Effective Leader

Do You Have the Characteristics of an Effective Leader?

How are some people able to effortlessly lead and inspire others, whilst other meet with constant criticism and failure? What are the qualities that we should look for in potential leaders? If you ever find yourself in the position to offer leadership, what are the factors that will help you lead more effectively?

The following characteristics will help you estimate the leadership ability of others and become a better leader yourself.

Inspire not Command.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tsu

The best leader will inspire his followers. He will lead, yet people will not feel that they are being led. If you direct people through issuing proclamations and directives, you will come up against opposition and resistance. The most effective leadership is to help others feel they are working from their own initiative. To inspire your fellow workers in this way, it is necessary to lead by example and offer encouragement where appropriate.

Have Confidence and Belief.

Confidence and belief are essential for effective leadership. The nature of the human mind is to doubt and expect the worst. Unless a leader can maintain a clear vision of where he wishes to go, others will not follow. If a leader has an iron will and tremendous self belief, he can can inspire others very powerfully to pursue the ideal.

Be willing to admit Mistakes.

A good leader needs the strength to ignore criticism. However, many leaders make the mistake of thinking this means that they can never admit they are wrong. Actually, this stubbornness is usually the result of their own ego. They don’t want to admit their mistakes because they feel this would make them look stupid. However, to persist with the wrong strategy, just to try and prove yourself correct, is the worst thing a leader can do. A leader should ignore his ego and change course if events prove different to expectations. People appreciate a leader who can admit his mistakes, but if you keep making mistakes all the time people will lose faith in your competence.

Delegate Where Appropriate.

“Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

A good leader cannot do the jobs of several people. A leader who tries to control absolutely everything, will get bogged down in minor details. It also displays a lack of confidence in others. People need to feel valued and given responsibility. A good leader needs to be able to delegate to the right people and intervene only at critical moments.

Learn From Others.

A good leader should be constantly learning and improving. We should learn from our mistakes, but also we should read the counsel of experts. It is a mistake to feel that all we need is a strong will. Good Leadership requires wisdom and a humility to learn. A leader who thinks he knows everything, is destined to get into trouble. Leadership and learning are synonymous.


“Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men — the other 999 follow women.” -Groucho Marx

To be a real leader, at times, we need to sacrifice our personal comforts and desires. A leader needs to be able and willing to put the interests of his people first. If we are primarily concerned with our own affairs, it is not possible to be a true and powerful leader.

Emphasise good qualities in others.

The best way to gain the loyalty and support of others is to appreciate their efforts. This should be sincere and not just at times when things are going well. A good leader will instinctively seek to draw out the good qualities of other people. This is much more effective than trying to point out and correct their weaknesses. A leader will also take time to offer gratitude for the efforts of others. This is particularly important at times when things are not going as planned; it is at times like this that people need appreciation most.

Detached from Criticism.

A good leader is not autocratic, but, at the same time he needs to have the strength to pursue strategies, even if temporarily unpopular. A good leader should be able to listen to criticism without getting emotionally upset.


It is a mistake to feel that you are always right. Any display of ego creates feelings of inferiority and superiority. In the long run, this undermines your effectiveness as a leader. If you are proved right, don’t spend time reminding people it was your idea. A good leader, is concerned with the well being of his project / group, and not with his personal standing. Also, humility does not mean false modesty, it means working quietly without demanding recognition and praise; this quality is quite rare amongst leaders.

Be prepared to Follow.

To learn the art of leadership, we also need to learn the art of following others. If we can listen to others, people will respond in similar fashion and will be willing to follow our advice. We cannot expect to always have others be at our beck and call. If we demand others always follow us, people will not be attracted to our style of leadership.

Tejvan Pettinger is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Meditation Centre. He lives in Oxford where he works as a teacher. He also offers mediation classes as a community service and updates a blog at Sri Chinmoy Inspiration a collection of articles on meditation and self improvement. http://www.srichinmoybio.co.uk/blog/

79 Responses to Do You Have the Characteristics of an Effective Leader?

  1. LW says:

    Well, that was highly confusing.

