What Makes a Great Leader

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Author, scholar and pioneer of leadership studies Warren Bennis defined leadership as ‘the ability to turn vision into reality and sustain it.’ leader

This is certainly an accurate definition when it comes to defining what leaders do generally, however how leaders do this is the subject of endless debate.

There are two types of leaders – those who lead by instilling fear and those who encourage everyone to live up to and fulfil their potential.  Obviously the latter is the definition of a good leader and what you should be aspiring to do throughout your leadership. 

In my line of work, I am often tasked by multi-national companies to find high level executives for top positons in which the individual will be required to lead the company sometimes in a different direction or through particularly challenging times or perhaps throughout a period of great change.  Such leadership is no ill feat and education and work experience will only get you so far.  When I have a selection of potential candidates all with similar experience and qualifications, the next thing I look for is someone who can demonstrate great leadership qualities - but how do I identify a great leader?

Many people believe they are great leaders, however may find that a large proportion of their employees disagree – meaning they aren’t actually very accomplished leaders at all.  

Here are my tip five traits I identify as qualities that true leaders possess:


Great leaders don’t dictate, they have a strong ability to influence and inspire others.  No one likes a dictator and the truth is if you’re leading correctly you won’t need to.  It’s cliché but providing you have the right employees in place, then leading by example and encouraging your staff to fulfil their full potential as well as granting autonomy will result in developing a highly motivated team who want to prove their worth.  Motivation is the cheapest form of supervision. 

Skilled communicator

Sounds simple, but few people possess the excellent communication skills they boast of on their CV.  The ability to communicate well doesn’t just mean you are able to get your point across to a range of people and using a range of styles in a clear and concise way.  A key part of communication is listening.  Having a process in place to listen to your employees’ feedback is extremely beneficial.  The ability to really listen and understand is crucial to being an effective communicator.  


The most successful people in business don’t quit.  They are tenacious and ready to overcome all obstacles.  Good leaders involve their team when facing challenges head on.  Having the ability to bring together a collective wisdom to solve a problem usually solves the problem quicker and also helps to reunite and build a stronger team.

Address failure

It’s not pleasant addressing failure or shortcomings, particularly if the failure is a result of a poor performing employee.  Good leadership involves recognising and addressing the issue immediately and seeking to resolve it whether that requires more support, a frank discussion or requires you to be ruthless.


Lastly and perhaps most importantly, being honest and having strong moral principles will set you in very good stead and earn the respect of your colleagues.  The respect of your employees is one of the most important assets you can possess if you want to be a successful leader.