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  • Carl Blanz

What makes a good leader?

Years ago, I attended a training called “Leadership Mastery”. The trainer opened a two-day session by declaring that the name of the course was intended to provoke thinking, and in their opinion, leadership could never be mastered.


This question; “What makes a good leader?” is similar, it’s a thought provoker.


When we ask a team or group this question, in addition to universal leadership characteristics, we get answers that are specific to a place, team, team members, culture, product... The collective answers generated by a team provide a wealth of information you can use to increase shared leadership in your organization.


I asked James Taylor this question (click this link to see a 4-minute video of his response).


Here are some highlights from that conversation:

● Open to caring about the people they are leading

● Communication: “You’ll stand out here if you’re not a good communicator”

● A humble, giving nature

● Culture: someone who fits in

● Awareness of self, others, surroundings


One other highlight for me was James saying “If caring for people and awareness of self exist, the job specific skills can often be taught.” In most cases, he is not hiring for job-specific skills, he is hiring for leadership capability.


Why is this such a good question to ask a team?

It creates shared meaning.


When we drill down our collective answers into 5 or so main characteristics, we now have a great tool to use in interviewing potential leaders of this organization. Combined with behavior-based interviewing (where you get people to tell actual stories about their experience) we get a richer insight into how a prospective leader has done in real life compared to our newly created top 5 leadership characteristics.


An additional benefit is having language to support the behaviors and characteristics that make a good leader in our organization, and to guide developing leaders as to where they could be focusing their development in order to be a successful leader here. You can make the characteristics part of your performance expectations.


Here’s an exercise:


Invite a group or team from your organization together for one hour to brainstorm.


Designate someone from the group to be the scribe.


Ask the group “What makes a great leader here?” and start recording the answers on a flip chart so all can see. We’re going for volume of ideas at this point.


Once you feel that you’ve recorded the characteristics, (one way to tell is you’ll start to hear the same answers come up again) begin to cull them.


As the facilitator, let others come up with the answers, your job is to keep the group moving

towards combining, eliminating... until you have come up with 5 at the most.


At the end of this exercise, you should have a shared understanding from the group of what makes a good leader here. (It will most likely evolve over time)


One powerful way to initiate action is to ask the group; “What can we do with this information now?”


Back to interviewing


If you are familiar with behavior-based interviewing, write the questions for the interview around your top leadership characteristics. Here’s an example:


Using one of James’ characteristics from above, (a humble, giving nature) a behavior-based

question might sound like:


Tell me about a time when you held back from taking credit for something that you deserved credit for. What happened next?


If you’re not familiar with behavior-based interviewing, Google it! Here’s an article you could use to get started.


A final thought...


We have to innovate our way out of the current labor crisis. What you and I know as the labor

market is evolving into something new and currently unknown.


“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” - Henry Ford

Innovation while we're working hard looks like hundreds of little experiments done on the fly. This exercise is one of them.

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