How to be a Good Leader


I was recently working with a group of new Vice Presidents, helping them get a better understanding of their role. After three days of intensive training and casework, I was asked: “George, if you had to give us just three behaviors that would, in your opinion, define a good leader, what would they be?”.

It is a great question!

So, here are three behaviors that keep coming up time and time again in our conversations with leaders at all levels. Now, before you jump in, don’t believe that you automatically know how to do the things listed. Our experience tells us that very few leaders really understand what it takes to be a “good leader.” We all may pay “lip service” to these ideas, but it is something else to put them into practice on a regular basis.

#1 Be Honest

Based on surveys of more than 15,000 people (“Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, Why people demand it” by James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner), which trait did people select as the most effective key for leadership? Being honest – 87% considered this as the most important characteristic!

Honest people have credibility – and that’s what gives leaders the trust and confidence of their staff. What do credible leaders actually do?

• They do what they say they will do. They keep their promises and follow through on their commitments.

• Their actions are consistent with the wishes of the people they manage. They have a clear idea of what others value and what they can do.

• They believe in the inherent self-worth of others, and they learn how to discover and communicate the shared values and visions that can form a common ground of which all can stand.

• They are capable of making a difference in the lives of others.

• They admit their mistakes. They realize that attempting to hide mistakes is much more damaging and erodes credibility. Also, when they admit to a mistake, they do something about it.

• They create a climate for learning characterized by trust and openness.

#2 Be Positive

Another important characteristic that sets good leaders apart is the notion of being positive. If you aren’t injecting positive, supportive and encouraging thoughts and actions into the workplace, it is far less likely that others will either. You can’t rely on someone else to do this for you-you are a leader.

Try the following:

• Develop a positive vision. See success before it arrives. When visualizing themselves walking across a high wire, successful leaders see themselves getting to the other side. Leaders who struggle usually have their focus on not falling off the rope or worse still, never see themselves making it to the other side.

• Think big. Look for ideas that will be contagious and excite people.

• Encourage others to do their best. Successful leaders believe that people do want to make a significant contribution to their workplace. Coach, counsel and develop people to live up to their potential.

• Set and maintain high expectations for all who work with you. Mediocrity does not generate a highly motivated workforce.

• Never be too busy to laugh. Nothing gets people through a crisis like a good laugh — and a manager who’s willing to enjoy it with them.


#3 Be Communicative

People invariably bring up issues to do with the quality and quantity of communication at work. Many complain that leaders give “lip service” to open communication but do little to really communicate with them.

Ineffective communication often results in gossip and rumors, poor morale, and under-currents of tension resulting in more impoverished cooperation, lower productivity, and absenteeism.

Experience shows that there are many ways that leaders can improve internal communication. Here are a few ideas:

• Communication is a two-way street. It involves giving information and getting feedback from staff. It isn’t finished when information merely is given.

• Use face-to-face communication. Don’t rely on pin boards, memos, and other written communication.

• Communicate clearly. Ask yourself each time an instruction is given as to whether the message is clear.

• Don’t be vague. For example, don’t merely tell a staff member to “show more interest in their work” if they are spending too much time chatting with others – be specific about what you want to say.

• Listen. Show staff respect when they speak. They will feel part of the team and will tend to be more productive and dedicated. For example, ask questions to show interest and paraphrase and clarify points.

• Open-door policy – and more! In 1982, management consultants Tom Peters and Robert Waterman proposed the concept Management by Walking Around in their book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies. Peters and Waterman examined successful companies, realizing common denominators between the most successful. According to them, successful companies had CEOs and leaders who spent much of their time in the field instead of being confined to their office. Walk around and talk to people. Allow people to disagree with you and to come up with new ideas.

• One-on-one meetings. Sit down with each staff member to determine what the employee considers vital to get the job done. Equally important is the opportunity for the employee to see what’s important to the boss to get the job done.


Finally, I like to remind leaders that this is the hardest job (besides parenting) they will ever have. None of us is perfect at all these three fundamentals. Knowing them and working on them is all part of the process of becoming a good leader.