The word "gifted" is a bit too overused in business. You might say someone is gifted at programming or has an exceptional ability with numbers. Often, what looks like a gift is really just a learned skill. Yet when it comes to leadership in a small business, there does seem to be an upper echelon. The truly gifted leaders exhibit traits at a higher level. In my 20 years in business, I've found the best leaders always seem to have these three qualities.

1. They are encouragers

Here's the No. 1 quality of all great leaders: They know how to encourage their employees. It's partly a way to motivate people to get things done. Even more than that, being an encourager creates an atmosphere of mutual encouragement--it's contagious, making work feel less like work. Gifted leaders develop this skill intentionally and know how important it is implicitly; they have an innate ability to encourage and don't know any other way to lead.

2. They work harder than anyone

We all know it's important to lead by example. The best leaders take this concept to an extreme. They are not just trying to look busy. They exhibit a strong work ethic. If there is a dusty floor and broom nearby, they will grab it and start cleaning. If the company is struggling to find a new customer segment, they'll start pounding the pavement. For the most gifted leaders, no task is too menial if it needs to be done. A great leader is often the busiest, hardest-working person in the room. Like planets orbiting the sun, employees gravitate to the hardest-working person. Great leaders always know this.

3. They know how to have fun

Goofing around is a learned skill for those who lead companies. I'm convinced it's as important as leading by example and encouraging employees--maybe even more important. Gifted leaders can add a sense of levity. Building a new app when you have investment money on the line is incredibly important. But it's not more important than building a lasting friendship or raising a child. Good leaders keep things in perspective and don't seem to live in a state of constant stress and anxiety. They know how to loosen up.