By M. Dana Baldwin

Strategic Planning Expert

Strategic Planning Expert

What are the characteristics of a good leader?  While there are many fine attributes that a leader should have and exhibit, what leadership comes down to is the ability to interact and lead people to accomplish tasks which lead to the success of the organization and of the individual.

In a recent article, Jack Welch and Suze Orman listed six attributes, phrasing them in the negative (Don’t be…).  When I reflected on the list, I realized that the approach, while thought provoking, left something to be desired, at least in my humble opinion.

My thoughts after my cogitation turned to the positive: What would be the characteristics of a successful leader?  In no particular order, I came up with the following:

Commitment to values:  A successful leader should have high ethics.  Yes, people with lower levels of ethics can succeed for a while, but after a while, the good people will see through any façade and likely end up leaving for places with higher ethical standards.  This attribute includes both personal and professional integrity, mixed with true humanity.  A leader should care enough about the people with whom he or she works that those people feel the support and enthusiasm of the leader in each of them as a person as well as an employee.  In my opinion, this could well include the willingness to have fun while working.

Ability to learn and adapt: Everyone ought to be open to new ideas, concepts, approaches and processes.  This is especially true of the leader.  The leader sets the tone for the organization, and if the leader is close-minded and not willing to listen and learn/adapt, the organization likely will suffer.  Look at the automobile industry.  The Big Three for many years didn’t listen to what I call “the car guys.”  Especially in the 1970s, they made cars up and down the line that looked the same and were produced solely for the lowest cost, not what the market wanted.  As a result, the imports became transplants and provided what customers wanted.

Leaders need to be decisive, to be willing to make decisions when they should be made.  Inherent in this, however, should be the willingness to allow subordinates to make decisions when appropriate, instead of reserving the right to make all decisions.  This allows subordinates to grow and mature, giving them confidence and experience.  When the foreseeable consequences of a wrong decision are small enough, a leader might consider allowing a bad decision by a subordinate to go at least part way to completion in order to show what should have been considered in making the decision originally.  The ability to allow subordinates to make mistakes and to learn from them is a necessary part of growing and maturing.

Be real:  People can spot a phony person a mile away, if not at first, later when the consequences of the phoniness can be seen.  Leaders need to be genuine people.  They need to live what they preach, and show, by example, that they are actually the kind of person they are portraying in real life.

Good leadership can overcome a lot of ills within a company, and bad leadership, sooner or later, will take the energy, vitality and life out of a company.  One important aspect of good leadership is to assure the continuing stream of competent, able, true leaders in an organization.  If you want to improve your leadership abilities, please contact me at so we may discuss how coaching and teaching might improve those abilities and your company’s results.  Often this is accomplished within the framework of Simplified Strategic Planning.  A significant component of strategic planning often is succession planning.  For more information on this subject, please listen to my recent webinar: Succession Planning.

M. Dana Baldwin is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. and can be reached at

© Copyright 2013 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

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