7 Leadership Traits That You Can Learn In An Afternoon [Infographic]

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Despite all of the books, interviews, TED talks, and lunchtime powerpoint presentations, the nitty gritty details of being a good leader are surprisingly murky.

Most leaders sitting at the top of the professional ladder will tell you that leaders are made, not born. So what does it take to become a good leader, and more importantly, how can you adopt some of their key skills?

The following infographic examines these leadership traits, and looks at actionable ways to practice them in an afternoon:

Leadership Traits That You Can Learn In An Afternoon

1. First Principles Thinking

first principles thinking

While you may have heard of “strategic thinking” as one of the defining leadership traits, “first principles” thinking is similar but more actionable. First principles thinking involves stripping away our preconceived notions about a topic until we’re left with the absolute basic truth, and then finding a solution based from there. Elon Musk explains:[1]

“Somebody could say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be… With first principles, you say, “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?”

It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can. Break that down on a material basis and say, “If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?”

It’s like $80 per kilowatt hour. So clearly you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”

This Afternoon:

  1. Think about a problem or roadblock in your job
  2. Write down all of the elements of this problem
  3. Eliminate anything that isn’t a fundamental truth
  4. Use the leftover “fundamental truths” as the basis for your solution

2. Decisiveness


A lot of time is wasted at work. A good leader will be a decision-maker. A great leader will make that decision quickly so the agenda can move forward. If you happen to be a serial procrastinator, this one is a difficult one to address without any guidance!

This Afternoon:

  1. Give yourself 5 minutes to research information surrounding a decision
  2. Think about the best possible outcome and worst possible outcome
  3. If the worst possible outcome happened, would you be able to live with it?
  4. If the answer is ‘yes’ go with it, if the answer is ‘no’ then you have your answer

3. A High EQ


EQ, emotional quotient, has been seeing a surge in popularity in recent years, with many publications declaring EQ as equal to, or more important, than IQ when it comes to leadership.[2] And indeed, the power of EQ in a leader can’t be underestimated.

Demonstrating empathy and being able to fire up your team is an indisputable asset in business.

This Afternoon:

  1. Dedicate 30 minutes to help a colleague with a project
  2. Solicit constructive criticism from a colleague
  3. Find a way to show your team that you appreciate them

4. Wisdom

white library bookshelves

Perhaps the most allusive of the list — and paradoxically the one with the simplest solution! Wisdom can’t be learned in an afternoon, but you can always better your intellect by consuming books, podcasts, or learning a new language on your commute to work. Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter if you’re never a master of Mandarin Chinese.

A recent study compared two groups of military students.[3] The first group learned a new language at a very fast pace, while the other group studied medicine. Both groups studied at the same pace, but an MRI scan found that the group who learned a new language had experienced growth in specific areas of the brain, while the other group did not.

This Afternoon:

  1. Read a book related to your industry on your lunch break
  2. Listen to an educational podcast while you work
  3. Practice learning a new language while commuting to and from work

5. Focus


Thanks to smartphones, the average human attention span is now eight seconds long. The species responsible for space travel now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish.[4] The ability to focus is even more valuable than it once was.

For leaders especially, who can expect to be juggling an array of plates at any given moment, the ability to tune out distractions and finish tasks is of paramount importance.

This Afternoon:

  1. Put your phone on silent
  2. Only check your email once an hour
  3. Split large projects into fifteen minute tasks and tackle one at a time

6. Innovation


Not every leader is an innovator, but every iconic leader is. The ability to visualize different concepts and brainstorm creative solutions is a trait that will take a business from a garage to global success.

Steve Jobs has long been heralded as one of the greatest innovators of our time. While creativity cannot be learned, there are plenty of practical exercises that you can use to overcome creative blocks and help you see a situation with a fresh perspective.

This Afternoon:

  1. Get out the office; suggest a walking meeting or go for a stroll to collect your thoughts
  2. Write a list of your personal heroes and keep it on your desk
  3. When a roadblock occurs ask yourself how one of them would solve the problem
  4. Brainstorm by hand. Get away from your screen and write down ideas instead

7. Communication

how to communicate

Of all the leadership skills none is as important as communication — and luckily it happens to be a skill that’s 100% learnable! There are hundreds of books and online articles that can help you master both verbal and nonverbal communication. In the meantime, practice some of these afternoon tips:

  1. Take lunch with a coworker and practice active listening. At the end of the day, quiz yourself by trying to remember the details of the conversation.
  2. Have a conversation on the phone while looking in the mirror. Observe your body language, facial expressions, and the pitch and volume of your voice. Are you giving away any verbal cues when you’re agitated or annoyed?
  3. Take a walk and actively analyze the body language of those around you.  

If you have what it takes to go to the top, why wait for a company to recognize you? Many of the entrepreneurs featured on this list shared another skill — they were self-made business tycoons. If you’ve always dreamed of owning your own company, it’s never been so practical. Click here to find out how Fundera could turn your dream into a reality.

Infographic Sources:

Business Insider | Forbes 1 2 3 | Entrepreneur | Time Magazine | Harvard Business Review | JFK Library | The Huffington Post | Good Reads | CNN | Center For Work Life | Non Verbal Group |

Article Sources:

  1. Medium.com. “Elon Musks’ ‘3 Step’ First Principles Thinking: How to Think and Solve Difficult Problems Like a Genius
  2. Business.com. “Tap Into Your Emotions: Why EQ Could be More Important than IQ
  3. TheGuardian.com. “What Happens in the Brain when you Learn a Language?
  4. Telegraph.co.uk. “Humans Have a Shorter Attention Span than Goldfish, Thanks to Smartphones
Founding Editor and VP at Fundera at Fundera

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a vice president at Fundera. 

Meredith launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014. She has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending and financial management.

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