Last week I highlighted some of the key business trends predicted to be vital in 2010, and I promised to devote this week’s column to identifying the leadership traits that will be essential to capitalise on those trends and grow commercially – and personally – in the process.

So, what will it take to become a great business leader over the next 12 months?

Well, effective leadership is defined on Wikipedia as “the ability to successfully integrate and maximize available resources within the internal and external environment for the attainment of organization or societal goals”.

WTF? No, I don’t really get it either. To me great leadership is akin to the Holy Grail; oft discussed, much coveted, and harder to find than rocking horse droppings.

Leadership is about much more than just influence. Leadership is about constantly reminding and encouraging your staff to focus on exactly what it is you are trying to build – and why it matters. It’s about illustrating a clear picture of what the future will be like if you all work together, and ultimately it’s about setting the compass and actively leading the way from the front.

Sounds easy, but the reality is quite the opposite.

The first essential characteristic is the ability to create a clear, focused and inspirational vision.

Writing down a handful of buzz words comprising your vision on the front page of your business plan, just ahead of your mission statement, is simply not enough (particularly if you hire a consultant to do it for you). Your vision needs to be focused, and it needs to be illustrated and executed clearly and inclusively. Get it right and your vision will inspire your teams to work with you and grow your business successfully. Get it wrong and … well, you know the rest.

The ability to delegate the right things to the right people at the right time – and then keep your hands off – is possibly the hardest trait to master, but it’s key to ensuring you have the time and head space to work on all the other leadership characteristics. Management is fine if you want to be a manager, if you want people to comply and do things a specific way – i.e. your way – but it definitely doesn’t work if you want your people to engage, innovate and go the extra mile for your customers.

It’s part of the next leadership trait, and that is the ability to create a happy, fun, customer-focused, supportive and rewarding culture for your employees. If you recruit the best people and then support them to become even better, you will undoubtedly get the very best from them. You can’t make people work, but you can create an environment which encourages them daily to give of their best.

Leaders genuinely care for their employees; saying they are valuable and then showing how valuable they are, are two different things. As soon as markets pick up they’ll be off unless you give them a compelling reason to stay and work with you.

An open culture will foster innovation; the best firms will collaborate, share and learn in real time.

Be open to learning from other businesses and their successes and failures. Be open to learning from your customers and suppliers, and be open to criticism, particularly if it’s on Twitter; it’s actually an opportunity, not a threat.

Be open to new ideas and change within your organisation, regardless how radical it may first appear. Remember, free is the new business model and if you don’t believe me, just read “Free” by Chris Anderson. Don’t wait for Santa to bring it next year, it’ll be too late.

Communication skills are the pliers in a great leader’s toolbox. You simply can’t do without them. The ability to tweak, twist, push and pull words and thoughts into inspired and meaningful actions is rare. But absolutely worth striving towards.

Relationships and the ability to start, develop and maintain them for commercial advantage can’t be forgotten.  Leaders need to begin and sustain intelligent dialogue with stakeholders, but equally importantly embrace the relationships offered through social media; learn and understand how to make it work for you, know how to play the game and know how to manage it. Use it for recruiting, business development, market research, engaging with customers both existing and potential – if you read last week’s column you’ll know how important it is to monitor and respond instantly to online feedback, whether positive or negative.

You need to be blogging, regularly and engagingly. You need to be communicating what your offer is, why it’s better than the competition, and why customers old and new should keep coming back again and again. Give them something for nothing and you will win (see previous comment about Free as a business model).

Passion is vital; successful leaders genuinely love what they are doing, their passion inspires others and benefits the company culture, business relationships, and the leader’s own personal brand.

Focus, innovation, vision, delegation, passion, inspiration and culture; all big-hitters but all fundamental component parts of creating and building your own personal brand. Great brands attract loyal followers, fans if you like, and in 2010 you will need your individual brand to be strong enough, admirable and inspirational enough to encourage your staff, customers, suppliers, funders, and the wider community to follow you and become your fans.

There are plenty top leadership traits mentioned already from a plethora of friends and followers who responded to the question about leaders I posted on Twitter. I agree wholeheartedly with them all (and thank them too).

But I’d like to add my own favourite tip; a great leader needs to be shrewd enough and self-confident enough to employ people smarter than him or herself.  Woodrow Wilson once said:”I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” Now that’s one to remember in 2010.

Lastly, but by no means least, the most important leadership trait of all is integrity. Be honest and open in everything you say and do.

Need I say more?

(This article appeared in Scotland on Sunday on January 3 2010, but not in the online edition.)