10 traits of a good leader

What makes a good leader?

We have all had good leaders and bad leaders in our careers and often people who are a mix of both. Unfortunately there seem to be far more bad leaders than good ones. This really isn’t acceptable because leadership has a big impact. Good leaders help us do our best work while bad leaders stress us out and make it difficult to good work. Fortunately you can learn to be a good leader with coaching and experience.

As part of our agile training we wanted everyone to learn what it took to be a good leader. So we asked everyone to think about the managers they have had during their career and write down what went well and what didn’t go well on post it notes. Then we put these notes on the wall, grouped them into themes, voted on them and discussed the most important ones. In Agile this is known as a targeted retrospective and it’s the number one method for continuous improvement.

1. A good leader supports people. A bad leader blames people.

Good: encourages, supports, defends and rewards good work.
Bad: negative, complains, attacks and blames.

2. A good leader grows people. A bad leader undermines them.

Good: coaches and trains, shares the glory, gets the best out of people and helps people move to a better role.
Bad: takes credit for other peoples work, blocks training and blocks career moves.

3. A good leader listens. A bad leader shoots the messenger.

Good: encourages people to raise issues, discusses issues and happy to be wrong.
Bad: doesn’t listen, shoots the messenger and has to be right all the time.

4. A good leader accepts responsibility. A bad leader rejects problems.

Good: accepts issues, takes ownership of problems and discusses difficult issues with people.
Bad: refuses to admit there are problems, won’t take responsibility for problems and refuses to discuss difficult issues.

5. A good leader resolves issues. A bad leader lets issues grow.

Good: resolves issues blocking the team, resolves conflict, calm under pressure and says no when required.
Bad: doesn’t resolve issues blocking the team, doesn’t improve team methods, doesn’t resolve conflict, is afraid of upsetting people and doesn’t challenge broken systems.

6. A good leader improves the way the work is done. A bad leader makes it hard to do good work.

Good: understands the work, helps improve the way the work is done, challenges bad rules and poor practices, streamlines administration, makes good decisions and helps their team efficiently produce high quality work.
Bad: doesn’t understand the work, doesn’t provide enough resources to do the work, gets in the way of people doing the work, forces people to comply with stupid rules and bad practices, increases administration costs, makes poor decisions about the work and makes their teams slow and low quality.

7. A good leader delegates and coaches. A bad leader micro manages.

Good: delegates, empowers, coaches, mentors and teaches.
Bad: micromanages, doesn’t trust anyone, demands frequent detailed reports, wont delegate and doesn’t coach.

8. A good leader is open and honest. A bad leader is manipulative and untrustworthy.

Good: open, honest, encourages discussion, doesn’t tell you what you want to hear and leads by example.
Bad: manages perception, denies involvement in decisions, is deceitful and deceptive, breaks promises and says one thing and does another.

9. A good leader cares. A bad leader is selfish.

Good: understands people, cares about people, builds relationships, leaves their ego at the door.
Bad: feels entitled to power and privilege, is jealous of others, doesn’t care about people and treats people like tools.

10. A good leader is calm and organised. A bad leader is confused and disorganised.

Good: calm, organised and clear.
Bad: disorganised, poor briefing, sudden urgent tasks and frequent changes in direction.

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