What makes a good leader?

To many people, the world seems palpably lacking in leaders – people of principle who can empathise whith those they lead and who can be trusted to do what is best for the group at large. But what makes a good leader and how can you improve the quality of your leadership? We list six qualities any good leader should have:

A leader brings out the best in his people

Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves.
Lao Tzu

A lot of tension in leadership situations comes because we have a fixed idea of what should happen, regardless of peoples’ abilities to carry that thing out. Criticizing people for something they haven’t been properly trained to do or for not fitting into your grand plan is not leadership. Leadership comes from an honest evaluation of people’s capacities and strengths, and then playing to those strengths. When people can contribute their best qualities to a project, they are much more likely to feel a sense of ownership about the project and go the extra mile to see it through.

A good leader is not a control freak

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

George Patton

We have all seen the kind of person who says “its my way or the high way”. Sometimes forceful people can push their agenda and achieve a few immediate successes, but long term they are left with a crew rife with tension and bad feeling, and getting anything done becomes like squeezing blood from a stone. If you can harness people’s enthusiasm and give them a sense of empowerment about their work, then they are much more likely to work with you than against you, and you will discover new talents within your crew that you might otherwise never have found.

A leader gives new hope and new inspiration

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
– John Quincy Adams

The great leaders throughout history suceeded not because of their personality, but because they were able to give voice to an ideal, an ideal which stirred within people’s hearts and made them believe that a better life was possible. If you have an inspiring goal, then your main task as a leader is to always keep that goal in sight and not allow it to be obscured by any disagreements or problems in the group.

Good leaders lead by example

It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself. (Absurdum est ut alios regat, qui seipsum regere nescit.)
– Latin Proverb

Throughout history, we have seen that it is not words that have changed events, but the example of great people. In this century we have had people such as Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev and Mother Teresa, whose names instantaneously come to mind when we dream a better world. However, reading the life stories of each of these people, we see that their outer acitons came from a very strong inner foundation, one which they were constantly looking to build upon.

Good leaders often know not to take themselves too seriously.

Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.”

— Ezra Taft Benson

Often if we embark on a wrong path, our sense of pride and fear of being thought indecisive makes us carry on that path regardless. However, if we are humble enough to admit a mistake as soon as we make it, we can often change tack before any real damage is done.

Good leaders know they are not indispensable

A good leader is perfect
Only if he is ready to follow
When necessity demands.

– Sri Chinmoy

A good leader does not allow himself to be wrapped up in the power and prestige of being “the leader” at the expense of the task at hand. To him being the leader is just another task, and when it is finished, or if events change such that somebody else is more suited to guiding a particular component of the task, he is very happy to dig in with everyone else in the happy knowledge that he has played his role.

Picture: Projjwal Pohland, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries

11 thoughts on “What makes a good leader?”

  1. That last point is so easy to gloss over, but perhaps the most important in my opinion. A leader knows that sometimes the best for a situation is for him/her to not lead… but instead to follow.

    A good leader knows how to delegate the right tasks and responsibility to others – especially when it comes to most effectively utilizing the strengths and talents of those who rely upon him to lead.

    It’s easy to see this in a work/corporate context, but even in spiritual work a teacher may rely upon another student to help in various ways — perhaps to help communicate an insight in a more familiar language, or perhaps to request help with setting up a retreat or organizing.

    The leader knows he/she cannot do it all, and doesn’t need to do it all. After all, what’s the point of leading if you have to do everything yourself?! 😉

  2. Great insights guys, and they definitely fill out the original post. This is a topic that has caught my imagination for quite some time, so it was good to write something about it.

  3. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

    This is a great quote, another I like is “A leader is a visionary teacher of dreaming”

    Repetition is the key to shared vision, “if you say it 100 times it becomes a fact” – people will pick up on things you repeat, so if you repeat your vision, it will become everyone’s vision

  4. That was a very good clear comment on what leadership is especially on the point that says,
    “A lot of tension in leadership situations comes because we have a fixed idea of what should happen, regardless of peoples’ abilities to carry that thing out”.

    I personally believe leaders are born different and will never perform the same. People have different strengths and in different ways.

    I really liked your peace of work would be greatfull to keep receiving that on the mail provided above.

  5. i am at the compus with avision of be coming agood leader , and i have liked your teachings. thanks.

  6. This really teaches me a lot…. a leader should be confident a leader should be Fair a leader should stand out etc, this really helped me with homework 🙂

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