How To Be a Great Leader (in under 300 words)

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The six psychological factors that make a really great leader.

Want to lead others? Well, much has been said and written about what makes a great leader, so here are the crib notes.

These are the factors that psychologists consistently find make a good leader (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005):

  1. Decisiveness: good leaders make frequent decisions and stick with them. When there is uncertainty (and when isn’t there?) good leaders choose and take responsibility.
  2. Competence: leaders should provide resources for their group. The headman in prehistoric times was often the best hunter in the group. Nowadays being competent often means having the knack of influencing others.
  3. Integrity: leaders you can trust increase followers’ performance, satisfaction and commitment. Integrity breeds respect.
  4. Vision: projecting a vision of the road ahead is vital, this gives people a common purpose and motivation to persevere. Without a vision, the followers are lost.

Although being a great leader (like Aung San Suu Kyi, above) isn’t necessarily the same as being a great manager, there’s much common ground.

These four factors were confirmed in a study of Fortune 1000 companies that had been turned around by their CEOs (Collins, 2001). That research also found two further factors that lifted leaders from ‘good to great':

  1. Modesty: the most effective leaders weren’t grand-standing show-offs; they were incredibly modest and humble.
  2. Persistent: the leaders who transformed their organisations the most never gave up. That doesn’t mean they were inflexible, but that they never stopped pushing towards their goals.

These may all sound like pretty straightforward characteristics, but apparently few have what it takes. Many surveys have been carried out asking people what they think of their immediate bosses. On average these find that about half are seen as incompetent.

Image credit: Surian Soosay

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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 15 March 2012

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Images: Creative Commons License