  2. John Wesley says:

    How so? I don’t doubt it was, but I’d just like to find out so that future posts don’t have the same problem.

  3. SimoneM says:

    I don’t think it was confusing – I like the emphasis on the “gentle” characteristics – the humility, objectivity, sacrifice, learning from others, delegation and inspiration.
    Have you ever seen a real leader? If you were looking for noise and ceremony you probably missed them, because they were in the back, listening to others…
    Not to be a cliche, but this is where women often earn the whole “behind every great man” tag. I’ve worked for many “important men”, but most of them were so focused on striding out in front that they didn’t bother to see if the people they were leading could keep up…

  4. Lodewijkvdb says:

    I agree, not confusing at all. But it does go against the popular top-down approach commonly practiced in management studies and literature.

    I agree with SimoneM that this might be a description of the more feminine traits of leaders (hence the ‘powerful woman behind the man’), instead of the more masculine. It’s not about dealing with chaos and having a short-term focus on results, it’s about dealing with relationships and having a long-term vision.

    Tom Peters also has a take on this. In his article ‘Everything You Need To Know About Strategy; A Baker’s Dozen Eternal Verities’ (pdf) he formulates it like this:

    “Strategy” is essentially about “knowin’
    where you’re goin.’”Not, mostly,a bad
    idea; though with today’s market gyrations—
    and market gyration velocity—
    that’s increasingly difficult to do, a
    chimera,a distraction even. For me,
    “knowin’who you’re goin’ with” tops the
    list of imperatives in a world of whitewater,
    and knowin’ that those you’re goin’
    with share your passion and determination—
    and the flexibility of mind to adjust
    and adjust and adjust on a dime.”

    Knowing who you’re going with and assuring that they share passion, determination and flexibility of mind, requires a different set of leaders than the classical leaders we know.

  5. Bubs says:

    Great list and not confusing at all. Going to forward it to my Dad who has been a self employed business man for 35 years. Lately he’s been struggling with some of his new employees.

  6. John Wesley says:

    I’m glad to see that other readers weren’t confused. I really like the article myself, and think you are righ aboutt the passive/feminine qualities of leadership being represented, rather than the more aggressive qualities.

    @Lodewijkvdb — I’ll have to read that Tom Peter’s essay myself. I’m a big fan of his work and that quote you included makes a lot of sense.

    @Bubs — Hope your Dad enjoys the article and solves those employee problems. Although I’m not sure it has anything someone with 35 years experience wouldn’t already know. :)

  7. Kyle Whitford says:

    To see leadership from an Integral perspective clears up so much confusion. There are many people who WANT a commander style leader and won’t follow any other. They even belittle other types as wussies. Then there are those who need a benevolent sage style leader who promises rewards later for hard work now. Then, the hand in hand servant leader, the invisible leader and the ‘counsel of leaders’. Different leadership for different zombies, er… people. This post describes a popular version of leadership that we could certainly use more of in today’s America and Europe. Is the whole world ready for this leader?

  8. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    It is interesting Lodewijkvdb and Simone suggested the above qualities of leadership are more “feminine”. To be honest I didn’t think of this perspective when writing the article, but it is a good point

    re: confusion

    I think great leadership involves certain paradoxes. The leader must be – strong but flexible; confident yet humble.

    In this regard I gained a lot of inspiration from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

    “The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
    thus he is truly powerful.
    The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
    thus he never has enough.

    The Master does nothing,
    yet he leaves nothing undone.
    The ordinary man is always doing things,
    yet many more are left to be done.


    In leadership we need to apply both these qualities of yin and yang (female and male)

    Basically, good leadership is not just a simple black and white issue. There are several factors that go into making a good leader. And it is rare that our leaders consider all these different qualities.

  9. Sara says:

    Nice picture choice :)

    Great post. One of the best leaders I had the pleasure of working for was rather hands off and quiet. He was no shrinking violet by any means, but he had so much confidence in his team, it made us want to work that much harder for him. When he did criticize or step in it was always constructive and never defeating. He was really clear in the expectations and let us run with our work. For anyone interested, check out Ricardo Semler’s leadership strategy. Interesting stuff.

