What makes a good leader?

 In Blogs

I have worked with a few leaders in my time, and so today I thought I would jot down a couple of shared attributes that I have seen in the best….. and the worst!

Building Relationships

My favourite CEO (he knows who he is) had the knack of building great relationships; relationships that authorised his team to become successful. He had good emotional intelligence and understood that every one of his team was wired differently, so he took the time to learn about us as individuals, our preferences in receiving information, whether we were reflectors or activists, whether we were cautious or risk takers. He made sure that we listened to one another’s opinions, addressed any conflict and found comfortable ways of working together. When I made mistakes he calmly asked what lessons I had learned. He knew our strengths and played to them and he supported us with our weaknesses. As a result, we successfully turned the business around. That was a return on investment of his time if ever I saw one.

Trust and Honesty

By building an effective relationship it followed that Trust and Honesty flowed between me and my leader, so that even when he wasn’t in the room, I felt confident that I had his backing and that he believed that I would act in the best interest of the business at all times. There were times when he would communicate what was uncomfortable to hear, either individually or as a team – but we always felt supported. His transparency and openness with the wider teams in his Town Hall meetings was refreshing so I made a note to copy that style, and it works for me too!

Catch People Doing Something Right

Busy leaders, those managing a crisis and those with a “Glass Half Empty” view on life can easily fall foul of this one. One leader that I recall was a bit of a bully, prone to eruptions and a master in the art of finding fault. She was an expert in underestimating people’s abilities! It was so demotivating to her team and I remember that I had to curb myself so that I didn’t fall into the trap of carrying on the negativity with my HR team.

When managing a crisis it can be difficult to remember to do it, but even in the toughest of situations, the more you “catch people doing things right” the more you see the positive results. It was Ken Blanchard who coined the expression and I think it’s just as true in today’s business world.

Managing through People

A good leader clearly cannot be an expert in every aspect of the business, but what he or she does do so well is to recruit and retain the right people, with the right technical and people skills in the right positions. The good leader directs and motivates those experts to lead the business and their teams to make good decisions which achieve the vision and goals. A bit like a Conductor of an orchestra, great leaders get the best from their key players without crushing creativity and calmly view disharmony as an opportunity for improvement. They inspire the best in people.


The ability to lighten things up in the face of adversity was a skill that I learned from a young entrepreneur I worked with. He has gone on to be a serial entrepreneur and I appreciated the way he would guide us through a crisis without panicking, encouraging us to find humour in the troubles we had. That took away the fear and dread and he had the most fascinating way of using humour to see his way through the wood to the trees. And he once told me, “Ruth, I always forgive my enemies, there is nothing that annoys them more!”

Not only does the good leader display these 5 attributes above but they also encourage their direct reports to exhibit them with their teams and so a lovely tide of positive direction and management begins to permeate the business. Motivation improves, employees enjoy coming to work, they do a better job and when they do a better job they feel good about themselves. Attrition drops. What’s not to like?

Do yourself a favour, if you copy some of the characteristics of my favourite bosses you will authorise your team to become successful. And finally, consider what Ken Blanchard says, “Empowerment requires a major shift in attitude. The most crucial place that this shift must occur is in the heart of every leader.”

Ruth Gawthorpe is the owner of The Change Directors and an expert in Organisational development and Change Management. You can make contact with her on 07976 509 551.

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