What makes a good leader?

Leaders shape our organisations. The best ones can have a dramatic impact on the overall success of a company. Effective leaders guide us, and help organisations make the essential decisions that keep them moving forward, whether these are large-scale macro decisions or day-to-day management choices.

Both are essential to the proper functioning of corporations and other large institutions.

While it’s all too easy to identify examples of poor leadership and decision-making, good leadership often gets taken for granted. What are the skills that make good leaders effective, and are those skills and personal qualities innate or can they be developed?

Here we’ll take a look at why good leadership is important, what makes a good leader, and how organisations can invest in their leaders to help them become more effective.

Engineers in mechanical factory reading instructions

What qualities does a good leader have?

The best leaders have a range of qualities that make them trusted and effective in their organisations. These include:

Integrity

Although it’s rarely measured in performance reviews, integrity is an essential leadership trait. It’s particularly important for top-level executives and those who are making significant decisions about the company’s future direction. Honesty and integrity in leaders inspire trust and help build confidence within the workforce. Leaders who act with integrity communicate these values to their team. Companies that act with integrity enjoy higher levels of customer satisfaction and retention.

Communication

Effective leaders are excellent communicators. While some people have natural advantages when it comes to communication, it is a set of skills that can be developed and honed with proper training. Great leaders are able to communicate with people across a range of geographies, social backgrounds and roles within the organisations.

As well as being good communicators they’re also good listeners. They understand that communication is a vital tool when it comes to making effective decisions.

Self-reflective

Self-awareness and the ability to stand back and reflect on their performance are keys to being a good leader. They’re better able to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and work out what they need to improve. They understand how they are seen at work, including what aspects of their own performance and behaviour are viewed negatively.

Delegation

Good leaders have the ability to delegate. It’s one of the core responsibilities of a leader but it can be one of the most challenging for leaders to do effectively. As well as freeing up their time, good leaders facilitate teamwork, provide autonomy, and empower people in their teams to make better decisions. The best leaders communicate effectively and build trust with employees in order to be able to delegate more effectively.

Flexible

Whether you call it flexibility or agility, the best leaders are able to adapt quickly to challenges and innovations. They’re able to excel in unfamiliar environments and are quick to learn. Many people have a natural ability to act with agility but it is a skill that can be developed. Agile leaders are effective leaders and can give their teams confidence when it comes to facing change. Good leaders are always learning and growing.

Respect

Good leaders treat everyone they deal with on a daily basis with respect, whatever their role within the organisation. This creates a baseline of trust that can help minimise conflict and ease tensions. Respect is more than the absence of disrespect. It’s about cultivating a climate of respect across the organisation and it is something that all good leaders strive to achieve.

Empathy

Empathy is a critical part of emotional intelligence and overall leadership effectiveness. Good leaders are empathetic leaders, developing workplaces where inclusion is imperative. Empathetic leaders receive more honest feedback and communication from their colleagues.

Influence

Good leaders are influential people. They are able to convince people through a range of personal skills and qualities about the right course of action. Influence is different from manipulation because it is authentic and transparent. It requires emotional intelligence and trust. Influential leaders with a clear strategic vision can be an organisational game-changer.

Of course, some good leaders will be stronger in some of these qualities than others. No effective leader is the same, but all of them will possess a good measure of the qualities outlined above.

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What qualities does a bad leader have?

In lots of ways, what makes a bad leader is the reverse of what makes them a good leader. Some of the standout negative qualities that can contribute to poor leadership include:

Conflict avoidance

Good leaders need to be able to deal directly and decisively with conflict. If they choose not to deal with it or hope that it will quietly go away, the situation is allowed to fester and develop. They will still have to deal with it but by the time it’s finally addressed it will have morphed from a small conflict into a more serious situation.

Good leaders understand that they will sometimes have to make decisions that upset some people, but making these decisions in a fair way is all part of the job description.

Inflexibility

Good leaders need to be agile and willing to adapt their management style to meet changing circumstances. Inflexible leaders who have particular ways of working and dealing with people often become unstuck. They can find it increasingly difficult to motivate people and can struggle when faced with necessary change. In some circumstances, inflexible leaders can be unwilling to embrace necessary innovation which can have serious consequences for the organisation. Nothing says bad leadership more than an inflexible authoritarian boss.

