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21 Apr

What Makes a Great Leader?

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In many cases the terms leader and manager are used synonymously—but they are actually very different. Every professional has had a colleague who lead by example and a manager who they did not work well with. The long and short: not every leader is going to be a manager and not every manager can lead.

So, how can you tell the difference? All leaders have varying styles in which they lead, but the best and brightest typically follow some very important principles. These include:

  • Leading by example
  • Focusing on change
  • Being human and admitting mistakes
  • Understanding the value of listening
  • Promoting diversity
  • Helping to develop future leaders

Now, this isn’t to say a manager can’t be a leader and doesn’t follow their own principles, but without these principles, a manager may never lead. This is a big problem for organizations. A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services revealed that 79% of global executives believe a lack of frontline leadership capability negatively impacts company performance.

Here are a few key attributes that make a great leader.


A true leader encourages those around them to be innovative…run into problems and search for a solution. While this is a trait business owners would like to see in all their employees, it isn’t always the case for managers and supervisors.

A manager typically has knowledge of things that are happening “behind the scenes” and because of this, they tend to rely more on rationality. While both innovation and working with reality in mind are beneficial, the sign of a strong leader is that of someone who will put effort into feeling out a problem and potential solutions rather than trying to figure it out right away.

Of course, a solution is the end goal of any problem, but employees will be more inclined to follow someone who is willing to think outside the box.

Understanding Their Own Leadership Style

It isn’t always obvious to an individual how they lead and how their leadership is perceived. However, it is imperative for any great leader to be aware of this.

An article written by Inc., states that a leader needs to be like Swiss cheese…yes, Swiss cheese. Know what holes you have and add teammates (other slices) to fill those holes and create a cohesive unit. Some leaders are great at giving direction, some can sympathize with their teammates better than others, and some are incredibly organized. But not every leader can have it all.

Leaders need to see what their strengths are and learn how to fill their gaps with the strengths of their team.

Most of all, a leader needs to have boundaries. Knowing what won’t be tolerated can save everyone in the office a lot of frustration, and keeping boundaries eliminates potential confusion.

Teaching, Not Just Leading

The success of an organization relies on how effectively a leader motivates and guides other employees. However, a leader can’t guide the people around them without learning from their own experiences.

Without trial and error, an organization will continue making the same mistakes. A progressive leader will take those mistakes and figure out what needs to be done differently. Those learning moments need to be reiterated to those who look to a leader for inspiration on tasks and projects.

Promote Diversity

The greatest leaders don’t close the door to anyone, rather, they interact, learn, and make the best decisions based on what someone has to offer. In the eyes of a leader, things like age, ethnicity, or financial background don’t factor into their decision when building their team.

When leading a diverse team, you’re enhancing the probability of experiencing different viewpoints, thought processes, and skills. Leaders find success when they create teams composed of people who are experts in their areas, and many times, smarter than the leader who’s hiring them

Plus, diversity is wanted by employees and job candidates more than ever before.

In a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 70% of job candidates prefer to work for a company with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion.

It all starts with leadership.

Be Empathetic

Although this may seem simple, being a good person is the most important quality a leader can and needs to have. A leader needs to be sure that their teammates are okay, always.

The most empathetic leaders are the ones employees want to work with and for. When people felt their leaders were more empathetic, 86% reported they are able to navigate the demands of their work and life—successfully juggling their personal, family, and work obligations.

The lives of employees aren’t all about work, therefore, it’s imperative for leaders to be proactive in helping the people around them live happier, healthier lives. If this isn’t made a necessity, retention rates will begin to drop and you can potentially lose your most talented employees.

Leaders should take advantage of evaluation templates so they have a uniform way of checking in on employees.

If you need help finding your next leader, consider working with a professional employer organization (PEO) like Vensure Employer Services. PEOs are masters of human resources and can provide a wide range of resources like burnout handbooks, write-up forms, and recruiting guides.


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