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What makes a good leader in 2020 - the definitive guide

Practical checklist of top leadership qualities from our speakers and authors 

pat in crowd

(Pat Lencioni and crowd at sold-out leadership summit. Image: The Growth Faculty)


"People who lead healthy organisations sign up for a monumental task - and a very selfless one."  

Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage

Good leadership is difficult in 2020.

The economy is challenged, and everyone's focused on Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Tough decisions must be made.

Mistakes will happen.


You're struggling to bring in cash, but you must keep the team positive.

You're too busy, yet you need time to catch the waves of change in your industry before they swamp you. 

But, if you're a good leader......

You'll continually build excitement around your vision, and pursue it relentlessly;

You'll activate your strengths and work on your flaws;

You're humble and you'll share the wins with those you inspire;

You'll help others grow to become leaders themselves;

You'll keep learning and you'll encourage your team when challenges come

You'll work on becoming a better you; 

You'll show kindness and empathy. You'll want to make a difference to others, and perhaps to the world.

These are the leadership qualities you should aim for.

Whether you're an entrepreneur, an executive, a parent, or a community leader, these are the traits the world needs this year. 

malala yousafzai on stage for The Growth Faculty

(Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and moderator Annabel Crabb at The Growth Faculty event

So, here at The Growth Faculty, we've simplified a tonne of info to help you.

We've got quotes and research from our exceptional "brains trust" of world leaders and academics who've keynoted at our events, and exclusive interviews with bestselling leadership authors. 

It's a practical guide crammed with proven answers for what makes great leadership.


Here's a list of what's covered in this leader guide: 

  1. What's the best definition of leadership?
  2. Management vs leadership
  3. What is leadership in 2020?  
  4. What makes a good leader?  
  5. Top 10 qualities of great leaders  
  6. Best leadership qualities for attracting and retaining top talent 
  7. Learning to lead; the millennial leader in 2020 
  8. 5 soft skills of leadership 
  9. Servant leadership and ethical leadership  
  10. How your leadership style affects those around you 
  11. Questions good leaders should be asking 
  12. Women in leadership  
  13. Top 10 books on leadership 
  14. Leadership quotes from the world’s best 
  15. Summary
  16. References


what's the best definition of leadership?

To begin to discuss leadership, it's helpful to define what this thing "leadership" is. 

Marcus Buckingham says it's not even a "thing" at all.

In fact, he lists "Leadership is a thing" as Lie #9 in Nine Lies About Work. He prefers followership. More on that in a moment. 

Facebook executive Julie Zhuo tries to give a definition. She says "It’s to get great outcomes from a group of people." 

Here's the dictionary definition of leadership: 


Pronunciation /ˈlēdərˌSHip/ /ˈlidərˌʃɪp/ 


  • The action of leading a group of people or an organisation.
  • Eg. ‘different styles of leadership’

A Regent University study in the International Journal of Leadership Studies (IJLS) has compared the many differing definitions of leadership to "a lot of blind men describing a moving elephant."

Each definition is accurate, yet none sufficiently describes the whole. 

The study's comprehensive attempt to answer "What's the definition of leadership?" begins: 

A leader is one or more people who selects, equips, trains, and influences one or more follower(s) who have diverse gifts, abilities, and skills and focuses the follower(s) to the organisation’s mission and objectives causing the follower(s) to willingly and enthusiastically expend spiritual, emotional, and physical energy in a concerted coordinated effort to achieve the organisational mission and objectives.

The leader achieves this influence by humbly conveying a prophetic vision of the future in clear terms that resonates with the follower(s) beliefs and values in such a way that the follower(s) can understand and interpret the future into present-time action steps.

The definition continues for another 20 sentences or so, but I'll try to summarise the elephant:

Leadership is inspiring and motivating a group of people to exert themselves to help achieve a common goal. 


See also 10 Lessons from the Best Silicon Valley Bosses, to read some of the specific ways leaders do this in some of the most successful tech companies in the world. 

User-added image

"If you are manager, figure out how to be a leader, if you are a leader - figure out how to shine a light on problems." - Seth Godin, author and speaker.

Perhaps the main difference between leaders and managers is that leaders broadly are big picture and managers broadly are small picture. 

Leaders focus on goals, and managers focus on tasks.

"Not all managers exercise leadership.....Not all leaders manage," says academic Fred Lunenberg.

Business illustrator cartoon of manager showing road

(Image: Business Illustrator

The Melbourne University handbook on leadership says this: 

Managers maintain the status quo efficiently but leaders help individuals, teams, organisations, and societies to do adaptive work.

It goes on to say that leadership is not a position but a process that can be learned. 

While management is learning the nuts and bolts, leadership is learning to lead individuals and teams through intrapersonal (i.e., self-awareness and self-management) and interpersonal (i.e., social awareness and social skill) development. 

Leadership vs Management


Thinking Process:

Leadership focuses on people   Management focuses on things

Leadership looks outward       Management looks inward

Goal Setting:

Leadership articulates a vision    Management executes plans

Leadership creates the future     Management improves the present

Leadership sees the forest       Management sees the trees

Employee Relations: 

Leadership empowers          Management controls

Leadership has colleagues      Managers have subordinates

Leadership trusts & develops    Management directs & coordinates


Leadership does the right things  Management does things right

Leadership creates change      Management manages change

         Leadership serves subordinates      Management serves superordinates [superiors]


Leadership uses influence      Management uses authority

Leadership uses conflict        Management avoids conflict

Leadership acts decisively      Management acts responsibly

(Source: Leadership versus Management: A Key Distinction—At Least in Theory, Fred C. Lunenburg Sam Houston State University)

As Stephen Covey explains in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, managers are busy cutting the undergrowth of the jungle. It's the leader who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the situation and yells down "Wrong jungle!"  

what is leadership

Leadership in 2020 will acknowledge the role of followers, not fear, to get results.  

