Project Practitioners > What Makes a Good Leader?

What Makes a Good Leader?

By Ed Reynolds

What makes a good leader? Is it a boss that you like? The guy (no gender implied when I say "guy") that has all the great ideas? A charismatic, smooth talker? Maybe a really good leader needs all of those things. But one thing is for certain, we know it when we see it. Or do we?

Midway through my career, I attended one of those executive ropes courses with the management team of our regional headquarters. Everything we did was fun team building but the first exercise on the first day opened my eyes more than the others. The team was asked to solve a puzzle, the nature of which isn’t really important. The sociology and psychology of solving that puzzle was fascinating.

Ron, our fearless VP, immediately proposed a solution. We followed his instructions to the letter but failed to solve the puzzle. The team was momentarily rudderless. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop on cotton. Then Ron said, “Well, that was a huge flop. Who has a better idea?”

New ideas were offered, evaluated by the team, tried, co-mingled, and discarded rapidly. Ron participated enthusiastically in each concept the team felt worthy. Leadership changed hands at least 5 times in the course of the next 10 minutes but nothing worked. Finally, Jerry, the service manager, offered a solution. Dogged by our lack of success and Jerry’s low energy presentation, his solution met with lots of objections. But Ron thought Jerry’s idea was a breakthrough and supported him. He asked Jerry to explain it further and helped him overcome objections. Jerry’s solution worked particularly well.

Ron isn’t the most approachable person in the world because he guards the necessary distance between manager and subordinate. He isn’t the most eloquent public speaker and his ideas don’t always work. But Ron enables his team to be their best. Sometimes he's way out in front and needs to drag the team along. Sometimes he just listens and sometimes he cheers. Ron knows when to lead and when to follow. He plays whatever role the team needs him to play, humbly, without stealing the spotlight from “interim stars.” Our region outperformed all the regions in the company every year I worked there. Ron is a fantastic leader.

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It's all about empowerment! The what, when and why rests with the leader - the how, with the Team. It is creating and fostering that environment of trust (freedom to fail) and autonomy that delivers the project...



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