Leadership Barometer 203 Leadership Essentials

Despite the thousands of articles and books about leadership, some stubborn myths remain.  One myth that bothers me is that really good leadership is remarkably difficult.  Hogwash: really good leadership is simple. 

Let’s examine a short list of the things that are not needed to be a great leader. Then, I will contrast them with another list of things that are essential. 

Things not needed to be a great leader

  1. You do not need to be brilliant. Sure, you do need a functioning brain and the ability to conceptualize options. There are plenty of thinkers in every organization. The leader does not need to be super intelligent. If you push it to the extreme, a leader with a genius IQ will sometimes have trouble relating to people.
  2. You do not have to be perfect. Leaders who concentrate on doing everything correctly miss big opportunities because they have a low tolerance for risk. Making foolish blunders is not the mark of a great leader. However, a person who is willing to take calculated risks generally makes a better leader.  The ability to make an honest mistake and admit it to people shows the leader is vulnerable. That trait is an endearing characteristic that builds trust in most circumstances.
  3. You do not need to look the part. I have studied successful and struggling leaders in organizations of all types. The top echelon of leaders in most cases are indistinguishable from their underlings. Some of the best leaders I have ever met wear a polo shirt to work.
  4. You do not need to be a workaholic. Successful leaders do work hard, but the best ones recognize that to be exceptional, they need balance. They take the time to refresh and enjoy an active family and social life.

Things you must have to be a great leader

  1. You must have a set of positive values. Not only must a leader have values, but he or she must adhere to them at all times. When I ask a CEO if he always follows his values, I often hear weasel words. He will say, “Well… we try to always follow our values, but sometimes it is very difficult.”  Rubbish! When things are most difficult is when following your values is most important.
  2. You must have high Emotional Intelligence. Bradberry and Greaves in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, define the term. EQ is, “Your ability to understand emotions, and your skill at being able to use that awareness to manage yourself and your relationships with others.” Leaders with low EQ have significant blind spots, as noted by Daniel Goleman. They cannot see their own inconsistencies.
  3. You must have passion and humility. The rare combination of leadership traits was highlighted in Good to Great, by Jim Collins.  The passion for the vision allows a leader to have the stamina and tenacity to pursue challenging work. Humility keeps the leader from being too aloof with people. 
  4. You must have great people skills. You need to be able to work well with people at all levels consistently over time. All of the people skills are important with special emphasis on communication skills. 

Of course, we could name hundreds of other things that leaders either need or do not need to be great. These eight factors are important things that I often see being confused by incumbent leaders. Don’t spend most of your energy pursuing the traits that are not needed and not enough on essential traits. You are going to come up short as a leader. 

Exercise for you

Try to expand on my list of the things that are not needed. Also, augment the things that are essential to be a great leader.  It will clarify your thinking about what is important, which will lead to growth for you.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.  For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763



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