In a nutshell, leaders inspire others to follow. 

“It’s about the presence, or absence, of followers.”  Marcus Buckingham, Nine Lies About Work.  

Buckingham, in an interview with The Growth Faculty in late 2019, reiterated that there is no such thing as leadership, because no two leaders create followers in quite the same way. It cannot be measured reliably. 

"Followership is a thing, because it can [be measured]," he says. 

marcus buckingham

According to Marcus Buckingham: 


  • We follow leaders who connect us to a mission we believe in.  


  • We follow leaders who clarify what’s expected of us. 


  • We follow leaders who surround us with excellence. 


  • We follow leaders who value us for our strengths. 


  • We follow leaders who challenge us to keep getting better. 


  • We follow leaders who give us confidence in the future.  


With the help of followers, leadership actions (inputs) convert into useful results (outputs). (1)   

  • Leadership expert Stephen Scott, author of The 15 Disciplines, says you need to make others comfortable with you, so they’re productive.  
  • In addition to being a sound manager, it's really about the connection you make with people. 
  • You need to lead in a way that makes people feel seen, safe and valued.
  • Bob Anderson, founder of The Leadership Circle and co-author of Scaling Leadership, says our humanity is ultimately the foundation of our leadership.  

“We are challenged to become higher versions of ourselves – to mine our human greatness and put it in service of others,” says Bob Anderson. 

Academic, speaker and author, Dr Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead,  says the world needs leaders who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.”   

Brene Brown on stage with Dare to Lead banner

She drew one of the largest audiences ever at an event by The Growth Faculty with her plea for more leaders with courage.

Courage to acknowledge their team members have feelings.  

"We have to attend to fears and feelings, otherwise we can’t attend to unproductive behaviour,”  she said. 

Oddly, this is more easily achieved when leaders assume others are doing the best that they can.

Brene Brown vulnerability

“I know my life is better when I work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.” – Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

Leadership in 2020 requires a more human approach to being the boss. 

From the Top 30 Brené Brown Quotes for Leaders is this good reminder of this from her book Daring Greatly:

“It is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging.” 

See also  In the Arena with BRENÉ BROWN: Choosing Courage over Comfort 

what makes a good leader

Google “What makes a good leader?” in 2020 and you’ll be buried in 468 million articles. 

But Google’s own leadership coach, the late Bill Campbell, had one trait at the top of his list.  


“Bill knew that to get to great leadership you needed to build trust,” former Google executive Jonathan Rosenberg said in an interview with The Growth Faculty. 

Bill Campbell great leadership need to build trust

(Image: Google leadership coach Bill Campbell during a rare public interview with Brad Stone, a senior technology writer for Businessweek.)

Inspired to write a co-authored book on Bill (Trillion Dollar Coach), Rosenberg said Bill let people see his own vulnerabilities, and then they shared their own.

"He understood the dynamics of how to pull people together as members of a team," Rosenberg told The Growth Faculty. 

Bill Campbell’s leadership must-haves: 

  • Get the management fundamentals right. 
  • Be willing to be coached. 
  • Get to know people. Bring love into the workplace. 
  • Develop friendships with those you work with.  
  • Run staff meetings to develop relationships.  

"You can't afford to doubt. You need to commit. you can make mistakes, but you can't have one foot in and one foot out, because if you aren't fully committed then the people around you won't be either. If you're in, be in."  

- Google leadership coach Bill Campbell, quoted in Trillion Dollar Coach 

For U.S.-based leadership guru Jim Collins, good leaders show humility and determination.

Collins is the man to listen to when it comes to good-to-great leadership.

The author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don‘t coaches and researches CEOs and entrepreneurs in some of the most successful companies in the world.

At popular coaching sessions run by The Growth Faculty, Jim Collins has explained the "Level 5 leaders" concept developed in Good to Great.

He observes from his research into leaders of Fortune 500 companies:

  • The good-to-great (Level 5) leaders didn't want to become larger-than-life heroes.
  • They didn't aspire to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons.
  • They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.

"It is very important to grasp that Level 5 leadership is not just about humility and modesty. It is equally about ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great."  Jim Collins


jim collins on stage

In his concept summary, he lists the traits of Level 5 leaders:


  • They display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will.
  • They're incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organisation and its purpose, not themselves.
  • While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy.
  • They motivate the enterprise more with inspired standards than inspiring personality

A research article “What Makes a Good Leader” by Harvard Business School’s Deborah Blagg and Susan Young, lists 4 points that signify a good leader:  

  • Communication is key and a talent for simplicity; 
  • Telling the hard truths when appropriate; 
  • Being essentially both manager and leader; 
  • Remaining committed despite setbacks. 

Berkeley University’s executive education says good leadership comes from asking “How can I add value?”  

Effective leaders:  

  • Take a diagnostic approach to situations. They have an evolved situational awareness and read social cues quickly and astutely. 
  • Engage a broad set of behavioural styles, depending on the situation. They demonstrate flexibility in their responses. 
  • Are committed to improvement. The best leaders take stock of events and ask “how could I have approached this situation better?”
  • They understand that becoming exceptional is a lifelong learning process

According to Brené Brown, the superpower of courageous leadership is curiosity.  

