What Makes a Good Leader?

Vince Lombardi

There’s a lot of debate about how you define a great manager. Is it someone who effectively manages projects? Someone who knows how to get the best out of his people? Maybe it’s someone who has a consistently happy team.

Jack Welch writes in Winning that “good leadership happens – and it comes in all kinds of packages.  There are quiet leaders and bombastic ones.  There are analytical leaders and more impulsive ones.  Some are tough as nails with their teams and others are more nurturing.  On the surface, you would be hard-pressed to say what qualities these leaders share.  Underneath, you would surely see that the best care passionately about their people – about their growth and success."

Leaders and effective managers can learn the skills to make them more effective. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman co-wrote a short blog post on the Harvard Business Review website, which is definitely worth a read, but it boils down to this: Managers can learn how to be inspirational leaders. It’s sort of a crazy idea, right? When I think of inspiring leaders, I tend to think it’s a trait people are born with or not. Now, I certainly think that anyone can learn to be a great leader, but I think an inspiring leader is an entirely different ball game. It’s about charisma, the x-factor, the intangibles that make someone special. Not really the case, say Folkman and Zenger. They looked at a large pool of managers and pulled out 100 who were inspirational leaders.

Some of what they did was specific and tangible. For example, they set stretch goals with their team. They spent time developing their subordinates. They engaged in highly collaborative behavior. They encouraged those about them to be more innovative.”

Those seem like doable things that achievable by anyone who is willing to learn. The authors (who have done a ton of research on the matter) agreed. So they put it to the test by finding 822 executives who were measured in their leadership competencies.

Focusing on the 310 who chose to improve their ability to inspire others we found that as a group they made impressive strides — moving from the 42nd percentile (that is, below average) to the 70th percentile. This is a statistically significant positive gain, and compelling evidence that when leaders use the right approach they can learn to become more inspiring.”

Pretty spectacular change. So now that you know you can take conscious steps to make yourself into a good leader, instead of accepting that perhaps you weren’t born as one, will you do it? What barriers stand in your way? How can you make the change in yourself happen?