What makes a good Leader?
by Rich Paschall
With the election cycle starting up AGAIN, and the seemingly endless Presidential debates we will now endure, it is fair to ask what makes a good Leader. What traits do we expect a Leader to have? What do we admire in our leaders? What qualities do we want to avoid in our leaders? What generates our respect and our willingness to follow?
It is not enough to say that our leaders should “lead.” What does that mean exactly? In a certain sense they all want to lead, but where are they trying to take us? What message is their leadership style sending? Are they willing to lead us in a good way?
It is also not enough to say that they should “inspire.” What does that mean as well? If they inspire you, I guess you would, of course, want to follow. Not all inspiration is filled with positive messages or moves in the right direction. Will we know a good leader when one comes along?
Perhaps at the top of my list would be “trustworthy.” Can we trust someone to do a good job? Will they always look out for the best interests of the nation, the community, the local parish or whatever group they are asked to lead? This trait speaks to the virtue of honesty. If we trust someone, then we must believe deep down that they are honest. They will not steal or take advantage of their position. They will not use their position of authority to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Do you trust your leaders?
A good leader must also be a “problem solver.” Every organization will have its challenges along the way and the solutions are not necessarily apparent. This is where a good problem solver is important.
It is not that the leader needs to solve the problem himself or herself, it is that they must know the best way to get to the answers that are being sought. In this regard, leadership might be stepping aside to let someone else handle an issue.
To lead a person must also be self-confident. In this manner some may come across as cocky or arrogant, which could indeed be the case. However, one who lacks confidence in what he does can never be a good leader. Indecision will creep in as the dominant trait. Then the leader will find himself following others, falling prey to advice that may not be in the best interests of all.
Passion is important for those at the top of an organization. I have often seen it at the local level where leaders either do not feel passionate about what they do, or have lost that passion as the years wore on.
Just because you are a good leader in one decade, doesn’t mean that you will be a good leader in the next. Our diocese has a habit of moving successful pastors from one location to another, but success in one place doesn’t mean success at another. Sometimes a problem arises when the so-called leader does not share the same passion for the next assignment as he did for the previous one.
Leaders must be resilient. They must have the ability to “roll with the punches,” as the saying goes. Some do not take real or perceived criticism well. Their downside begins to show when their side of things indeed seems to be down.
One thing for sure — a leader will face criticism. Not all will agree with everything that is said or done. It’s inevitable. A new leader may enjoy a “honeymoon” period of no criticism, but it won’t last. If you’re President of the United States, for example, you need to know how to deal with criticism.
A leader needs vision. He or she must have a clear idea of what it is they should do and how they’ll get there. Again, this doesn’t mean the leader has to do it all. A leader with vision will inspire others to work hard to help a vision become reality. If your vision doesn’t inspire others, you may need to rethink it.
A leader must effectively manage others, especially subordinates in the work place. This means training, coaching, guiding and building up the resources of the organization, town, state, or country through hard work and careful planning. “My way or the Highway” is not an effective leadership style, although I have seen some try to use it on the local level. It is not what any organization needs, and in fact tends to drive away good people.
Problems should be seen as fixable, not something to avoid at all costs. Some so-called leaders would choose the path of least resistance. If they avoid something where there might be even the slight chance of failure or disappointment, they are not leading at all. This is like the “prevent defense” in football. Sometimes that prevents you from winning.
A good leader also is a good listener. I’m sure you’ve heard “no one learns anything new when he’s talking.” A leader knows when and how to listen. A leader knows which questions to ask to get the information to understand the issues and seek the right course of action.
One time I sat down with a local pastor to discuss an event that he felt did not go well in every aspect. At least I thought it was going to be a discussion. Instead it was an unpleasant hour listening to his negative point of view of certain aspects of the event. I’m not sure he listened to anything I said. He could just as well have had the conversation over coffee with himself. I’m not sure why I bothered to talk at all.
Are your leaders listening? Do they care what you think? Will they serve your interests? When local and national elections come, what traits should your elected officials have? As you join community organizations, what traits do you want to see in their leadership?