Qualities of a Good Leader

A firm handshake, a power suit and a high I.Q. may be assets, but when it comes to true leadership, it’s the emotions that count. Being a true leader isn’t about who’s the smartest or the toughest but rather who has the greatest ability to inspire others through an emotional connection. (Think of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the days after 9/11 and Barack Obama during the economic downturn).

Like other valuable life skills, leadership can be learned. However, the qualities that define a good leader are typically those acquired through life experience, not classroom teaching.

Defined as “emotional intelligence,” a good leader is adept at handling complex human interactions by listening, empathizing and offering guidance in a positive fashion. This skill uses a different part of the brain than pure academic intelligence, which helps explain why people who were average students in school can blossom into  great leaders later in life and why brilliant academics can fail miserably as leaders. It also means that virtually anyone can learn to be a good leader, if they’re willing and motivated.

Learning to Lead

Leaders are unique individuals, and they can exhibit their talent in different ways. In general, though, here are some of the qualities that define a good leader.

ü  Listening. All good leaders are also exceptional listeners. If you have a tendency to interrupt others, become aware of the times you do this and stop yourself. Let other people speak their minds, and then ask questions to be sure you understand their viewpoint. Only then should you offer your own opinions. If you practice your listening skills continually before long they’ll become automatic.

ü  Staying positive. Even in the worst disasters, good leaders have the ability to help others stay calm, positive and focused. By helping other people rein in negative emotions, leaders help everyone do their best work. Research has even shown that most successful business leaders get people to laugh three times more often than mediocre leaders.

ü  Getting input. The best leaders don’t exist in a vacuum. They actively seek out input from trusted coworkers and colleagues. When you’re trying to develop your own leadership abilities ask those you trust for honest feedback.


Answer the following questions with “Seldom,” “Occasionally,” “Often” or “Frequently.” These questions can help you get a rough assessment of your emotional intelligence strengths, as well as areas you might improve.

1.       I am aware of what I am feeling.

2.       I know my strengths and weaknesses.

3.       I deal calmly with stress.

4.       I believe the future will be better than the past.

5.       I handle change easily.

6.       When I have a project, I set measurable goals.

Other people believe that I am…

7.       Sensitive and understanding.

8.       Able to resolve conflicts.

9.       Able to build and maintain relationships

10.   Able to inspire other people

11.   A team player

12.   Able to develop skills and abilities in others

Give yourself 1 point for every “Seldom,” 2 points for ever “Occasionally,” 3 for every “Often” and 4 for every “Frequently.” A score of 36 or higher indicates you use key leadership abilities well.

From “Your HealthStyle”, January 2005.