“If we have more questions than answers, and show vulnerability, we’re taking the first step to understanding,” she said at The Growth Faculty event in 2019.  

And, in an exclusive live interview with The Growth Faculty, popular leadership speaker Simon Sinek shared his 5 qualities of a leader with an "infinite mindset" - one who's in it for the long haul.

simon sinek what makes a good leader  

  1. They have vision, “a Just Cause.”   
  2. They do a lot of hard work to build trusting teams.   
  3. They understand their primary responsibility is to create an environment in which people can work at their natural best. “You’re responsible for the people who are responsible for the results.”  
  4. They view the other players in their industry "as Worthy Rivals, not just as competitors" and they learn from them.    
  5. They have the ability to change strategy “because they find a better way to advance their vision, even if it means short term pain.

See also Seth Godin and Simon Sinek's Top Tips for Entrepreneurs

Exceptional former CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi says what makes a good leader is continual improvement. 

"If you want to lift the performance of the organisation, you have to lift message to my team was always meet my bar, and that bar would constantly be moved up."

To summarise what makes a good leader: A self-disciplined and empathetic all-rounder, with one eye on the business landscape, and the other firmly trained on the people in the organisation. 

top 10 qualities of leaders

“Being a leader is like being a parent.” Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last  

Like good parents, good leaders often share qualities or traits in common. Some leader behaviours are learned, others are wrestled to the ground and tamed with coaching and self-reflection. 

So, what are the most important leadership skills? 

scaling leadership and bob anderson

(Scaling Leadership author Bob Anderson talks leadership on The Growth Faculty-On Demand)

Research data on 150,000 leaders conducted by Bob Anderson and William Adams, and published in Scaling Leadership, shows the best leaders combine strategic vision with strong people skills.  

The data threw up these 10 most strongly endorsed strengths:   

  • Strong People Skills  

Make your people feel valuable by being caring, compassionate, big-hearted and respectful. 

  • Visionary 

Communicate a compelling vision of the future and the strategy to get there. 

  • Team builder 

Bring the right team together, and support them. Again, we turn to leadership author and speaker Jim Collins who talks about 3 simple truths in Good to Great.  

First, if you begin with “who,” you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you'll be in trouble when you get 10 miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus, you’ll be much faster and smarter in responding to changing conditions;

Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated: Nothing beats being part of a team that is expected to produce great results;

And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with mediocre people still produces mediocre results.” 


  • Personable/Approachable 

Be accessible and available, friendly and likeable.  

  • Leads by Example 

Be a good role model and “walk the talk.” 

  • Passion and Drive 

Show strong commitment to the success of the organisation, and yourself. 

  • Good Listener 

Be attentive and present when people are presenting their views. 

  • Develops People 

Mentor, coach, and help others to grow. Whitney Johnson in Multipliers says a good leader is a "liberator." 

"Liberators create an intense environment that requires people's best thinking and work. As a result, people offer their best and boldest thinking and give their best effort."

By contrast, she says tyrants:

"...create a tense environment that suppresses people's thinking and capability. As a result, people hold back, bring up safe ideas that the leader agrees with, and work cautiously." 

  • Empowers People 

Share your leadership. Encourage people to find solutions and learn from their mistakes. Trust their ability.  

  • Positive Attitude 

Be optimistic and upbeat with a can-do attitude. 

See also How Your Leadership Style Affects Those Around You.   

best qualities for retaining top talent

Jim Collins writes: “… the single biggest constraint on the success of any organisation is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people." 

Perhaps you’re asking "How can I improve my leadership skills so I can hire and keep the best people?" 

Well, let’s look at what good leadership’s achieved at accommodation and experience hosting giant Airbnb. 


  • When 900 jobs were advertised to work for Airbnb in 2016, 120,000 people applied.  
  • Profits at Airbnb projected to increase by 3400% over a 4 year period; 
  • Airbnb enjoys the strongest advocates of any brand, according to YouGov BrandIndex; 
  • It’s one of the best companies to work for, according to jobs site Glassdoor; 
  • It reached a $31 billion valuation in less than 10 years. 

(Source: Interview by The Growth Faculty with Denise Lee Yohn, and her book Fusion)


As the world's most popular marketing blogger Seth Godin asks in one blog "Is your job opening so good you could recruit great people for it? If not, perhaps you need to work on that." 

seth godin on corporate mediocrity
TED Talk star, author and blogger Seth Godin says to attract staff you cannot be leading a mediocre company (Image: Seth Godin)

Seth Godin's 3 kinds of corporate mediocrity:

  • Uncaring mediocrity, in which employees have given up trying to make things better
  • Focused mediocrity, in which the organisation is intentionally average
  • Accidental mediocrity, in which people don’t even realise that they’re not delivering excellence

Seth says in companies that are uncaringly mediocre, the products and services revert to the mean, sucking the humanity out of not just the people who work there, but from the interactions the customers have as well.

Good leaders don't go for mediocre. They aim to be more like Airbnb. 

In our article How employee experience (EX) helps Airbnb attract and keep great staff Lee Yohn says exceptional leadership is on show at Airbnb. 

Leadership qualities to pinch from Airbnb to attract and retain top people: 

  • Innovation: Consider merging the talent department, the recruiting department and the company culture department into one “Employee Experience” group 
  • Hiring for core values: Interview TWICE just to assess new hires’ fit with core values. 
  • Communicating those values: Consider a week-long on-boarding before new hires begin their jobs, and include daily experiences that reinforce the values, brand identity, purpose and values of the company. 
  • Creating a sense of belonging: Make employees feel valuable and welcome at work from day one.  