  10. John Wesley says:

    Thanks, Sara. I was hoping someone would get a kick out of that. I couldn’t resist with the leadership theme.

  11. Lesly says:

    I didn’t find it confusing at all…as a matter of fact it was a great article…interpretation would be different from person to person…well anyway…I thought the picture of Bush was really funny…finally we get to see a really funny picture that says a whole lot more than the words incompetent, uncapable, impotent, and totally clueless…LOL…all for laugh people…and undeniably true!

  12. Lodewijkvdb says:

    I figured that you might like Tom Peters. I love the rebel in him :) He is a thinker that’s ahead of the rest by a decade, or so it seems at times.

    Sara, I read the book by Ricardo Semler and it’s a great read indeed. I love how he describes his path of learning from micromanaging his company to the empowering and serving style he has now. I’ll have to re-read it soon, thanks for reminding me of it!

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  14. gus says:

    Great Post,
    I was bought up believing leaders are born, not made, but it’s becoming more and more clear that this isn’t necessarily true, at least not 100%. Anyone could practice some of these approaches and be a leader made.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I’m going to focus on a couple of these approaches today, and see how they fly.
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  15. Jacques says:

    It seems the paradox of these days – we ‘need’ leaders – it’s human that most people want (or even need) to be lead – that’s how we got this far in the first place. But then, we also ‘need’ independence, self-realization etc. A lot of today’s issues stem from the fact that ‘managers’ don’t manage or lead – scared as they are that coming off too strong will result in people ‘complaining’ – which they do anyway, as now there is no leadership… Same thing you see in politics: weak, spineless (supposed to be) leaders that self-censor – or is it because the self-censoring that they are weak?

    I didn’t read Peters (yet?), but last year I ordered this e-book: “Leading people to be highly motivated and committed”, by Ben Simonton (seems his site is down though) – based on his personal experience – the thing that strikes me most: as a manager, go see your people – don’t hide in meetings, but be on the floor. And listen more, speak less…

  16. LW says:

    I think the thing that put me off this post the most was the picture at the top. You start with a photo of the most hated man in the world–who actually does have several of the good characteristics you list, but continues to be the most hated man in the world.

    So my question has to be: if GWB, who has these (not all, of course) characteristics is so universally hated and ridiculed, what’s the point of these characteristics? At what point can a leader actually LEAD instead of just walk behind public opinion and PRETEND to lead?

    I would have preferred a photo of Mandela, or Clinton, or Jimmy Carter or someone universally loved and respected. It would have been much less jarring and contradictory.

    But, I guess, every blogger in the universe needs to use that photo of GWB & the crying baby at some time or other.

  17. Jacques says:

    @ LW – loosen up, please – John already indicated that pic is meant jokingly, as a silly graphic.
    Having said that, and because you feel the urge to turn this into some sour, political rant: the guys you mention are no true leaders either: maybe charismatic (to some, not all), which is usually sufficient to turn them into liberal icons of leadership – but certainly not people with a realistic vision, based on factual needs and undeterminedly leading their countries to new heights, rather than some idealists murmuring about world peace and recently, the environment.
    As I pointed out earlier, leadership is not politically correct, these days – we all know where that stems from…

  18. LW says:

    Hello, Jacques–

    Not meaning to be political. Just wondering how a person can lead if he is hated. Underneath that, wondering how a person can be hated if he has several (no one can have all, as no one is perfect and also as some of the characteristics are contradictory) of these characteristics? What does that say about the real value of these characteristics?

    And how can others, who have none of the “good” characteristics, be respected and even loved by their followers? Again, that goes to the value of the characteristics. Is this supposed to be about “ideal” leaders & followers or about the real world?

    What is the test of leadership?
    I don’t like typing well enough to debate, and am not a debater anyway. I’m questioning. Questioning. If anything I ever say sounds like a debate, it is really just me looking for specificity and/or supporting statements.

