How to develop your leadership qualities

How to develop your leadership qualities

Paid partnership

Christo Nel, Program Director at Nyenrode Business Universiteit, explains different leadership qualities - and how to develop them.

Are leaders born or made? There is no argument about this constantly-reoccurring question. Leaders are not born. Leaders are developed.

Intelligence: a starting point

It’s true that individuals need to possess an above-average level of intelligence to cope with the complexity of challenges in organizations and businesses. One’s innate level of intelligence is determined by genetics, so this quality is an act of birth.

But, as one of my mentors taught me, intelligence is a disqualifying factor. If you do not have it then you are "disqualified" from participating in the challenges facing successful entrepreneurs, managers and executives.

Beyond intelligence

Intelligence gets you through the door. After that, the success of an individual as a leader is based on his/her capacity, willingness and commitment to focus on continual personal development.

Several other factors now come into play. Emotional intelligence and mindfulness are also essential characteristics to turn baseline intelligence into high-impact leadership.

Other important leadership traits

Other traits which contribute to determining whether an individual is capable of being a successful leader are:
 Emotional and mental resilience
 Good interpersonal capabilities
 Analytic and problem-solving skills
 The ability to cope with adversity
 Sheer will power to turn intelligence into sustainable action

Here’s the good news. Through medium-term commitment and effort it is possible for virtually any individual to learn the above key competencies - and more - which drive sustainable high performance leadership.

Different paths towards leadership

There are different ways for ambitious individuals to develop such leadership qualities:

 At work

Some professionals learn to become leaders on the job - if they are fortunate enough to have a mentor or benefit from internal development programs.

 Life experience

Other individuals learn leadership qualities from various life experiences: by having responsibilities within a community or group, or by taking on large organizational challenges involving many people.


Other professionals, who do not receive dedicated training at their work or who are simply determined to become as professionally trained as possible, choose to embark on a Master’s of Business Administration.

In an MBA all necessary leadership knowledge and experience is condensed into an intense and highly tailored development program.

The evolving qualities of a leader

Whatever path a person takes, the process of personal development towards becoming a leader can be summarized in the following characteristics:


To open yourself up to exploring elements and issues that create discomfort and to understand that learning creates anxiety.

 Will and stamina

To involve yourself in an ongoing process of learning about who and what you are as a leader.


To try new things knowing that it may feel strange and uncomfortable.


To engage with peers and receive their feedback so you can learn from others and gain awareness of your own blind spots.

› Tenacity

To engage in a reflective learning process with no clear answers, and instead learn by doing rather than by being taught.

› Mental and emotional strength

To persevere and have the patience to accept that learning does not come in a single flash of insight. Learning is a journey of peak and tough times; of darkness and enlightenment. These ups and downs are an integral part of the personal development journey.

How MBAs develop leaders

A Masters or MBA is the near-perfect crucible within which to make significant strides in one’s personal leadership development.

Firstly, an MBA provides a medium-term period of at least a year during which one can experiment, make mistakes, engage with peers, learn to trust and open up to others, and practice new attitudes, skills and behaviours in a semi-structured environment.


During the one to two years that it takes to complete such a business and management degree, there are many opportunities to participate in courses that focus on the principle of Me-We-Work-World, which represents the four dimensions of sustainable high-impact leadership: personal, interpersonal, organisational and societal.

Good MBA programs ensure that this learning is not theoretical but applied and experiential. Full-time courses also offer the benefit of operating and experimenting within a stable, supportive environment.

 Learning from peers

Within an MBA context, participants continuously interact with peers and have the rich experience of receiving continuous feedback related to their own leadership behaviours and growth.

In this way the program becomes its own "organization" where participants learn about - and address - group dynamics, close relationships and aspects of politics, power and continuous reflection that cannot be taught in a theoretical manner.

Fulfilling leadership potential

A well-designed Masters or MBA that places personal development at the core of its program can truly change a person's life.

Or perhaps, more accurately, such a program enables individuals to discover, and more effectively apply, the fullness and wonderful complexity of their personal authentic leadership.

Christo Nel is the Program Director of the International MBA and the Executive MBA at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands.

Discover Nyenrode's programs

Increase your leadership impact by 25 per cent and more with a Nyenrode MBA! Want to know more? Nyenrode is organising a series of free events:

› [July 24-26] Full-time International MBA Weekend - Register here

› [September 8] Executive MBA Open Evening - Register here

nyenrode university

Christo Nel


Christo Nel

Christo Nel is the Program Director of International MBA and Executive MBA at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands. Christo Nel is a previous head of the Centre for Leadership...

Read more



Leave a comment