What Qualities Make a Good Leader?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Nine Lies About Work" by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want your team to follow and respect you? What qualities make a good leader?

In their book Nine Lies About Work, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall explain the traits that leaders should exhibit if they want to build a thriving organization. We’ve combined these traits into three core qualities that embody the freethinking leader, a person who values individuality and questions traditional systems.

Keep reading to learn about the key qualities that make a good leader, according to Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.

Good Leaders Create Strong, Diverse Teams

Knowing what qualities make a good leader is the first step in building a strong team. According to Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, excellence is not about becoming a jack or jill of all trades but becoming a master of one (or a few). Thus, as a leader, you should help people develop the abilities they already have instead of forcing them to make up for what they lack. 

While improving on weak areas can be helpful, the authors stress that there is much more to be gained by determining and nurturing people’s unique strengths. For example, a basketball coach won’t try to turn Steph Curry—one of the greatest shooters in NBA history—into an excellent defensive player; instead, he’ll make sure that Curry can make the biggest impact by giving him opportunities to shoot.

As a leader, shift your mindset from improving weaknesses to prioritizing strengths by focusing on building a diverse team. To do this, the authors recommend determining what outcomes you want from your team and then figuring out how each member can help your team achieve those outcomes given their individual strengths.

How to Turn Team Members Into Team Players

The authors stress the importance of building a team whose members have complementary strengths. However, strengths alone aren’t enough to make a team successful—cooperation is important too. To build a strong, collaborative team, Patrick Lencioni says that you should coach your team members to become team players who embody three essential qualities: humility, drive, and people skills. 

In The Ideal Team Player, he gives tips to help team members develop these qualities:

  • Humility: Encourage them to compliment their coworkers and to admit when they’ve made a mistake.
  • Drive: Set specific performance goals that push them to either step up or leave.
  • People skills: Make them more conscious of their behavior by immediately pointing out when they did or said something that negatively affected others.

Good Leaders Stay Agile

The authors contend that instead of having strategic plans that will ultimately fail, leaders should have an agile system that relies on real-time, on-the-ground information. This quality of a great leader allows the company to respond quickly, decisively, and appropriately to change. To create this system, the authors say freethinking leaders should:

1) Make as much information as possible available to your team, and encourage team members to do the same. (Shortform note: Providing team members with as much information as possible has several benefits. In No Rules Rules, Reed Hastings writes that this kind of organizational transparency builds employees’ trust in the company and its leaders and empowers them to make decisions without needing their higher-ups’ approval, which then enables them to respond quickly to change.) 

2) Observe your team to see what kind of data is most helpful to them. Then, find ways to supply them with the information that can best help them make decisions. (Shortform note: While Netflix believes in empowering its employees to make decisions by giving them information, Hastings emphasizes that this method won’t work in every workplace. It’s only feasible in an organization that has a high concentration of talent and that values innovation over error prevention.)

3) Have short, weekly conversations with each team member to check on their priorities and progress, determine if they should recalibrate their tasks based on any changes, and ask if they need your help. The authors stress that quantity is better than quality when it comes to these conversations—the more you check in with your team members, the more engaged they become. 

Good Leaders Know Their Strengths

The authors say that the last quality of a good leader is simply those who have followers and utilize their strengths for the better. They write that followers don’t follow well-rounded people who’ve acquired all the leadership traits. Instead, they put their faith in someone who, though imperfect, has demonstrated mastery—an outstanding grasp of their unique strengths—who knows what they’re doing and where they’re taking the team, and who builds relationships with people to understand how to improve their day-to-day experience within a team. To this end, the authors offer only one piece of advice: Know who you are, know your strengths, and use these strengths to inspire your team to achieve greater heights.

What Qualities Make a Good Leader?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall's "Nine Lies About Work" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Nine Lies About Work summary :

  • The nine organizational lies and what leaders can do to address them
  • Why free lunches and breakroom pool tables don't matter
  • Why you should stop seeking a work-life balance

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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