The 5 Unmistakable Qualities of a Good Leader

The 5 Unmistakable Qualities of a Good LeaderLeadership is the kind of thing that seems impossible to characterize. It’s the kind of thing you recognize, but can’t quite describe. You know it when you see it, but you don’t really know what it is.

Today, I’m going to offer some concrete qualities of a good leader. These are the kinds of things that clearly differentiate leaders from their peers. These are the people you want to work with, and the traits you need to foster if you hope to develop your own leadership skills.

1. Leaders give credit and take blame

Leaders are people who are quick to offer praise others for their successes. A true leader will never claim credit for what someone else has done. On the flip side, when things go poorly, they don’t point fingers and lay blame. Rather, they accept responsibility for what was done and work to rectify the problem.

Have you ever had it happen to you where you were credited in front of your peers for a job well done by your team leader? Do you remember how that felt? It can be an incredibly motivating experience to have your hard work recognized. It can be equally demotivating to have a leader take credit from you or to assign blame.

You can put this knowledge to practice starting today, even if you’re not in any particular leadership position. Be sure to assign credit to others when they’re deserving of it, and others will start to see your selflessness as a strength.

2. Leaders care about your success

Good leaders are concerned with the success of the people in their team. They care deeply about people’s progression through their careers. They recognize that keeping other people down is no way to prop themselves up.

Some leaders try to build forts around their little empire. They like to remind you who’s in charge, and why they’re in charge, and why you’ll never be. It’s hard for me to figure out why some think this is a good long-term career strategy. If you constantly beat your team down, eventually there’ll be a revolt.

Imagine the opposite for a moment. If your leader makes it a point to prop their team’s people up and give them every opportunity to succeed and be promoted, that leader will be recognized as having an excellent ability to develop others. Clearly, this is the kind of person you want to work with.

3. Leaders recognize that good is the enemy of great

This idea comes from my favourite business writer, Jim Collins. In his book Good to Great, he argues that good is, well, good. And it’s easy to be satisfied with good, because heck – it ain’t bad. Strong leaders are able to guide teams past simply good performance to achieve the truly great. They recognize a team’s capabilities and guide them to exceed expectations.

Working on teams that are trying to achieve great results is an amazing experience. You’ll work as hard as you ever have in your life, and you’ll love it. There’s something satisfying about knowing you’re working towards something big, tough, and important. There’s also a lot to be said for being pushed past your own personal boundaries in order to grow.

4. Leaders see themselves as servants

John C. Maxwell, in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership points out that leaders don’t see themselves as your boss. They see themselves as your enabler. That is, they make their own role to be the destroyer of barriers. They make it as easy as possible for you to thrive, grow, and succeed in your work.

A great leader works hard to understand your work, how you work, and how things could work better. They make a point of getting you the right tools, information, and time to get things done. Their work is to help you do your work, not the other way around.

5. Leaders seek first to understand, then to be understood

Stephen Covey, the celebrated author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People lists the ability to understand before seeking to be understood as one of the 7 habits. This is another powerful example of how leadership is opposite to what most people would expect. Leaders are those who shout the loudest, making sure that everyone can hear and adopt their great ideas.

Some of the world’s greatest leaders were incredibly quiet people. Darwin E. Smith, the wildly successful CEO for Kimberly-Clark, was renowned as a quiet, reserved man. He was very careful to make sure he understood his business and to understand his people. Smith led his company to record breaking returns for Kimberly-Clark shareholders throughout his tenure at the company.

6. Add yours!

I know I only mentioned that I would have 5 qualities of a good leader here, but I want to add a sixth – yours! What do you think is a quality of a good leader? I’d love for you to write it out in the comments section below. I’ll respond to every comment, so don’t be shy!

About Pat Sweet

Pat Sweet is a Professional Engineer working in Ontario, Canada. He’s a full-time vehicle engineer focusing on commuter train electrical systems and the author behind the Engineering and Leadership blog, where he shares his thoughts and experiences on leadership, productivity and career advice for engineers. Go to Pat’s blog now to get your free copy of his free career guide –The 7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Engineer.

Photo credit: Flickr/ [Renee Silverman]