Whitney Johnson, author of Build an A Team, shares Airbnb's employee-centric view by stating that every new hire is a highly important, long-term customer. 

And, once you’ve got that “customer”, you’ll want to keep them.  

Employee turnover is costly. In addition to replacement fees, there are hidden costs such as productivity loss, workplace safety issues, and morale damage.* 

The 2018 Australian HR Institute’s Turnover and Retention Report shows: 
  • Average turnover is 18% 
  • Millennials are the ones going (turnover in excess of 50%) 
  • The 50+ age group stay (turnover only 6%) 
  • 70% said quality leadership was the most effective method to keep staff 

Dean robertson CEO leadership
(Image: Dean Robertson, award-winning CEO)

Award-winning CEO Dean Robertson in HOW THIS CEO’S TEAM GOT SO GOOD, DELOITTE CAME KNOCKING says leaders should "never skimp on the drinks package at the office party."

In an interview with The Growth Faculty, his answers to What qualities should a CEO have? were: 
  • Having a dogmatic vision about where the company is going and why.  Everyone needs to be connected to a purpose;
  • Being immediately generous with your time and resources.  Never buy the “basic” drinks package for a team event, trust them with company credit cards.  Your team will repay your generosity 100x with their effort, passion and willingness to help you back;
  • Delegate and trust.  You will get more mileage from a “retrospective” learning conversation for those 20% of failures; 
  • Hire for behavioural alignment with your whole team AND yourself.  Hire people that you actually enjoy working with and who enjoy your company too;  
  • Be honest and open with the team about mistakes that get made (yours as well) and focus on the lessons learned;
  • Be humble about your own skills, nobody likes a braggart, even if you’re the leader;
  • There are no second class citizens in a great culture.  Remind everyone that every boat has a hull underwater providing buoyancy and stability, even if you can’t see it.  Everyone on the team is important;
  • Listen first, and seek first to understand.  When there’s a disagreement, don’t hash it out on email.  Pick up the phone and have a conversation, but go in ‘palms up’ so you don’t start on an aggressive note; 
  • Seek advice and opinions from your team, but own your decision and be very clear that you expect the team to get on board with your decision.  They will always get their opinions heard, but there can only be one leader; 
  • Publicly thank and congratulate the team for good work at every opportunity.  Nothing provides more satisfaction than being appreciated by your peers and leadership team.

whitney johnson disrupt yourself
(Image: Whitney Johnson, Disrupt Yourself, Build an A Team)

After reading Build an A Team by Whitney Johnson, I'd also add: 
  • Challenge your people to keep them.  
Whitney Johnson S Curve
(Image: The "S" curve of employee engagement - Whitney Johnson Build an A Team)   

Johnson cites the “S” curve of learning as being key to retaining employees.


The curve shows how staff motivation, performance and engagement can tail off once people get master the job.
  • Do you lose employees because you’re annoying, demotivating, or trying too hard?  

You can't talk about good leadership without addressing poor leadership traits.

Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers, told a leadership summit at The Growth Faculty, that “accidental diminishers” do more harm than good.  

Accidental diminishers infographic

Learning to lead; the millennial leader in 2020

How do you learn to lead anyway?

The eldest millennial will be 40 next year, so many are already learning on the job, or being schooled for, leadership positions.
Others will be cooling their heels, frustrated to see few opportunities given the tight hold of the Boomers and Generation X. 

Either way, wannabe leaders of all ages should view learning to lead as a lifetime occupation. In 2020, active personal development is key. 

Julie Zhuo the making of a manager author

At just 25, Julie Zhuo, now Vice President of Product Design at Facebook, was thrown in the deep end when promoted to a leadership position in the rapidly scaling tech start up. 

It was a shock. 

In an interview with The Growth Faculty, Julie says she didn’t know the first thing about what she’d gotten herself into. 

She wrote The Making of a Manager to help others - and, as I said, there are plenty waiting in the wings to lead - and more on the way.  
  • Millennials and Generation Z — those born after 1981 — make up 64% of the world’s population (4.7 billion people).
  • In 2020, Gen-Z  takes over Millennial as the biggest global generation.

Julie's useful tips for emerging leaders
  • Recognise what management is. It’s to get great outcomes from a group of people.  Julie says this helped a lot when managing older colleagues she'd worked alongside. She saw herself as something of a motivator and accountability warden.  
  • People, Process and Purpose are the three levers available to a manager. 
  • "People” is #1. 
  • There must be a foundation of trust, but be aware of the manager/report power dynamic.  
  • It’s up to the manager to make the report feel safe, empowered and motivated
  • Feedback doesn’t have to be negative. Constructive feedback can be helping someone understand what their strengths are. 
  • Ask yourself, Am I giving feedback with the right intention? Do I just want to be right? Do I want to look smart? Or do I genuinely want to help them improve? 
  • The most important quality of any meeting is that you are clear what outcome you want

Seth Godin, ahead of his rare live event tour in 2020 for The Growth Faculty, has said in an Inc. magazine article there are 3 essential skills for tomorrow's leaders:

 seth godin leadership qualities


  1. Operate with ambiguity - Our leaders must get used to not having all the data at their fingertips. They must be able to see beyond the data, as the future of work will require more than analytical skills such as soft skills like empathy or emotional intelligence.
  2. Increase critical thinking - This means that leaders will make hard choices and fail often. An increased capacity of critical thinking will allow our leaders to create the needed breakthroughs.
  3. Make change happen - The future of leadership means that new ways of innovation are necessary. It is not going to happen without new levels of coordination of people.

