The best and worst leadership qualities

The best spot in the house


This discussion is inspired by a recent tweet I posted that asked “What do *you* think is the most important leadership quality?”.Β  There were many responses to this tweet, so I thought it would be interesting to unfold this topic a little more and share our experience, opinions and ideas here.

Much is written and said about leadership.Β  We’re surrounded by leaders in companies, governments, schools and churches. So what makes great leadership? What are the best and worst leadership qualities? What’s your experience been? What lessons have you learned?

Let’s discuss this in the comments below.

Your thoughts…

What do you think is the best quality a leader can have?

What is the worst?


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  1. @BenDawe on May 25, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Cheeky cartoon…but true.

    The greatest leader is uncompromising about being a leader. You are a leader, or you’re not. There’s no middle ground.

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      Me? Cheeky? That’s a little harsh fella! πŸ˜‰

      So is leadership birthed by nature or nurture?

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  2. Catherine White on May 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Your black and white images stop me in my tracks Robin; nothing to add to that.

    So succinct.

  3. Myriam @ Detours on May 25, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Love the cartoon indeed, Robin!!

    Great topic… I hope it won’t sound too cliche, but to me a great leader is someone with a clear vision of where they want to take their business to, combined with the ability to rally his team and partners to support this vision.

    A true leader should also be someone I can learn from, someone who inspires me to constantly lift my game, encourage me when I’m playing to my strengths and doing something really well, and tell it like it is when I haven’t performed well enough (but constructive feedback is key).

    And obviously, I’d expect someone with strong skills – who delivers and leads by example. Someone I will respect and trust. Mhhh, could we send that to SEEK, see if they have anyone?!

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you, Myriam.

      That’s an excellent description. Who on your opinion would exemplify or come closest to demonstrating those qualities?

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  4. Cat Matson on May 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Having taught Leadership *skills*; engaged in many-a-discussion about whether leadership can be learned; drawn academic distinctions between management and leadership; debated the *supposed* superiority of charismatic / transformational / transactional or situational leaders and been credited with one of the best papers on Leadership my MBA Leadership Professor *professed* to have read (may have been because I chose to discuss leadership against one of her leader idols, the late Anita Roddick) …

    I say that the qualities that make for great leadership are often the same that make for bad …

    – sticking to you guns is a very powerful attribute … until it becomes dictatorial or worse

    – the ability to rally people to support your vision is great – until everyone loses sight of greatest good for greatest number

    – a touch of *humble arrogance* is potent … until it becomes not-so-humble

    – the determined drive to *just get things done* is hugely effective … until the team (and the leader) reach burn-out.

    My takeaway from all this … great leadership requires strong self-awareness and strong contextual understanding – knowing when to push forward, when to pull back, when to ‘do it yourself’ and when to share it amongst the team, or even bring new players to the game. The successful leaders I have worked with aren’t necessarily the ones who ‘appear’ to be so at first glance … and likewise the leaders who people gravitate to on first sight I find have often *lost* their team, their way and their potency as the game has worn on.

    The ones who last have those qualities – self- and contextual- awareness and resultant flexibility. And they don’t subscribe to the latest ‘trend’ of ‘best’ leadership qualities … they just focus on the collective goals of the team they are leading.

    One last thing – great leaders don’t *wait* to be handed the baton … they just *do their thing* … and by their demonstration, they lead.



    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      This is an outstanding contribution, Cat – top shelf! Thank you. You have influenced us yet again!

      Would you regard yourself as a leader? What makes you say that?

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  5. Brad Shorr on May 25, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Hi Robin, Great questions! I don’t think it’s possible to isolate a single characteristic – leadership is complex and requires a blend of qualities. Here’s my best, most boiled down list.

    Best qualities: A servant mentality, clear vision, strong work ethic.

    Worst qualities: Bad ethics, inability or unwillingness to listen, indecisiveness.

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm

      Thank you, Brad. Your input to those posts is always so reliably valuable. That demonstrates great leadership in itself!

      In your opinion, how can I leader demonstrate a ‘servant mentality’ and still keep control?