  19. John Wesley says:

    LW — I get what you’re saying about the image. It doesn’t really match the rest of the article and I regret using it a bit because that undermines a great article by Tejvan. I’ll definitely take that into account when choosing images in the future.

  20. Jacques says:

    Hi LW,

    You’re asking basically the question that Tejvan tried to answer: what is leadership?
    He sums up a few characteristics in an attempt to make us think about it: why do we hate one guy, but are prepared to accept the directions from some other guy, while they are both in a position ‘above’ us: as a politician or boss or commander. He is not talking about moral or religious leaders, but worldly ones – they are supposed to take worldly decisions, so we have to judge them in a worldly way. The article provides some, rudimentary, obviously subjective, benchmark.
    Great. Thank you Tejvan, for leading us to that question and into some direction.
    But then…. any leader makes enemies. Even (or should I say: especially) the moral leaders get fierce opposition: Jesus, Ghandi – they were not appreciated by all, yet many people followed them. Not judging them on their leadership skills (Tejvan’s criteria), but because they felt they should. Based on values.
    I feel you should distinguish between the two types of leadership.
    And that picture – well, nobody takes it serious. Nor the ‘leader’ that is portrayed.

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  33. Noor says:

    It is a good article. I always believe that in order to be an effective leaders, one has to be able to lead him or herself first. Eventhough all these techniques can be learned, it may not be easy to be translated into practice. Probably we can start with telling ourselves to be sincere in our intention and action.

  34. Great article. I especially like that you included “Emphasize Good Qualities in Others.” We’ve seen it all to often in business, politics, religious organizations, schools, and hospitals people in so-called subordinate positions who are never given a compliment or acknowledgement for the good they do or for having the unction to do their jobs well. Most people in higher management positions do not acknowledge the job that is well done but harp on the mistake when a mistake is made.

    As a rising entrepreneur, I will take care to remind my staff of the “good” they do and give them their flowers while they are living.

    Again, great article, and wonderful site. I will be visit soon and often.

  35. Guy Farmer says:

    Thank you for your ideas Tejvan. I might also add to the list the ability to look at oneself. When leaders are deeply self-aware they understand their strengths and areas for improvement and are able to function from a place of greater understanding because they are comfortable in their own shoes. This reduces leaders’ need to fix their own problems through their employees.

  36. pastor Eben says:

    am touched and blesed for reading thid article.i have learnt lots of things from this article.However i think you can do more good if you bring out some quotes from other leaders who have made it in oour generation as well as thier profiles.

  37. lion jojo says:

    thanks for this experience

  38. Very interesting post and useful.

  39. Thanks for sharing the article.

  40. nana koko says:

    wat a noob web…

  41. Johan says:

    Confidence is a good quality in leadership, Nice article.

    Effective Leadership Qualities

  42. Annjanette says:

    I agree that there are many characteristics that are required for good effective leadership and few these days have them. I appreciated the article.

  43. There are some interesting points in time on this article however I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There may be some validity but I’ll take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we wish more! Added to FeedBurner as effectively

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  45. Alphil_baz12 says:

    the text was incredibly good and awesome. it tells us on how to be a good leader and at the same time see and identify the good leaders in our community…. but it would probably be difficult to see someone qualified as a perfect leader basing on the above mentioned and enumerated characteristics.

  46. Lalala says:

    This is absolute dribble …

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  49. commandoGRL says:

    i was looking up information on google because i recently have been chosen as a team commander in my highschool and i am very thankful to have ran across this article, it has been very helpful.

  50. April-Sam says:

    Love the picture thx for the info

  51. Coco says:

    that pictior is bad

  52. Crissy says:

    I <3 George Bush he is such an awesome dude

  53. Headphones says:

    There are some interesting points in time on this article

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  58. pinky says:

    what do you like about being

  59. Live2drum-cali says:

    This is absolutely true from my experience in Management.  Unfortunately, many people in Leadership positions are like rowers all on one side of a boat; simply rowing in circles when they actually think they are going somewhere.

