Characteristics of a Good Leader

I originally wrote this article 4-5 years ago, but because it has become the most read article, I periodically update it with more current information. So here goes for the end of 2009.

I’m not kidding when I say this, there is just ONE most important characteristic of not just a GOOD leader but a super performing leader, but very few seem to understand what that is.  So here goes . . .

I ask a simple question of most of the top leaders that set through my leadership programs, management programs, CEO programs, etc. And it’s very rare that anyone can give me the right answer.

But once they understand this simple principle you can hear the aha’s going around the room . . . and, of course, I hear, later, how that’s changed their lives and their businesses.

The question is:

What is the one most important characteristic of a good leader?

When I’m working with those groups I will start a list on the white board as people start throwing ideas at me  that they believe make up a good leader. Frankly, I’ll usually fill the white board with lots of different ideas. I had asked for the one most important characteristic but will end up with 20-30 different ideas, and, quite frequently will have some ideas that are opposite to each other.

So waht does that say about what we all think makes a good leader?

Just maybe that says that no one seems to have THE answer, or an answer that works. Of course, I recognize that’s why they are setting in one of my classes, but it also points out that people are leading in a lot of different ways, and many of them aren’t working that well or they wouldn’t be setting here trying to get better.

Here are a couple of the contrasting answers I get in every class.

  • A leader is someone that empowers those working for him to make their own decisions.
  • A leader is someone who gives clear, direct orders, a take charge person that commands his employees.

And, what’s itneresting is that those on opposite sides of those answers feel that the other side is totally wrong, and would respond negatively if it were used on them. Those that would empower others hear those that would rather take the reigns and give orders as “micro managers.” And those that are taking the reights feel that those that would empower others are relinquishing the reigns. Of course, in some situations they are both right, and in other situations each of those choices may be just the right choice.

One thing that this points out is that leadership is situational. There are times to choose either path to become the most effective leader.

After we have evaluated the whole white board full of ideas I’ll ask the room again, “What is the ONE most effective characteristic of a good leader?”

The answer is: A good leader focuses on . . . and always delivers . . . RESULTS.

Many of the answers put on the board during this discussion were focused on activities, and processes . . . those frequently create busy work. They put people to work working on what the leader believes is the right answer but if it ultimately isn’t delivering the leader . . . and those working for him . . . turn up the activities even further.

I’m sure you’ve heard this little ditty, “You just can’t keep doing what you’ve always done and expect different results.”  Well, when we are focused on THE ACTIVITY and we don’t get results, it’s easy to fall into the one thing that has to change to get different results . . . just naturally seems to be . . . working harder at what we were doing before . . . working harder at what didn’t work.

A good leader is focused on RESULTS and will deliver RESULTS. Because he’s focused on RESULTS and not the activity, when an approach didn’t work, or may have taken the team a little off target the results will be reviewed to identify what worked, what didnd’t and how we’ll tweak it the next time. In other words, now, the activity is up for change, where if we are focused on THE ACTIVITY we can get stuck working harder.

We are also open to hearing what the team says about changing that activity. And the team is focused on how to tweak the activities to get the ultimate result instead of working hard to get the activity right according to what you, the leader, had told them to do.


Out of all the years I’ve asked that question of executives, I believe only one time has someone even come close to the answer. The answer is “A leader gets results.” I believe that the reason there were so many conflicting characteristics is that most of what we put up there was “situational.” A good leader always knows when to use whatever tool according to the situation to get the results that are needed.

Too many are stuck in one mode or the other because “that is the right way to do it,” such as “empowering” employees. I’ll admit that is usually the best way, but there are employees that need a nudge once in a while, that perform well when given step-by-step directions instead of guidelines.

Too many are focused on activities, and then get frustrated because they don’t get results.

A good leader knows how to find the right tool, when to use it, and always delivers results.

One Other Characteristic of a Good Leader

When I started this article I said there was only one characteric of a good leader, and that still stands, but here’s something to add to that characteristic.

When I ask someone what they do, the normal answer is “I am just a ___________” and they give me a label that describes a vision of “just a _____” or “average”, “middle of the road.”

My next question then is, “Is there someone, somewhere, a super performer who is the best at what you do? it might be another employee, a vendor, a customer, or another company. It might be a competitor.

So, one of your jobs as a leader while “getting results” is to shoot for the SUPER PERFORMER type of results. Don’t allow you or your team to focus on just delivering the normal everyday type of stuff. Set a vision of what the super performer looks like and then help your team ALWAYS become that super performer as you are striving for results.

Just changing their vision of who they are and what they are expected to do will change the results you do get to the super performer level.

Back to “getting results” . . .

Frankly, it’s a good feeling to know that when you are focused on the results and not the activity frustration goes away, confidence builds that you WILL find an answer.

Just imagine what it would feel like as a leader yourself if you were leading other leaders that can ALWAYS deliver results, or at least, are starting to deliver the results you want more often.

Would you like to see that start happening for you, and for those you lead?

Would you like to be surrounded by people who make things happen, and who can take the tasks you give them and even think for themselves to deliver THE RESULTS you asked for instead of just carrying out a task that doesn’t always deliver what you wanted?

Join our workgroups, or have your teams join our workgroups that put these tools into their hands that will help you . . . and THEM deliver super performer results every time,  not just busy work activities.

Call 816-415-8878, or email

To Your New Leadership Success

Alan Boyer

Helping companies worldwide reach further than they EVER thought possible….FASTER


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