What Makes a Leader a Good Leader?

What qualities make a leader a good leader?

general patton leadership quote

A fantastic leader

This has been a question I have considered many times over the past two years. What is it about a person that makes them a good leader? Certainly, there is a recipe for a leader, but it isn’t always the same. So here are my thoughts on what makes a good leader.

A good leader looks out for the good of those they lead

This does not always mean doing the leader does what their subordinates want them to do. Often times, it means the exact opposite. But the leader should always have the good of their subordinates in their mind. Each day when they wake up, they should concern themselves with how their actions will better improve the lives and abilities of those they work with.

This goes the same for the home life. I lead a family of five, and I look out for my three daughters as well as my wife every day. Not doing so would make me worse than simply a bad leader, I would be a bad husband. Going back to the point that a good leader doesn’t always do what their subordinates want them to do. Let’s put my kids in that sentence for a moment and take one of their stated desires at face value and see what life would look like if I did what they wanted for breakfast.

They want ice cream. They want it every morning for breakfast. Never mind that we have never had ice cream for breakfast. Giving them ice cream for breakfast each day would represent a significant health issue for them. Obesity, type II diabetes, and tooth decay come to mind. My kids know they’re not going to get ice cream for breakfast, but they have asked a few times just floating the idea. I laugh and give them something far healthier (or marginally so in the case of some cereals).

A good leader makes sacrifices for the organization and its constituents

A family or organization would fall apart if it were run from the bottom up. My kids would prefer if I stayed at home all day and played with them. I would love to do that, but I have to go to work in order to meet all of the obligations I have to my employer and my family. The mortgage won’t get paid if I don’t go to work. I sacrifice my time and efforts in order to meet their needs and provide them with a loving, safe home and family.

There is no better example of this than Jesus Christ. He sacrificed his life and went through an awful death in order to secure my freedom. We have evidence in scripture that he didn’t even want to go through it all when he asked the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane for another way; however, he humbled himself to the point of death on a cross. He is the only one worthy.

A good leader demonstrates high levels of competency

All good leaders I know were also good followers. No one who is awful at doing a job and is then suddenly elevated to a higher level where they are now required to do work through people excels. It just doesn’t work like that. For example, a person who struggles to understand Newton’s Laws of Motion would probably be a poor physics teacher. If you don’t know how to read you can’t teach someone to read. If you can’t swim, you can’t teach someone to swim!

good leader vs boss

Notice, this leader is helping.

The same should be obvious with leaders. If someone is incapable of doing a good job (at least well above average), then how could they turn around and be a good leader of people?

Someone I work with is excellent at every part of his job. I won’t name him here, because I don’t have his permission. He is a leader among dozens of people who are already good at their job. I’m confident he could be successful at anything. I have learned a lot from him about leadership. He doesn’t have the title of manager or anything like that, but because of his demonstrated and continued excellence, his has great influence.

We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way. – General Patton

The requisite for a high level of competency does not mean the leader has to be the best in order to lead people. General Patton was probably not the best shot of the people he was leading, but no other person could have been General Patton. His high level of tenacity and competency in military tactics made him an excellent leader. He didn’t have to be the best shot, artillery man, or medic.

A good leader looks out for the good of the organization

This is not simply a juxtaposition for the first quality of a leader. The leader meets and exceeds his goal to look out for the good of those he leads by looking out for the good of the organization he represents. This takes an assumption that I think is easily supportable. If the organization is doing well, the constituents are doing well. I don’t think it could be any other way. This doesn’t mean every  constituent is doing well, but that is often the fault of the constituent member of the organization and not the organization itself.

At times, Patton had to order men into combat knowing that some of them would die. The soldiers signed up to fight because they believed in an ideology and a country bigger than themselves. Patton lead them to victory over and over again. This was in keeping with the goals of the soldiers, who courageously dedicated their lives to the cause of freedom.

A good leader is ethical, moral, transparent, and accountable

This should go without saying. History is littered with examples of leaders making immoral and/or unethical decisions. When a leader does this, they damage the welfare of the organization and the people they lead. When people reach leadership roles and make decisions that would have disqualified them from attaining their current level of leadership, it should also disqualify them from continuing to hold that level.

Wrong is wrong. It doesn’t matter who is guilty of the poor ethical choice.

Leaders should go out of their way to demonstrate to the constituent parts of their organization that accountability begins at the top and goes all the way down. It is axiomatic this provides increased faith in the leadership of an organization and greater influence for the leaders in the organization. It is to the detriment of any organization to keep leaders who have demonstrated a pattern of unethical and immoral behavior.

A mistake is a mistake, but if someone made the decision to do what was wrong then they largely abdicate future opportunities for sound decision making. It is not right or safe for someone to let down their conscience.

There are other qualities of a leader that are important, but this hits the high points. Let me know if I missed something in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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