What Makes a Good Leader?

The idea that a leader is born has been debunked and the thinking now is that a leader can be formed or be educated into the role. Of course there are many personality traits that assist  in being a leader and if you have the desire and the willpower to become an effective leader,  then  these traits help in a big way.   Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of people by his or her attributes,  trust,  beliefs, values,  ethics, character and being honourable in achieving the goals set.

Today more than ever, we need good leadership skills.  When we allow people to take over the leadership of “whatever” organisation, do we examine the aspects  of  their  lives  that will   ensure we are getting the best person to put our trust in?  When we place our trust in the Principal of a school,  the  coach who train our children, our  local statutory personnel,  our priests and  those who have authority that effect our lives, do we examine their performance, their character, and their insight into the needs required and the values they have to offer?  If we do, then in our present circumstances we ourselves must be held responsible for placing people who are incapable of leading  us and our country into a better place and be prepared to suffer the effects.  We suffer the effects of poor and ill-informed leaders  every  day in this country, from the voluntary to the statutory organisations.

The   ideal  scenario  for a leader is to have infinite flexibility,  to be an executive leader when putting a team  together , ie.  making the decisions,  but to be a participating leader, ie,  putting your shoulder to the wheel,  when the need arises.  The need  to  change  our leadership style according to the circumstance,  is a fundamental principle of being a good leader. How you develop as a leader  always  depend on whether you are involved in an organisation or as an individual.  The former is driven by need,  the latter by talent. Some have a natural leadership and strength for different aspects of what type of organisation they are leading, for example if you are a sports leader, you need physical fitness, while for some other organisations you need knowledge, empathy, education,  a knowledge of how a system works, and most of all common sense.  Jago in 1982 said “good leaders must develop through a never ending  process of self study, education,  training and experience  and be able to inspire a higher level of teamwork by what you know, and what you do”. Good leaders do not rest on their laurels and are humble in their contribution.

Certain characteristics make a leader unique, top of the list is  knowing  your strength and your weaknesses, your knowledge and skill for the job in hand, to be able to respond to human needs, know where to get help, provide direction, be efficient. To be able to communicate, co-ordinate, supervise and evaluate are all  essential  elements  in good leadership.  Successful leaders set high standards and goals, have strategies, plans, and value those who support them. The road to successful leadership according to Kouzies and Posner (1982)  are  common to all successful leaders,  are as follows:

  • Challenge the process. ie. What needs to be changed?.
  • Inspire a shared vision. ie have the group understand in simple language.
  • Enable others to act. ie  Allow them to solve the problem.
  • Model the way. A boss tells others what to do, a leader shows how its done.
  • Encourage the heart. ie. Share the glory, keep the pain to yourself.

The fundamental starting point is a good understanding of  human  nature, such as needs,  emotions, and motivational  skills.  Different people require different styles of leadership skills, like a new employee needs more supervision than an experienced one, and a person who lacks motivation requires a different  approach  to someone highly motivated.  Leaders,  lead  by example, by communication and by diligence and never asking a person to do something they would not be prepared to do themselves. A leader must be able to judge if the confrontation is to be harsh or  gentle  to inspire a follower. If the followers do not trust or be inspired by their leader, and it is the followers  who determine if a leader is successful or not, not the superiors, well then your worthiness is in question and your leadership flawed.  Leadership is different from being the “boss” – good leadership makes people want to achieve high goals,  not “ bossing”  people around.

Good leadership influences people to do great things, and must be able to communicate in a manner that is easily understood.  If the message  do not  take root then you have a less chance of it being implemented. Leaders must be able to be a keen listener, and astute in their observations.  Trust is paramount and it must be earned.  Some personality traits may lead people naturally into leadership roles,  or  often a crisis brings out extraordinary strength in an ordinary  person that belies an underlying leadership skill.  People can learn leadership skills, look at the Army and see what extraordinary leadership skills are got by training and formation.

People want to be guided by  those  they respect and who have a clear sense of direction.  We place people in positions to run our country, and we expect them to have an ethical and strong vision for all of our futures.  But as time goes by, we wonder if they have any trusted and honourable commitments to the leadership roles they are being asked to shoulder.  Self serving people misuses authority to look good and perhaps get promotions, presenting a good image at the expense of the citizens at large.  We should all observe and decide if those in power are delivering on the promises made, and if not, why not.  The very basis of a good leader is an honourable character who gives selfless service to those who are their followers.  Trust and confidence in our top leaders is the most reliable predictor of satisfaction. Leaders in all types of organisations,  be  they church or local communities, politicians, or  those in public office, must be an exemplary  role model to achieve their full potential of keeping their followers happy and willing.  Responsibility for your actions, and seeking to be responsible, taking the blame and taking corrective action are all actions expected of a good leader.

Leaders must always be aware of people’s wellbeing by showing care and concern. Being   professional, honest, competent, open, committed, showing courage and integrity in the face of many demands, are some of the many facets of good and caring  leadership.

Being a leader,  commands  a grave responsibility towards  those who choose to follow your example, and the decisions that are made that impact on the lives of those who have trusted somebody else with their happiness and success,  must always favour the follower.  Trustworthiness and loyalty to take care of the human needs of the people who hold a leader in high regard  and respect your judgement,  should not be tampered with or carried out in a cavalier fashion. That is the grave responsibility a leader takes  on  when  they make that judgement call. Without leaders that show the way, the followers, who are the general run  of  people, would become lost in the on-going decisions that are made in everyday life.  Good leaders are gold, if they carry out their duties and produce the results that people hope for and leave an  everlasting  legacy in their wake. We remember Ghandi, Golda Meir, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parker  and  so many more who gave us example and  a code to live life by. The greatest acknowledged leader ever in the world,  was Jesus of Nazareth. We should all look to the values that He left and that still remain relevant every hour of every day for the betterment of all human lives.

The 6 most important sentences in a leader’s life:

I made a mistake.                 If you please

You did a good job.               Thank you.

What is your opinion.            We.

Least important word            I.