Do You Know What Makes Someone a Good Leader?

Thanks to a friend and professional colleague, a link to a Harvard Business Review article showed up on my LinkedIn feed today. It is an old article, but I still enjoyed it. Here’s an excerpt:

What do great managers actually do?

In my research, beginning with a survey of 80,000 managers conducted by the Gallup Organization and continuing during the past two years with in-depth studies of a few top performers, I’ve found that while there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack. (

The article took me back to something I’ve often talked about in my leadership development sessions – what makes someone a great leader?

At one company, as part of their mid-level managers’ leadership development program, all participants completed the Campbell Leadership Descriptor. Briefly, the Campbell Leadership Descriptor is a survey that asks the person completing it to think about the leader he/she most admires, the leader he/she thinks is a poor leader, and themselves. They evaluate all three people on the following characteristics: Vision, Management, Empowerment, Diplomacy, Feedback, Entrepreneurialism, Personal Style, Personal Energy, and Multicultural Awareness. I’ve done different iterations of this activity, using the Campbell Leadership Descriptor or using questions to have participants reflect on current and past leaders.

What has been interesting to me, no matter where in the world this conversation has happened, is that people admire different things in a leader. For me empowerment is a deal-breaker characteristic. The leaders I’ve admired and enjoyed working for believed in empowering me. The leaders that I’ve disliked working for or thought of as poor leaders were micro-managers. I’m not alone in these feelings, but I’ve learned through facilitating sessions around this topic that some people’s deal-breakers are different than mine.

As leaders this is something we need to be aware of – our employees are different, and they want different things from us as leaders. As Marcus Buckingham says, we have to discover what is unique about each of our employees. And, we have to manage them based on their uniqueness, yet still be fair and consistent.

So, my questions to you are:

  1. Do you know what characteristics in a leader are important to you?

  2. Do you know what characteristics in a leader are important to each person who works for you?

  3. Are you leading with the answer to the second question in mind? Or are you leading the way you want to be led?

If you’d like to discuss your answers to those three questions or if you need help with questions two and three, contact me.

#Leadership #Management

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