What makes a good leader
May 6, 2022

What makes a good leader

What makes a good leader? It's a question that's asked over and over again. If you think it's who's loudest or the most skilled, we have news for you.

What you’ll learn:

  • What emotional intelligence is
  • How to manage your moods
  • Why keeping it light is important 

What is emotional intelligence?

It's a common misconception to believe that you need to find the 'right' individuals to be managers and put them into the 'right' positions. Alanna is forceful, so they'll be great at managing a team where lots of change is on the cards. Asim is much more gentle, so he's perfect for a position that needs sensitivity, right? Not necessarily. The real important factor in being an excellent manager? Emotional intelligence (often referred to as EQ).

Without EQ, it doesn't matter how good you are. You could be the top salesman of all time, but you'll never be a great leader. One of the signs of good EQ is self-awareness. If you understand your strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drive – you're already on the right track. 

But how does being self-aware translate into the workplace? Well, there are several ways it can demonstrate itself. The first one is knowing the kinds of things that will trigger stress and anxiety. If, for example, tight deadlines make you stressed, a self-aware manager would avoid (as much as possible)  that situation by managing their time and not over-promising too much. 

The other sign of emotional intelligence is being able to read other people and not only empathise with them but know when the best time is to communicate a particular message. Say for example you’re disappointed with a piece of work that your employee has sent. It’s probably best to raise this in person or in a 1:1 than ping them a quick message at the end of the day. If you do this they will likely ruminate on the message, reading too much into it, this might make them anxious and will make what could have been an opportunity to grow and develop a negative drama instead. 

The need to self-regulate and manage moods

Emotions and feelings are felt on a biological level. To try and stop them is a fool's errand; it'll always be a losing battle. So what can a manager learn to do? Learn how to manage them. Try to picture it. You're in a meeting when someone delivers bad news. Your manager swears and then forcefully voices their disappointment in front of the whole team. This is not good self-regulation as emotions are contagious and now the whole team is feeling disappointed and less able to see clearly in terms of what to do next. 

Imagine instead that the same manager takes a deep breath, checks their response and says in a calm and regulated way that the news is disappointing but they’re optimistic a solution can be found. Does anyone have any ideas? 

This has taken a negative situation and turned it into an opportunity for learning and growth. The team feel calm and motivated and are better able to come up with ideas than when they were in a panic and feeling on the back foot. 

Managing emotions is key for EQ and leadership. Managers who can control their impulses create environments of trust and fairness. They also make employees feel safe and respected. If you want to keep the best employees, you must learn to manage your feelings.

Staying motivated is important 

Effective managers need to have one key thing – motivation. It's that drive to achieve beyond your own and others' expectations — the desire to succeed and keep your team moving forward. This isn’t going to be true every single day but ideally you feel that sense of motivation as frequently as possible. 

True motivation doesn't come from money or status; whilst those are nice things to have, they don't make you committed to your work. Real motivation is getting the feeling of achievement from the desire to achieve itself. It’s also about your values feeling aligned with the company values (this doesn’t have to be the case but the likelihood is that you’ll feel more motivated if you believe in what the company is trying to achieve). 

Develop your empathy skills 

Practising empathy is essential. At some point, you'll need to deliver bad news to your team, and how you deliver that news will have an impact. No matter how much the information might affect you, you need to focus on your team. If you give bad news with empathy rather than pessimism, your team will stay motivated. The quickest way of empathising with someone else is to put yourself in their shoes. How did you feel when you were starting out on your career? What challenges did you face? What wisdom can you impart that will make them feel more supported and to help them grow? 

Keep it light 

Sometimes good leadership is seen as something very serious- as if the more senior you become, the more you need to lose your sense of fun or levity. 

Truth is that injecting some lightness into challenging experiences is a gift so whether it’s buying everyone donuts or arranging something fun to look forward to as a team or even just cracking a bad joke- these small things can diffuse tension and make everyone feel lighter. This in turn means the team feels uplifted and motivated. One of the most important barriers to being productive and staying motivated is when teams get too serious and lose perspective. At the end of the day one of the most important things a leader can do is say - ‘Let’s leave this problem and come back to it tomorrow,’ and then encourage their team to take some time out to gain perspective. 

Also it’s important to celebrate when things go well. This is on an individual level and on a team level. Brene Brown, author and professor, says the following: ‘You need to surround yourself with friends who when your candle is burning bright, don’t feel the  need to blow it out.’ 

This can readily be applied to leadership. Keep the candle burning!