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What Makes a Good Leader?

A leader sees greatness in other people.

He nor she can be much of a leader if all she sees is herself.

– Maya Angelou

Invincible Buldog. Business Team Sucess [Illustration].

Curiously enough, when people are asked about what they like to see in a good leader, many skip the technical skills part and jump to the popular soft skills. It seems that over the years, many people occupying a leader role may have had decent technical skills but low to non-existent personal attributes, and the latter are essential to successfully and harmoniously gain other people’s respect.

Leadership, according to the Merriam Webster’s dictionary is “the power or ability to lead other people”. During our lives we meet people who will become role models—as well as a source of inspiration— but they may not necessarily fall in the leader category.

The need for leadership skills is commonly found in organizations, politics, and certain movements—social, religious, intellectual, etc. The top traits that people expect from a person prior to granting him or her the status of leader worth being looked up to are:

1. Clear, respectful communication. Receiving vague or unclear instructions when you get a new assignment causes uncertainty and makes you spend more time on figuring out what to do, as well as asking questions. Good leaders know this and try to mitigate unclear instructions as much as possible. They try to make sure ambiguities that can become constraints are solved as soon as possible. They seek clear communication, not only to optimize time but to make sure that their team feels strong about what it needs to accomplish, without unnecessary distractions.

Also, good leaders are direct and transparent when it comes to providing feedback: they say what they mean and they mean what they say, while respecting people's needs and ideas. Potentially uncomfortable feedback to someone will be provided so improvement can be made—no fight, no harsh criticism, no double meaning—and it will likely be told in private. On the contrary, good news will be worth sharing and the relevant members will be given appropriate credit for it, making the success a collective one.

2. Ability to delegate. In line with the first point, good leaders work on their delegation skills. Everyone will benefit from having good workflows and communication channels. Delegating is not just about freeing up you time or just giving up tasks when you no longer can assume their responsibility. It is about properly assigning tasks to whoever is in charge so they can deliver the work in the best conditions possible and raise questions if needed—thus avoiding unnecessary last-minute surprises.

3. Emotional intelligence, empathy. For people to follow a leader, they need to feel that the leader is actively interested in their potential. They will start to care the minute they realise that a leader genuinely cares too. Active listening and empathy are needed to help good leaders take well-informed decisions as well as balance the needs of the organization and of each member of the team. With empathy, feedback and communication become an asset, not something to fear.