrity means making choices and taking action in the best interests of the team or the wider organisation. Although integrity is a trait, it could be viewed as a leadership skill when being put into practice.

Empathy, meanwhile, can be categorised as both a leadership skill and a trait, and as such, it can be developed over time. Understanding and being compassionate shows humanity and builds relationships – both inside and outside work. In interdependent situations, such as within a team, the reliance each person has on the others to achieve goals and provide support helps foster empathy.

Here at Delphinium, we consider empathy to be one of the most important leadership skills – read more about other leadership skills here, or book a discovery call to find out how our coaching and training packages build strong leaders.

Gemma Rolstone

Gemma Rolstone

Helping good managers to become great leaders