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What Makes a Great Leader

When we think of great leaders, we will often think of inspiring superhero types. People with heroic, puffed out chests, powerful voices and a cool air of confidence.

They always know the right thing to do and they have the uncanny ability to reel off motivational and inspiration speeches at the drop of a hat. No one ever defies these great leaders because they don’t want to – the leaders are so just and wise that they have no need.

But if anyone ever did cross them, they would be immediately be put to rights with a stern but fair judgement and unquestionable authority.

These are the leaders that make us feel safe, that steer our ships through uncharted waters and that make us feel like we can do anything as a team.

These are the heroes taken straight out of the Saturday morning cartoons you probably watched as a child (which, by the way, are based very much on our Father and Mother archetypes).

comparisons between a leader and a manager

Now the chances are that you probably have known a few people like this in your lifetime. Perhaps you have a parent who really is that wise, all-knowing figure.

Or maybe you were lucky enough to have had a teacher that inspired you when you were younger and helped you to make the career choices that led you to where you are today.

You might also know of some famous real-life characters who fit this bill. Perhaps you know of a few celebrities who you look up to, or a few historical characters even.

But for the most part, this is not the reality of what makes a good leader. While all these things could certainly help you to inspire followers, they are certainly not necessary for you to become an effective leader. And it’s just as well – as that would be an awful lot of pressure to put on yourself!

So what does make a good leader?

What is the minimum entry requirement?

Of course this is a somewhat abstract concept and not one that can be satisfied with a simple answer.

But let’s give it the best shot.

Ultimately, the best leader is the leader who gets results. And they do this by organizing, stabilizing and motivating a team in order to get more out of them than they would be able to accomplish on their own.

So put simply: does having this leader in place make a big difference to the team’s ability to accomplish goals?

If the answer is yes, then the leader is providing a useful function and they are worth keeping in place. If the answer is no, then you could make the argument that the leader is not useful and is a waste of money or time.

But this mentality, while accurate, is dangerous. Why? Because it leads to ‘performance reviews’ and other tests to identify the ability of the leader. A leader might then be punished or penalised if they should fail to meet monthly targets, or if they should be seen to be spending too much money.

This seems to make sense when you think about leaders in terms of their ability to help teams meet goals but this is forgetting one small factor:time.

Because a leader’s ability should not be measured in terms of their ability to accomplish X in T amount of time.

If that is the only concern and the only aspect of performance that the leader is graded on, then in all likelihood they will end up making the wrong decisions for the good of the business and the good of the team.

They will stick with what works, they will stick with what they know and they will avoid taking risks or evolving their business model to meet new challenges. A good leader should be someone who is able to see the road ahead and to seemingly pre-empt the changes that will affect businesses most.

These are the leaders who will be able to help a business to grow rather than just survive and who will be able to help avoid catastrophic failures that lead to layoffs or bankruptcy.

And this same theory applies in other contexts too – the best parent is one who can not only keep the family happy and functioning well but who can also help to
improve their circumstances so that they become happier and so that they become more fulfilled. They are also able to foresee potential challenges and set up contingencies so that they can deal with crises while remaining cool and level headed. This is the true example of ‘Super Dad’ and ‘Super Mum’.

So we can conclude that a great leader is able to help a team meet goals more effectively than they would otherwise and that these goals should be long term goals rather than short term.

When a leader is stifled, it is very often because the leader above them is short sighted. If management higher up is forcing quarterly reviews with strict,
punitive measures for those seen to be under-performing then it will stifle a leader’s ability to grow and bring changes.

This means that the goal needs to be right as well and in many ways, it’s that goal that we will see is the most important driving force behind a great leader.

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