Millennials get promoted to leader usually after recognition for doing well in a lower position. 

Made to Thrive author and EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Brad Giles has seen countless leaders struggle to give up control.

They revert to previous job tasks, focus only on work that interests them and micro-manage. Why is this so common?  

The answer is both simple and complicated: leaders have no specific job, there is no set of rules for them to follow and their role is ultimately, up to them to develop.   

But for leaders to engage top performers and see consistent growth and results, they must commit to 5 essential areas: 
  1. Accountability: everyone knowing what to do and doing it well 
  2. Engagement: being an ambassador and engaging with employees, customers, plans and initiatives 
  3. Culture: developing a great culture that fulfils the needs of the people 
  4. Strategy: fulfilling a unique and valuable position in the marketplace 
  5. Succession: building systems to insure against risk  

5 soft skills of leadership  

A recent Deloitte report forecasts by 2030, two thirds of jobs will be soft skill intensive, compared to half of all jobs in 2000.

Soft skills are also referred to as employability skills - Deloitte

Soft skills are less about your smarts and letters after your name, and more about your personality. Your attitudes and intuitions.  
It sounds like the gooey bit, but the word "soft" leads to much misunderstanding. 

Soft skills are actually the headline acts in 2020, as uncertainty around the future requires creative and flexible teams who trust and get on with each other.  

One study of business educators named essential soft skills for the 21st Century as:

team skills, communication skills, ethics, time-management skills, and an appreciation for diversity.

Deloitte's report says soft skills include:

communication, teamwork, and problem solving, as well as emotional judgement, professional ethics and global citizenship.

A survey by The Growth Faculty of our member database on the “one characteristic every leader should possess” saw a number of soft skills top the list. 

  • 17% of respondents stated that empathy is the one characteristic every leader should possess, making it the top answer across all platforms. 
  • Humility came in at a close second, a requirement for just over 15% of those surveyed. 
  • Self-awareness and an ability to listen were each listed by 7% of those who responded. 

And these and other key soft skills appear in the latest leadership bestsellers:

susan david emotional agility author

Emotional Intelligence (Emotional Agility by Susan David, pictured above) - You are self-aware, centred, kind, curious, and not fragile in a changing world.  Susan David says a "malleable sense of self" is key to emotional agility. Empathy, self-regulation, motivation and social skills are tied up in emotional intelligence (EQ).  

Vulnerability (Dare to Lead by Brené Brown) -  You admit to being flawed. You get that shame is universal, and you know being vulnerable is what helps humans plan, communicate and work together as a social species. 
The Culture Code author Daniel Coyle says a vulnerability loop (I’ll be vulnerable, then you be vulnerable) lifts group performance. 

Listening & Communication (Radical Candor by former Google and Apple executive Kim Scott) -  You actively listen, and encourage disagreement after you've said what you think (really clearly).  

Growth Mindset (Growth IQ by Salesforce's Tiffani Bova) - You are not held back by complacency. You keep your options open. You look for growth strategies.  Susan David adds that those with a growth mindset are more willing to take risks, are more persistent, and more resilient in rebounding from failure. They're more likely to be creative and entrepreneurial.    

Teamwork (The Culture Code – The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle) - You send out "belonging cues." You send out a stream of signals that say "we’re connected, we share a future, I care."  

Soft skills attract others, and make people want to spend their work days with you.
Soft skills are essential if you're to have any hope of being a great and trusted leader.

servant leadership and ethical leadership

Good leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but there are clear trends towards servant and ethical leadership in 2020.
If asking, "What’s the best leadership style?" these 2 may be a good starting point. 

Ethical/moral values–based leadership forms are essential for good leaders to counteract the decrease in consumer trust (trust in major companies is down from 79.2% in 1981 to 36.3% in 2019, according to the Australian National University).

Simon Sinek, in The Infinite Game, says "we instantly see what follows when a company says the primary beneficiaries of their work are shareholders, not customers.
"Too many of our cultures are filled with people working to protect their own interests and the interests of those above them, before those of the people they are supposed to be serving." 

Servant leadership, he says, means the primary benefit of the contributions flow downstream, not upstream. 

In other words, leaders eat last. They put their employees first. 

Servant leadership 

First coined in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf, the servant-leader is servant first. You want to serve, then aspire to lead.  On the other hand, if you want to lead first, you might just want the power or to get rich.

According to a study in the International Journal of Leadership Studies, the seven Beatitudes (blessings) found in the Bible form the main principles of servant leadership. 

The leader commits to the values of:
a) humility,
b) concern for others,
c) controlled discipline,
d) seeking what is right and good for the organisation,
e) showing mercy in beliefs and actions with all people,
f) focusing on the purpose of the organisation and on the well-being of the followers,
and (g) creating and sustaining peace in the organisation–not a lack of conflict but a place where peace grows. 
The Centre for Servant Leadership says 

  • A servant-leader focuses on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
  • Servant leadership shares power, while traditional leadership is about power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” 
  • Servant leaders put the needs of others first, and help people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Ethical leadership

"Every day, you have the power to choose our better history — by opening your hearts and minds, by speaking up for what you know is right." - Michelle Obama

In 2020 it’s clear there’s no longer a typical way to lead, due in part to the rise of start-ups, tech-focused organisations and changes to the way we related to work. But overall, a large part of our focus has now shifted to employee empowerment, emotional intelligence and the pursuit of meaningful work

In 7 Characteristics of Ethical Leadership and Why They Matter, we look at ethics-based leadership, something that is difficult to define but runs through all elements of a healthy business.
And because ethical leaders attract, develop and create unstoppable teams, the success of an organisation depends on them. 