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  6. Paul Wallbank on May 25, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I’d tend to agree with Brad and add that leadership depends upon the context; Churchill was a disaster in Gallipoli but magnificent 25 years later.

    Similarly in business. For instance, “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap was terrific for businesses that needed restructuring but was a disaster in a growing business or one where the cuts had been done and it was time to consolidate.

    For me, the best leaders I’ve worked with are those who kept their teams motivated meeting the organisation’s objectives and the worst I worked for are those where the glory was theirs and the blame all yours.

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      Thank you, Paul. I’d be keen to discuss your opinion on Churchill’s leadership around the future of Poland in his ‘negotiations’ with Stalin and Roosevelt in WW2.

      Looking forward to catching up with you.

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  7. Paul Foreman on May 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Another great illustration Robin πŸ™‚

    Some great points so far – here are my thoughts:

    What do you think is the best quality a leader can have?

    Solution focused

    What is the worst?

    Problem focused

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm

      Great to see you, Paul. Thank you for your encouraging feedback.

      What do *you* mean by solution focused?

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  8. Scott Gould on May 26, 2010 at 6:33 am

    There are plenty of great qualities. I think perhaps the best is clear communication.

    The worst would be contra that – mud-like communication.

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm

      Thank you, Scott. In your opinion, what are the essential hallmarks of clear leadership communication?

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  9. Leanne Berry on May 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Love the cartoon Robin!!

    Best – empathy, lead by example, strength, focus, motivation, communication, delegation, innovative, ability to remain calm under pressure, listening rather than hearing, and a big one for me is being able to deliver sincere praise and say THANK YOU!

    Worst – self absorbed, possessive, dictatorial!

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      Thank you, Leanne. You sure know how to encourage a fella! πŸ˜‰

      How do *you* know if a leader’s praise is sincere?

      I appreciate your participation.

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  10. Luke James on May 28, 2010 at 2:06 am

    So many great responses here. Cat’s comment resonates though. I’m particularly fascinated by “I say that the qualities that make for great leadership are often the same that make for bad …” and the examples given. Very well argued.

    And Ben’s “The greatest leader is uncompromising about being a leader. You are a leader, or you’re not. There’s no middle ground.” is a philosophical point that I’m also going to have to ponder.

    I guess, I’d look at history for some of the answers. But that becomes confusing too. There are some great leaders who are deeply flawed individuals.

    I’m more likely to fall into the camp of Brad’s and focus on bad ethics. Without a strong ethical foundation and lashing’s of empathy then it’s almost impossible, without the stripes of military rank, to ask people to follow.

    But, there are film directors who lead and retain a cohesive team, get the job done and are some of the most aggressive people you’d wish to meet.

    I hate to say it, but maybe it is all about context after all. Maybe Cat’s opposites are ad infinitum and swing like pendulums depending on the situation and job in hand?

    Do you think there are times when a dictatorial approach is needed? Someone to make the tough decision? The fall guy? Leadership by committee, history tells us, doesn’t work either.

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm

      These are very valuable builds, Luke. Reflecting on the business leaders I’ve worked with over the years, management by consensus can work well for a while, but then people seem to crave for someone who’ll be decisive and just get on with the job of directing others. Having a sensitivity to know when to ‘charge’ seems important – a sensitivity for context?

      Best, Robin πŸ™‚

  11. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot on May 28, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Best: decisive, inspires confidence and effortlessly motivates and encourages.
    Worst: hackneyed phrases which sound hollow (eg. good job, excellent question,thanks for asking), limp handshake and haliotosis.

    • Robin Dickinson on May 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm

      Thank you, Annabel. That’s quite an image you conjure up! Who are the leaders that inspire your confidence?

  12. Paul Foreman on May 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Robin,

    Re: What do *you* mean by solution focused?

    I am thinking….

    – Commitment to seeking a positive answer and implementing it
    – Focus on a win/win
    – Recognising answers can come from anyone; not just leaders
    – Uncovering a cure rather than temporary or quick fix

    A solution I feel is something that is recognised on all levels as the answer or absolute best compromise and moves beyond qualities to positive actions

    More ideas to help spark thought can be seen in my brief Mind Map called “Solutions”

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