Being an effective leader means mastering skills from five key themes, a new study has found.

Dr Sunnie Giles, an organizational scientist and leadership development consultant, undertook research to find out the traits needed to be an effective leader. Her research involved 195 leaders across 15 countries.

Participants were asked to identify the 15 most important leadership competencies from a list of 74. The top 10 were then grouped into five main themes that all leaders should aspire to achieve.

“These five areas present significant challenges to leaders due to the natural responses that are hardwired into us,” Dr Giles notes.

She goes on to say that with “deep self-reflection and a shift in perspective… there are also enormous opportunities for improving everyone’s performance by focusing on our own.”

Demonstrates strong ethics and provides a sense of safety

“Has high ethical and moral standards” and “clearly communicates expectations” were the first and third most important qualities for leaders.

Together, these attributes are about demonstrating a commitment to fairness, clearly communicating expectations to employees and creating an environment where people feel able to relax.

Empowers others to self-organize

This theme involves “providing goals and objectives with loose guidelines/direction,” a quality deemed the second most important by the leaders surveyed.

Ensuring employees are clearly directed and can organise their own time and work helps them to feel more empowered.

Empowered teams have been found to be more productive and proactive. Leaders need to “overcome the fear of relinquishing power,” and allow others to take on responsibilities and make their own mistakes.

Fosters a sense of connection and belonging

Communicating “often and openly” and creating a “feeling of succeeding and failing together” were identified as important qualities leaders should have.

Giles notes: “Once we feel safe (a sensation that is registered in the reptilian brain), we also have to feel cared for (which activates the limbic brain) in order to unleash the full potential of our higher functioning prefrontal cortex.”

Research suggests that positive relationships in the workplace can improve productivity and emotional wellbeing.

Is open to new ideas and encourages learning

Encouraging learning and embracing new ideas is a key strength for leaders, identified in these three competencies: has the flexibility to change opinions, is open to new ideas and approaches, and provides safety for trial and error.

“To encourage learning among employees, leaders must first ensure that they are open to learning (and changing course) themselves.”

Providing a safe environment for failure encourages employees to take risks and to feel confident putting forward ideas.

Nurtures growth

The final theme identified by the survey involves leaders nurturing growth. “Being committed to my ongoing training” was voted as the fifth most important quality.

Leaders who make a commitment to the growth of their employees are rewarded, with employees being motivated to reciprocate and expressing their gratitude and loyalty through commitment and working harder.

This commitment to growth is also necessary in helping employees “grow into a next-generation leader.”

“If you want to inspire the best from your team, advocate for them, support their training and promotion, and go to bat to sponsor their important projects.”