Poor communication skills

Leaders need to be able to effectively communicate in a variety of ways and with a mix of people. A person with poor communication skills cannot effectively share the company’s goals, mission or strategy to help people achieve them. As outlined above, being able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing, is a must for any leader.

Poor leaders often take a fatalistic approach to their own communication skills believing that good communication is something that you are born with. In fact, effective communication skills are something that you can learn and develop. Ineffective communication in the workplace leads to confusion and frustration and needs to be overcome.

Inconsistent

Poor leaders are often inconsistent in the way that they deal with their team members. They may be difficult to predict and take courses of action that seem to contradict or undermine earlier policies and strategies. They often lack confidence in their own decision making and don’t take proper time and consideration when it comes to reaching a judgement. All of this can make for erratic decision making which can be confusing for employees. People who work under inconsistent leaders can easily become demotivated and disillusioned very quickly.

Quick to place blame

Poor leaders will often be found leading failing organisations. When that’s the case there can be pressure within the organisation to apportion blame for failure. While strong leaders will take responsibility for failures, poor leaders look to lay the blame elsewhere. This creates a distrustful environment where people are constantly fearful of being blamed for something that they may not have played a part in.

Attempt to motivate through fear

Poor leaders are much more likely to use negative leadership styles such as fear to try and motivate people. In the most extreme circumstances, they create environments where strict, often irrelevant rules, governing behaviour and performance apply, none of which actually improve the overall performance of the business. Staff turnover is high, communication is poor, and the team has a rigid and inflexible approach.

Lack empathy

Poor leaders often show little interest in the lives, ambitions and challenges of their team members. They are unable to relate to people as individuals and rarely give them the praise they deserve. Empathy requires high degrees of emotional intelligence and poor leaders often fail to use their own in the workplace.

How do you know if you’re a good or a bad leader?

Your abilities as a leader will be reflected in the results you deliver for your company. If your team is meeting its strategic goals and has high levels of happiness and staff retention, then it’s likely you are exhibiting at least some of the positive qualities associated with good leadership.

If you’re flexible, have an open communication style and are self-aware enough to understand your faults and shortcomings then you may be making a positive difference in your workplace.

Conversely, if your workplace is unhappy and team members are frustrated then this might suggest that your leadership style isn’t working as it should. You may stay in your comfort zone, try to avoid change and find that people within your team rarely communicate with you.

In some cases, poor leadership will be identified in evaluations but not always. If you feel you’re performing poorly then talk to members of your team or immediate managers. If you’re the CEO of a company don’t be afraid to ask for independent advice.

In reality, most leaders fall on a spectrum, exhibiting both good qualities and areas that they need to improve. Being self-reflective, talking to colleagues and thinking about your own performance will help you identify where you are succeeding and where you need to improve.

Unposed group of creative business people in an open concept office brainstorming their next project.-2

How do you overcome poor leadership?

The first step in addressing poor leadership performance is recognising that you have a problem. This is often the most difficult part of the process, but once you’ve taken that step it can be the start of a journey that transforms how you operate within the workplace.

eadership coaching helps to identify and tackle problems with an individual’s leadership, helping them become more effective.

What is the major barrier to being a leader?

Many people hold back from assuming leadership roles because of a lack of confidence. They may have developed in their careers and possess many of the qualities associated with good leadership but are reluctant to take the next step.

Are leaders born or made?

While many of the qualities that good leaders possess can seem innate, such as their communication skills and empathy, it’s possible to develop the skills that you need to become a good leader. Everyone is capable of effective communication and empathy, even if some people have a head start. With the right techniques and strategies, it’s possible to develop a comprehensive set of leadership skills that make an individual an effective leader.

Bespoke leadership development from Leadership Success

At Leadership Success, we provide, fast, effective and easy leadership development training for leaders across all kinds of organisations.

Our bespoke leadership development services help individuals and companies achieve their goals with training and development that fits their own needs and schedule

Contact us today to find out more about our bespoke leadership development training.