    True leaders ‘influence’ and ‘inspire’ people.  They also have a knack for thinning the herd.  Lazy leaders/ managers allow horrible personalities to linger and influence, which ultimately hurts business, no to mention the morale of the workers who care.

    I have always interviewed every employee  (where there seemed to be communication breakdowns) to get their take on things and try to see if they are interested in being part of the “improvement”.  Most people with any decency will make plans to leave a company once they realize the business is committed to being better run and more inclusive if they are NOT team players.  On the other hand, people who are inspired to work but may feel ‘beat down’ by poor management may feel a keen sense of renewed enthusiasm.  I feel this is all directly related to sound leadership. I have seen it in action.

    The leader has to set the example. 

    The golden rule is to treat your friends, family, neighbors, employees, co-employees, employers and customers/ clients the way YOU expect to be treated.   Everyday.  If  everyone followed that rule there would be no need for any other rules.

  60. Xion says:

    I’m trying to become student leader, but this is very confusing.

  61. Anesugochera says:

    in deed, it is highly confusing

  62. Anesugochera says:

    in deed, it is highly confusing

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  66. Jim Morgan says:

     What is Leadership?

    March 17, 2012 By Tom Gurda

    What is Leadership?
    Natural born Leadership styles are the type of Leaders that are followed by people who follow them because they want to. These types of Leadership styles vary slightly but in general have a lot in common with one another.  
    The Definition of a Leader:
    “One who has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.”  
    Let’s breakdown that definition and spell out what is a Leader  or what Leadership styles truly answer the the age old question of what is a Leader. Before we do, it is important to understand that people need the boundaries and the Leaders who set those boundaries. Without boundaries there is chaos and discord. People are not happy with chaos, in general the population wants order – whether it’s a worker, a manager or even a child. Al all stages of life there needs to be Leaders that set the guidelines and maintain the order. Some might try to argue this, especially if they have been exposed to Leadership styles from individuals not fit to be in the role. Unfortunately a really good Leadership style is a truly rare commodity. Only a small percentage of population are fortunate enough to have experienced  Leaders with “natural born Leadership Styles”.  It’s written as a plural because each true and natural Leader have slightly different Leadership styles. Quite similar overall, but go about it form different angles and to different degrees.
    So, back to the question – what is Leadership? The definition above is accurate and it compacts the whole explanation into one sentence. The complexity of instilling Leadership styles into your subordinates and future Leaders is not as difficult as it sounds. Everyone displays their “Leadership styles” at one point or another in their lives, whether it’s as a parent, in a social group, or in a professional capacity. The # 1 problem with new to intermediate management is their egos. True Leaders have no ego issues and are too busy with their high level of empathy while interacting at all levels.  Here is the mother of all challenges: The empathy that makes the Leader a cut above the rest – well, it has to be real. Everything needs to be real so the true Leader walks the talk and put themselves out there. This is non-negotiable for the Professional Leaders that I allow in and it should be non-negotiable in all companies.  Do you think it be a better world?
    Now comes the funny part – this part of equation is amazingly ironic when you compare high level Professional Leadership Styles to any of the rest of the Leadership Styles.  Bold statement but true: Being honest and caring about others is the most rewarding life a person can live. It is easy, so easy that it never ceased to amaze me when individuals work so hard by not walking the talk.  I was not always so honest and so empathetic, I think it’s also called wisdom. If you pay close attention to the truly Professional Leaders are the content and happy ones. Not necessarily giddy happy but an underlying contentment type of happiness. It could be visibly giddy too since it is such a great way to enjoy your day to day life. It’s takes a little time to build a team with the same values and it will require the courage to make tough decisions.

