Good leadership

Good leadership can be the difference between victory and defeat, success and disaster. All good leaders share some common characteristics, which can be distilled from the insights of past leaders and thinkers.

Inspires confidence and trust in other people

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

“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 Tzu

“People underestimate their capacity for change. There is never a right time to do a difficult thing. A leader’s job is to help people have vision of their potential.” – John Quincy Adams

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”

“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’. They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.” – Peter F. Drucker

Works hard and always looks for ways to improve

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F Kennedy

Other traits
Surrounds himself with competent advisors
Knows when to listen to other people and when to follow his instincts

Poor leadership

You can also learn a lot about leadership by analyzing poor examples. George W. Bush is rapidly becoming a textbook example of poor leadership. Politics is a sensitive issue for most people, but rational minds will see that I’m only talking about his leadership ability and not about his politics, personal character, or religion.

Bush’s track record is a pretty good list of things to avoid doing if you want to be a good leader:

Poor choice of appointments – A good leader doesn’t have to be the smartest guy in the world, but he should make use of the most able people. Consider some of the choices Bush has made over the years: Donald Rumsfeld for Secretary of Defense, Harriet Miers for Supreme Court justice, Mike Brown for FEMA, and Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General. Were these the most able people he could have chosen for their respective jobs, or did he choose them for personal reasons? A good leader puts the well-being of his people above his personal preferences.

Not listening to your advisors – Choosing good advisors is extremely important because sometimes a leader will need to defer to their expertise. Bush had absolutely no experience in warfare or Middle Eastern affairs when he decided to start the Gulf War Part II. A good leader would have recognized this and deferred to his more experienced advisor. Colin Powell had invaluable experience from the first Gulf War, yet Bush refused to listen to him.

My way or the highway – A good leader seeks to build consensus and recognizes the need for compromise sometimes. Bush does not seem inclined to do either of these things. Past leaders have used the ‘Lone Ranger’ approach, but they were mostly dictators and kings. Last time I checked, America was still a democracy.

Doesn’t inspire the confidence or trust of the people – As evidenced by his approval ratings. Popularity and confidence in a leader’s ability are not equivalent, but until someone comes up with a better measure, it’s the best measure we have. Recent stories of excessive snooping and potentially politically motivated US attorney firings don’t exactly inspire trust in your administration.

Finally, and most telling, is the fact that Bush doesn’t live up to his own definitions of leadership. Consider the following quote by George W. Bush himself. ‘I have a different vision of leadership. A leader is someone who brings people together.’


Fellow countrymen, whether you are Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Independent, let us unite and put a premium on leadership ability over politics, character, and moral values. For no matter how much you like a candidate for these things, it’s his leadership ability that will make or break his administration.


2 thoughts on “Leadership

  1. Nice article on the qualities inherent in both good and poor leadership. I might only add that to be a truly great leader, one must be a great individual. What inspires others is a certain greatness of soul, something that ultimately comes down to character. As you say in another essay, we all need heroes, and we admire our heroes for their virtues as well as for their attempts to grapple with their vices. A leader might have a vision, but most importantly, he or she must have the ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision. To do that requires a bedrock of principles (the foundation of good decision-making). Let’s consider five core virtues:

    1. Wisdom – to know oneself and others
    2. Courage – to stand firm in the truth
    3. Justice – to act on a moral compass
    4. Moderation – to live without fear and without excess
    5. Compassion – to love others as oneself

    One need not have all of these qualities to be an effective leader, but it is certain that if one has none of these, then one cannot inspire trust. At the very least (and here we should scrutinize our politicians…) a leader needs courage and moderation. Who would be foolish enough to follow someone who cannot even show self-control?


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