How many of the essential characteristics of ethical leadership are part of your leadership practices? 

Your Checklist for Ethical Leadership:

  • Build trust into your company’s culture

  • Lead by example

  • Be a leader who "eats last" (a servant leader)

  • Know your values and let them guide you through work, leadership and life

  • Be aware and mindful of biases and base decisions on facts

  • Loudly acknowledge and learn from your mistakes

  • Hire based on your values, and put people above profit 

    For practical ways to demonstrate ethical leadership, here's the Practice of Ethical Leadership by Ann Skeet, Senior Director of Leadership Ethics at the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics: 

Modeling: Character and Values

How you show up in the world. If you have integrity, that's the lens through which people will view your actions. 

Creating Community 

You create community by using your organisation's mission and shared values as the cornerstone for decision making. 

Encouraging Ethical Conduct

You actively encourage ethical behaviour. You act ethically upon decisions that may require courage to do so. 

Being Disciplined in Their Role 

You play your position relentlessly. Whether formal or informal, your leadership shows that you accept responsibility in situations.   

Clarifying Culture

You pause to clarify culture when things go wrong. You identify any gaps between stated and actual values, own the gaps and clear up confusion between policy and practice. 

Designing Ethical Systems

You design ethical systems to make decisions about compensation and other rewards, like promotions. You invest in individual and personal development. 


How your leadership style affects those around you 

When a leader walks into the workplace, research proves one of two things will happen. 
  • Either, the mood and performance of the team and individuals will be boosted. 
  • Or, the mood and performance of the team and individuals will be lowered. 

To be a good leader, you need to understand that you bring the weather. 

In other words, the mood and performance of your team will rise and fall depending on whether you are a boss who’s enthusiastic and positive, or sullen and negative.  

In a fascinating study on the subject, The Contagious Leader: Impact of the Leader's Mood (etc)., researchers found that just like a flu, the mood of the boss will spread to the team.  

flu under microscope and mood of boss will spread like flu
(Just like this flu, your mood spreads to your team. Image:Influenza A virus subtype H5N1- Wikipedia)

In an interview with The Growth Faculty, bestselling author of The Power of a Positive Team Jon Gordon recommends good leaders:  
  • Feed the positive. Weed the negative. Talk about this as a team and say, "It's not okay to be negative. It's not okay to be an energy vampire.” 
  • Understand people don't give up because it's hard, but because they get discouraged. Keep them encouraged and believing that the best is yet to come, even though it may not look like it right now. 
  • Encourage means to put courage into someone. Encourage others to have that courage to keep moving forward, it’s your job as leader. 
  • If stressed, try to think of things that make you feel grateful, because you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time. 
  • Tough love works, but only when love comes first. If your team knows that you love them and you care about them, then you earn the right to challenge them. 

Questions good leaders should be asking

Speaker and author Simon Sinek famously suggested good leaders “Start with Why?”  

As in "Why am I doing what I'm doing?" and “Why are we in this business (in the first place)?” 

Sinek says people are inspired by a sense of purpose (or "Why"), and that this should come first when communicating, before "How" and "What." 

Sinek calls this The Golden Circle, and he says it's a framework upon which organisations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired.

Start with Why Golden Circle

Organisational health guru and bestselling author Patrick Lencioni builds on the Why question with 6 critical questions for good leadership. 

Pat Lencioni and Karen Beattie at The Growth Faculty event on healthy cultures
(The Growth Faculty Managing Director Karen Beattie with Pat Lencioni at National Growth Summit. Image: The Growth Faculty)

Pat Lencioni says the chances of a healthy workplace drastically increase when leaders and employees agree on the answers to these 6 questions, spelled out in his book The Advantage.  

The 6 questions are:  

Why do we exist?  

How do we behave?  

What do we do?  

How will we succeed?  

What is most important, right now?  

Who must do what? 

In his keynote speech at The Growth Faculty’s National Growth Summit, Lencioni told the audience these questions might be the most important step of all in achieving a healthy workplace.  

As well he said employee engagement lifts when good leaders know their people, intimately.  

3 questions a good leader could ask themselves are:  

1. Does my employee feel they are known to me? 

2. Do they know why their job matters? 

3. Do they know if they’re doing a good job?  

Warren Berger, author of The Big Book of Beautiful Questions dives in with these suggestions for leaders:  

  • Am I willing to step back in order to help others move forward? Success as a leader depends on helping others achieve success.  
  • Do I have the confidence to be humble? Admit you don’t know all the answers. 
  • Can I learn to keep learning? Leaders must be restless learners. 
  • Do I seek to create an organisation in my own image? Too many leaders surround themselves with similar people, depriving the organisation of diverse thinking.  

Women in Leadership

Michelle Obama empty auditorium

“There are 2 powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.” - Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Laureate 

Where are the women?

Women are in leadership positions across most professions, but there just aren't enough of them.  
There are fewer than 10 women CEOs in the Fortune 100 companies, for example.  

According to the Australian Government Workplace Gender Equality Agency:

  • Women remain underrepresented at every stage of the career pipeline in Australia
  • There is poor representation at the top leadership levels (C-suite and CEO levels). In the 2018-19 WGEA dataset, only 17% of CEOs were women.
  • Research shows that most CEO appointments come from line roles such a Chief Operating Officer.
  • Roughly 30% of key management positions are held by women in Australia today. Many of them are in support roles such as Head of Human Resources.

