When I was asked to write an article on leadership, I didn’t think I knew much about the topic. I remember saying, “I don't know how to describe a great leader, but I certainly know one when I see one.” Let me offer several things to look for in a great leader as well as how to spot someone who is not.


What Makes a Person a Great Leader?

Let’s start with a strict definition of “leadership.” According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “a person who leads, such as a person who has commanding authority or influence.”

That definition would not be adequate for a job description. We need something more definitive to describe leadership and what it takes to be an excellent leader.


My Definition of Leadership

I would define leadership like this: “Leadership is the ability to influence followers in a positive way and guide them to achieve a stated goal. Great leaders take a vision and turn it into real results.”


What to Look for in a Great Leader

These are some of the most important traits to look for in a leader. There are lots of skills and attributes that are important, but these are at the top of my list.

  • Great with people. Leadership isn’t something they do alone. Leaders must work through others to get results. Leadership skills are people skills (“soft skills”) above all else.
  • Excellent communication skills. Leaders have excellent communications skills. Great communication starts by being a great listener. Effective leaders understand the importance of carefully listening to their staff so they fully understand what they are getting at. It’s one thing to hear someone’s words, it’s another thing to understand what they are saying.
  • Provide a sense of purpose. Effective leaders provide clarity of purpose. They show their people why their mission is important to them personally and to the entire organization. People with a sense of purpose work hard because of a true interest in their goal, rather than because they must.
  • They motivate and inspire. Passionate leaders inspire trust and confidence in other members of the group. Here is an example of inspiring leadership: A service manager shows their team why service agreements are so important for customers, employees, and the entire business. They then set sales goals for the team and lead the way by selling service agreements themselves.
  • Effective decision-making skills. Part of being a leader is making lots of decisions. Leaders must make many small decisions every day. These small decisions can add up to large outcomes. Leaders will also have to make big decisions that affect their team and even their entire organization. Because of this, a leader needs to be able to make decisions both efficiently and effectively.
  • Positive yet realistic. Leaders don’t have to be in a great mood all the time. In fact, they often wear their emotions on their shirtsleeves. However, they do have to pass a sense of optimism on to their employees. Employees like working for positive people. While a positive attitude is appreciated by employees, unrealistic expectations are not. A great leader expects their team members to succeed and then makes it possible. One way they do this is by keeping objectives optimistic but reasonable. They might even set up some “easy wins” so that the team can experience a sense of accomplishment when a morale boost is needed.
  • A strategic mindset. Leaders must be very good at formulating strategy. Consider a head coach of a football team. They are ultimately responsible for coming up with a strategy to win the game. The same is true in business.


Recognizing Talent and Recruiting

Like the head coach, good business leaders need to be able to spot talent, or potential talent, in people. Excellent leaders see potential that the others have missed. Leaders must then be able to foster and grow those traits into something great. Great leaders must also be able to recruit talent by persuading talented people to join their organization.


How to Spot a Bad Leader

  • They don't inspire their employees. An inspiring leader makes the whole team feel good by communicating well, helping everyone succeed, and setting a great example.
  • Their teammates are not clear on the mission. Leaders must have a clear, easy-to-communicate vision behind what employees are asked to do. Otherwise, they will quickly lose trust in their manager.
  • They want to do things on their own. Some managers are super productive working alone. Great leaders have super productive employees.
  • There is no sense of comradery. Their employees don't feel like they are working as a team for a common goal that benefits everyone.


Bosses Versus Leaders

Bosses drive employees, micromanage, demand respect, rely on authority, generate fear, command, and use employees.

A leader develops their employees. They make employees feel valuable. Leaders trust, inspire, and motivate. Leaders get things done through their employees.


Use Leadership Skills to be a Better Person

Leadership skills aren’t just for business. They can help you become a more effective parent, spouse, and friend. Putting your leadership skills to work on those around you will help you get what you want out of life while helping others get what they want too.