    In “The Leadership Engine”, Noel Tichy describes a Leader’s responsibility: “Enhancing the value of assets and sustaining growth are still the ultimate goals. This is accomplished by developing others to be leaders, creating Leaders at every level, and getting them aligned and energized.”
    Leadership as it pertains to Leading a Facility(s): Word of mouth is powerful… build a reputation of credibility person by person.
    Build a management team that has knowledge and understanding of Leadership and you build credibility. A team with strong credibility throughout the facility can achieve desired goals while maintaining a high level of morale. In order to achieve the higher levels of morale, it starts at the top. Leaders should leave their personal issues at the door and maintain a high level of morale. The Leader’s state of mind can become contagious. Momentum can grow and a sense synergy can be realized. Achieving goals requires teamwork. Achieving teamwork requires credibility. Combine a high degree of both and the result will be synergy.
    All management in a given operation can be (and, often are) judged by the individual actions of any member of the team. In other words, one bad apple taints the rest …Or, an entire team can be considered credible.
    Assess individual strengths/vulnerabilities of existing teammates and determine where each would be well placed. Identifying, placing and training a management team that covers all areas with precision and consistency requires discretion and good judgment. Sharing these judgment calls with partners (HR, Superiors, Peers, etc) can help. http://www.leadership-business.com
    Specific steps to support a Leadership strategy:
    Learn Operations … Understand.
    Learn all reports, examine formulas, and understand. Teach.
    Determine low hanging fruit and learn/teach all resources available that might help achieve.
    Delegate/assign w/ expected timelines clear. Avoid overloading team. Prioritize.
    Daily start up meetings to get and keep entire team on same page.
    Coach, train, and develop.
    One on ones…
    Provide daily leadership training and direction to management team on an individual basis.
    Smile and be upbeat, create appropriate start to each day.
    Redundantly explain to mgmt. the importance for each player to involve his or her teams with desired goals/objectives.
    Show by example how to treat people respectfully. The specific words used are not as important as tone and body language. People perceive insincerity (or, sincerity).
    Explain that smiling and respectfully greeting the staff is not an option, that it is a mandatory requirement for long-term success. More smiles.
    Show by example how to involve staff . Teach delegation! Be available!! …move office onto production floor to communicate availability.
    Allow as much autonomy as possible – at all levels.
    Be approachable to associates at all levels
    More trust… give it and get it.
    Develop trustful partnerships unilaterally.
    Empowerment: http://www.leadership-busines.com
    Teaching independence in decision making (at all levels)
    Training to properly assess the needs of the dept/facility/company and make adjustments.
    Say what you will do and do what you said. ….Communication/Credibility!!
    Laugh (especially at yourself). Having a sense of humor is a significant part of the program.
    Communicate communicate communicate – there can be no leadership without communication!
    Recognize accomplishments ….even the smallest!!
    Discipline and consistency are paramount. All players are equal and boundaries must be enforced! If not… credibility is lost
    Take on full partners. Everyone is a full partner. …there are no individual failures!!!
    Teach the value of teaching.
    Be aware. Know what is happening.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    Keep balance in own life …promote balance of teammates’ lives.
    Every business needs a strategy and people to carry out the strategy!!!!!
    “At the end of the day, you bet on people not strategies.” Larry Bossidy, CEO Honeywell

  67. NOON says:

    Effective leaders give directions, inspire teams, mobilize new resources while maintaining a cleear organizational identity and promoting shared vales

  68. I don’t know if I’m a good leader or not, but in my opinion, I’m leading well my team. Communication is very important for me, if I don’t like something I say it, because we must be honest with each other. Also, we must be responsible for the decisions we take and plus other essential skills.

  69. AnKit says:

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  70. Lilyoyo1 says:

    Hev sucks quit playing and messed up the economy. Go democrates!

  71. X Reemany X says:

    i want to be a leader like,to lead my friends but,not command or annoy but the thing is there is a leader already and is rude!!

  72. Fb says:

    It was awesome! Thanks a lot it was of great help to me!

  73. James says:

    Hey loved your part on leaders making mistakes – really great stuff, thanks.

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  76. Js says:

    Enjoyed the list, I would like to add just one more, if I may…consistent integrity.

  77. Js says:

    Enjoyed the list, I would like to add just one more, if I may…consistent integrity.

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