Women leaders have shown an aptitude for both the hard skills (financial management, computer literacy, accounting, writing, mathematics) and the soft skills (empathy, teamwork, listening, self-awareness) in business management.  

So why are there so few women CEOs in the Fortune 100?
See also Glass ceiling alive and well - 6 left at the very top in 2019  

  • It’s a pipeline issue, suggests Chief Executive’s CEO of the Year 2018 Marillyn Hewson, head of Lockheed Martin in an interview with journalist Dan Bigman.   

“I mean, it takes time to get the experience I’ve gained, to get to the role I’m in. We need to accelerate it,” she said.

  • Better female role models in popular culture was also needed, said Hewson.  

“We have got to get even the entertainment industry involved in this. Because frankly, what are the signals that we’re giving to our young people in this country? I think it needs to be government; it needs to be industry, all sectors of industry; it needs to be non-profits, all working together on this very important problem.” 

  • Time and balancing home and career. As well as entertainment industry role models, and time; balancing home and career was a factor in elevating strong female leaders, according to PepsiCo chair and former CEO Indra Nooyi.  

“We get a lot of women in at the entry-level positions,” she told the Freakonomics radio show in 2018. “As you get to middle management, women rise to those positions, and then that’s the childbearing years.” 

“And when they have children, it’s difficult to balance having children, your career, your marriage, and be a high potential out-performer who’s going to grow in the company,” she added.   

“So it starts to thin out as you move up,” she explained. “We have to solve for that.” 

  • Under-representation in STEM classes. As well, Indra Nooyi links studies in science, technology, maths and engineering with career building. And, in many countries, female students are still less likely than males to study STEM subjects at school and university. 

“One of the things that my experience has taught me is that if you are trained as a scientist in your youth - through your high school and college -if you stay with the STEM disciplines, you can learn pretty much all of the subjects as you move along in life. And your scientific disciplines play a very important role, and grounds you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is. It's very hard to learn science later on in life. One of the pleas I would have for most young people today is, stay with STEM as long as you can,” she told Freakonomics radio show.   

Nooyi was one of the world’s most effective CEOs during her time at PepsiCo, with sales during her leadership growing 80 percent, despite a decline in the soft drinks product category. 

Women are just as capable as men of being great leaders. So what's to be done? 

The  Australian Government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency and other organisations say it's both awareness and action.

A 10-step recipe for getting more women into leadership: 

1    Build a strong case for change
2    Role-model a commitment to diversity, including with business partners
3    Redesign roles and work to enable flexible work and normalise uptake across levels and genders
4    Actively sponsor rising women
5    Set a clear diversity aspiration, backed up by accountability
6    Support talent through life transitions
7    Ensure the infrastructure is in place to support a more inclusive and flexible workplace
8    Challenge traditional views of merit in recruitment and evaluation
9    Invest in front line leader capabilities to drive cultural change
10    Develop rising women and ensure experience in key roles

(Source: The Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency study using three years of WGEA data and more than 40 interviews - Women in Leadership: Lessons from Australian companies leading the way)

See also: 21 Leadership Quotes from Inspiring Women 
30 Of the Best Books On Leadership And Business By Women 

Top 10 books on leadership
How to win friends and influence people by dale carnegie
(Image: Apple books)

There are literally millions of books on leadership, many of them unreadable, outdated or not worth the paper they're written on. 

A good leadership book is full of expert advice, is cleverly written and edited, and has well-researched, practical tools to implement immediately. 

Take for example, the extraordinary 1937 never-out-of-print book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  It's one I'd recommend, and one that Warren Buffett lists as having had a huge influence on his life and leadership.  It's also one of the leadership books most strongly recommended by other leaders and leadership authors. 

If you haven't read it, and you should, here's a snippet: 

6 ways to make people like you (from How to Win Friends and Influence People)

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people;
  2. Reach common ground as soon as possible;
  3. Smile;
  4. Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  5. Be a good listener. ...
  6. Talk in terms of the other person's interests. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

But, assuming you've read that important and historic starter, here are 10 others that will help you on your quest to be a good leader: 

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't – Jim Collins 

The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity while Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work – Laura A. Iswood 

Start with Why - How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek 

The Advantage – Why Organisational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business - Patrick Lencioni 

Multipliers – How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter -  Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown 

3Hag Way The Strategic Execution System that ensures your strategy is not a Wild-Ass Guess -  Shannon Byrne Susko  

Dare to Lead Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts - Brené Brown 

Build an A Team Play up to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve - Whitney Johnson     

Scaling Leadership - Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most - Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams

To read one golden nugget from many of these books, see 10 must-read business books your peers will probably have read 

Leadership quotes from the world's best
To finish our course on good leadership, we've pulled some of the best quotes from world leaders, women leaders, leading writers, and emerging leaders.
Read these to become a more self-aware, inspiring and effective leader.

"Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers." - Seth Godin 

“Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead.” – Dr Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

"...many leaders don't realise that they're scary, right? Even if they don't see themselves as scary, the position they hold, the role that they occupy, may have a silencing effect." - Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organisation

"Great products fail all the time. It's how a company is led that determines the long-term success of an organisation." - Simon Sinek. For more see Best Simon Sinek Quotes 

"You'll never be able to serve everyone, which is comforting, since you're less likely to be disappointed when it doesn't happen." - Seth Godin.  For more see Best Seth Godin Quotes 

"Somebody gives me a complex problem I become a student. I don't care that I'm CEO, or president, or CFO. I become a student."  - Indra Nooyi, former PepsiCo CEO.  See Quotes to Inspire Leaders and CEOs from the Very Top 

“The true underlying obstacle to brave leadership is how we respond to our fear.” – Dr Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

"Job misery comes from irrelevance, immeasurement, and anonymity." - 
Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player

“Leaders of a company have to turn the rest of the company on.” -
Jack Daly, author Winning Sales Strategies.

