Characteristics of a Good Leader

During a series of 3-day leadership development workshops for middle managers, I asked the participants to reflect upon the “best” boss they ever had. With that specific person in mind, they then wrote down the key characteristics that made him or her so memorable, including how they were made to feel by that person.

All the characteristics offered by the participants were combined into a composite list. Both the consistency and the nature of what was reported are very revealing. Here are some key learnings:

  • Leadership is about lifting up and encouraging others in the service of a worthwhile endeavor.
  • Good leaders have achieved a considerable measure of contentment with who they are and independence from the need for the approval of others.
  • Good leaders are as much a model of life-long learning as they are of high achievement.
  • The yearning for a purposeful life seems to be universal. We cherish those rare individuals in our lives that have helped us to move in this direction. Part of that help is in being authentically a person who has achieved that sense of purpose and can now serve as an example for others to observe and emulate.
  • Good leaders seem to have mastered their own self-doubts. They have realistically faced their limitations and have found that the gifts and talents they do have are quite sufficient to build a very satisfying life. It is this personal journey that is the basis for their contentment and that is what they have to share.
  • Great organizational performance is achieved by drawing out and orchestrating the various talents of those participating in the effort. But the enduring legacy of leadership is the transformation of people from conforming to the expectations of others to exercising independent judgment based on deeply held convictions. By creating a nurturing environment with stretching challenges, such a transformation is possible.

Here is the composite list:

CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD LEADER
(AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF EMPLOYEES)

TREATED ME AS A VALUED COLLEAGUE

  • Trusted my decision making (increased my confidence in my own ability)
  • Had/expressed confidence in me (expanded my horizons and helped me believe in myself)
  • Listened to my opinions and exchanges (broadened my vision)
  • Listened to/accepted my ideas/asked for updates (I felt valued)
  • Believed in me, not just my experience (I felt worthy)
  • Never made me feel inadequate (respected me)
  • Was interested in me
  • Was willing to take risks (with me)
  • Open to my suggestions

CREATED AN ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH I COULD LEARN AND GROW

  • Gave me the freedom to do things my way within reasonable limits (I learned)
  • Gave me a broad area of delegation with some focus (I felt empowered)
  • Allowed me to learn from my mistakes/gave me a second chance (I felt forgiven)
  • Was patient and supportive/behind me as I went (good or not)
  • Encouraged me to take the next step/initiative and gave me visibility
  • Was interested in and cared about my development (wanted me to learn…I felt relaxed and comfortable…trusted)
  • Gave me feedback (constructive critique) on developmental needs and helped me learn
  • Spoke with me and answered my questions (caused me to grow)
  • Related to me personally (sought my thoughts); resulted in a more creative process through shared effort
  • Lots of deserved praise/never negative (I felt appreciated)

SET AN EXAMPLE FOR ME TO FOLLOW

  • Had extensive knowledge/experience (I could count on reliable answers)
  • Gave me the tools/knowledge to excel (I felt prepared)
  • Demonstrated professional passion that I admired (I felt inspired)
  • Was a good role model I could watch in action (I wanted to be like that)
  • Made me want to do well
  • Honest
  • Walked the talk

PROVIDED STRUCTURE TO GUIDE ME, WAS ACCESSIBLE

  • Made goals and expectations clear
  • Helped me set goals (Beyond what I might have settled for)
  • Related my work to larger goals (explained the why)
  • Explained the background of each task
  • Gave a vision to the task (I felt inspired)
  • Gave me responsibility (helped me discover answers)
  • Knew when to let go (I felt trusted)
  • Was an open door for questions (I didn’t get stuck)
  • Saw no ideas as bad and no questions as dumb…led me in the right direction

GENERAL TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS

  • Gave fair appraisals
  • Demonstrated integrity (earned my trust)
  • Consistent (I knew what to expect…allowed me to be more adventuresome)
  • Open minded (I felt listened to/respected)
  • Accommodated diversity
  • Had high expectations/demanding (I felt challenged)
  • Always positive (I felt comfortable)
  • Empathetic/intuitive toward me (I felt secure)
  • Included me in meetings outside my work scope (more possibilities for me)

WJM Faculty Member Robert Goodell is an executive coach with over 25 years of experience assisting leaders, teams and organizations in effectively managing change.

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