13 things that make a great leader

Scott Baldwin
Apr 30, 2015 · 3 min read

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about leadership lately and the qualities I admire about the great leaders I’ve read about, seen, or have worked with. Here’s what I came up with:

They inspire

Great leaders have a vision and goals and can articulate where they are going (on both a personal and business level). They have the confidence that others will own the path to getting there versus prescribing what path needs to be taken.

They are human

Great leaders are not the “I have an open door policy” types. Instead their the ones that say “hey would you like to go for lunch?” then spend it talking with you about your kids and interests versus work. They connect on a human level and they aren’t afraid to show their emotions.

They model the behaviours they want to see from others

As Stewart Butterfield said in a recent article on Medium — “every job you do has your signature on it”. Great leaders do what they commit to, and they do it right. They set an example that others can follow and model how they want others to work and interact.

They are fantastic listeners

We all have two ears and one mouth. Great leaders use their ears a lot more. They are active listeners. They use open-ended questions to understand, they paraphrase, they acknowledge feelings, and communicate through non-verbal queues. But most of all, they let other speak and be heard.

They know how to tell a story

Great leaders are inherently great storytellers. The use stories and anecdotes to communicate ideas, connect people to their vision, and to connect with people on an emotional level.

They are optimistic, but also realistic

Good leaders are optimistic — glass half full types all the way. But great leaders balance the optimism with some realism. When things aren’t going well, they aren’t afraid to say so.

They make decisions

If there’s one thing I’ve seen all great leaders do it’s this. They make decisions and are decisive. They don’t doddle or beat around the bush. They make the decisions necessary. They might not get to their decisions in isolation (in fact the best leaders seek input before coming to conclusions), but ultimately they decide.

They set clear expectations

Great leaders are direct and clear in their expectations. You don’t have to guess as to what they want, by when, or how. You don’t have to attempt to “figure out” what’s behind their asks, you know.

They play defence, not just offence

Great leaders work to get you the focus you need to be successful. They filter out the noise and protect their teams.

They give you “just enough rope”

Great leaders delegate and give you enough rope to hang yourself. They inherintly trust in their people and the skills they have to get the work done.

They might delegate in different ways:

  • Being direct: specifying the goals and how to achieve it, then monitoring progress
  • Helping to develop: specifying the goal, show support for risk taking and expecting mistakes
  • Dialogue: specifying the goal placing control with the delegate, then monitoring progress
  • Disengage: specifying the goal and placing control with the delegate

But ultimately they believe the best way for you to grow is by letting you try.

They have your back

Stuff will sometimes go south when you meant north. Or left when you meant right. Great leaders have your back. They roll up their sleeves and help. They look for places you might be about to hang yourself and catch you before you do. Or when they get there too late and you fail, they take the heat.

They are not afraid of tough conversations

When things aren’t going well, great leaders say something. They give feedback, describe what they are reacting to and the impacts, seek out suggestions or options to remedy problems, and are specific about what they want to see going forward.

They are gracious

Great leaders know more than anyone that a simple thank-you goes a long way. The recognize the achievements of others and are gracious.

What traits do you think make great leaders? Feel free to comment here.

Scott Baldwin

Written by

Dad, husband, ultrarunner, and drummer. By day: #prodmgmt #ux and other hashtags but I'd rather be in my shoes trail running.

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