“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.”
 — Seth Godin 

"When people feel that they are able to bring their emotional truth to the workplace with leaders who are compassionate and curious rather than leaders who want the answers, that is a first building block of emotional agility," 
- Susan David, Harvard Medical School professor and author of Emotional Agility

“We follow a leader because he is deep in something, and he knows what that something is.” - Marcus Buckingham, Nine Lies About Work 

“If you don’t have an evolving growth strategy, then you and your team are just driving around the block. You may be doing well, but you’re not going anywhere.”
Shannon Byrne Susko, 3Hag Way 

“Everyone gets knocked down in life. What matters is whether you get back up and keep going. (It’s a) lesson drilled in from an early age by my mother. It’s served me well and it’s universal."
Hillary Clinton

Do not let your age stop you from changing the world. I was 11 years old when I started speaking out ... I was not thinking for a second that just because I was young I could not change the world. - Malala Yousafzai 

Good leadership is difficult.
And ongoing.
And requires relentless effort. 

And if you can get them right, great leadership qualities will see that you snare more of the top people ("Superior talent is up to 8 times more productive" - McKinsey), enjoy work more, solve more problems, and win a bigger slice of the customer pie ("...effective senior leadership can add 15 percent to a company’s value" - Deloitte).    

In the face of rapid change, being a good leader makes a real impact.

As a reminder, here's research by Collingwood Search UK, which shows 10 "must-dos" to become a better leader:  

1.   Set the right example
2.   Continually develop your leadership skills 
3.   Be technically proficient 
4.   Make sound and timely decisions 
5.   Seek and take responsibility for your actions 
6.   Have a positive attitude 
7.   Keep your team informed 
8.   Get to know your team 
9.   Don't be afraid to delegate 
10.  Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised and completed 

"At the end of the day, people want to be led by those they respect, who have a clear vision and direction for the business." - Collingwood Search UK  

All leaders have strengths and weaknesses. It's not about being perfect, it's about playing up your strengths and working on your less desirable traits.
Good leadership is about being a better you. 
And, the better leader you are, the better your team will be too. 

To finish, this quote from Seth Godin's book Tribes: 

“Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. …It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers. It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.”


McKinsey: 2017 article Attracting and Retaining the Right Talent 
Wall Street Journal, CIO Journal, Deloitte article: The Financial Impact of Executive Leadership (2011-12 study)
Lexico website ("powered by Oxford"), Definition of Leadership
University of Melbourne Graduate Course in Leadership handbook 
International Journal of Leadership Studies: An Integrative Definition of Leadership - Bruce E. Winston, Kathleen Patterson, Regent University
International Journal of Management, Business and Administration (Vol 14, No. 1,  2011) Leadership versus Management: A Key Distinction—At Least in Theory - Fred C. Lunenburg, Sam Houston State University
Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham. 
Marcus Buckingham interview with The Growth Faculty - On Demand (2019)
The 15 Disciplines; The Essential Checklist for Productive Leaders by Stephen Scott 
Scaling Leadership by Robert Anderson, founder of The Leadership Circle
Bob Anderson interview with The Growth Faculty - On Demand (2019)
Dare to Lead by Professor Brené Brown
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell  by Alan Eagle, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg
Forbes: 10 Unique Perspectives on What Makes a Great Leader 
Inc: 5 Essential Qualities of a Great Leader  
Fast Company: What You Think Makes a Good Leader Probably Doesn’t.  
Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don‘t
*Industrial Management article “Employee Turnover & Retention: Understanding the True Costs and Reducing them through Improved Selection Processes” by Matthew O’Connell, Ph.D. & Mei-Chuan Kung 
The Contagious Leader: Impact of the Leader's Mood on the Mood of Group Members, Group Affective Tone, and Group Processes,  Sy, Thomas & Côté, Stéphane & Saavedra, Richard. (2005).
Multipliers by Liz Wiseman
The Growth Faculty interview with Julie Zhuo, author of The Making of a Manager (2019)
Inc. Magazine
article: "The Future of Work With Seth Godin. HR Leaders and Managers Will Not Like This" 
2019 Deloitte Access Economics report Soft skills for business success:Building Australia's future workforce
Essential Soft Skills for Success in the 21st Century Workforce as Perceived by Business Educators - Source: Delta Pi Epsilon Journal . Winter2010, Vol. 52 Issue 1, p43-53. 11p. 6 Charts.
Author(s): Mitchell, Geana W.; Skinner, Leane B.; White, Bonnie J.

The Growth Faculty member survey Leader to Leader (2019)
Emotional Agility by Susan David 
The Culture Code – The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle
Radical Candor by Kim Scott 
Growth IQ by Tiffani Bova 
The Power of a Positive Team by Jon Gordon, and 2018 interview by The Growth Faculty with Jon Gordon 
Australian National University Don't blame voters for a lack of trust in institutions. ANU Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans sets the scene for the 2019 ANU Crawford Leadership Forum
The Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency study: Women in Leadership: Lessons from Australian companies leading the way 10 Key Factors Of Being A Good Leader