What makes a good leader?

Organisational scientist Dr. Sunnie Giles, recently conducted a study of 195 leaders in 15 different countries and asked them the question, ‘what makes a good leader?’ The leaders surveyed were asked to rank the qualities they deemed to be the most important in leadership, out of 74, and 5 major themes emerged from this.


The two most highly rated qualities in this study were “high ethical and moral standards” (67% agreed it was one of the most important) and “communicating clear expectation” (56%). This essentially equates to how leaders are able to create a safe and trusting workplace environment. With leaders embodying an ethical and safe workplace, they can be fairly confident that their employees will also live this out through their own behaviours.

Clear communication skills lead to a safe workplace as when employers/leaders are communicating what is expected of their employees, they are less likely to feel blindsided by any changes. If employees have an employer who fails to communicate expectations effectively, they will always be on edge. If this is happening, they will be constantly concerned with a ‘fight or flight’ response rather than being able to relax in order to concentrate on their work. Neuroscience have found that if your employees feel safe in their workplace, you will experience good productivity levels as they will be able to better function and strive for excellence.


Leaders value the ability to provide direction to allow employees to organise themselves. When employees are empowered, they tend to show increased job satisfaction, commitment and productivity. When given the statement, “provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines/direction”, 59% of leaders agreed that this is one of the most important qualities of leadership.


“Has the flexibility to change opinions” (52%), and “provides safety for trial and error” (37%) encourages employees to be open to new ideas, and fosters learning. When our opinions are inflexible, even after we’ve been proven wrong, learning is basically impossible. Leaders need to encourage a culture of learning in their workplace. This can be done by asking employees to each give their opinion of a problem solving discussion and withhold judgement until the end, ensuring everyone that all their ideas will be taken into consideration. This will provide you with an abundance of ideas, some which will benefit your workplace greatly and allow you as the employer to learn as well.

Risk taking is a facilitator of learning, even though many employers try to stifle it. If you never fail, how are you supposed to learn? Leaders need to provide an environment which allows employees to learn from each other’s, as well as their own failures. This will, in turn, build the intelligence of your employees in a nurturing environment.


Participants also ranked highly on the competencies “is committed to my ongoing training” (43%) and “helps me grow into a next-generation leader” (38%) as being important in leadership. Biologically, humans value individuals who have cared for us, and taught us something important. As leaders, nurturing employees allows them to feel a deep respect and loyalty to you. Previous research has found that appreciation inspires the best work quality. How do you get your employees to appreciate you? You support, train and promote them.


Connections to a workplace or organisation are facilitated by leaders whom “communicate often and openly” (42%) and “create a feeling of succeeding and failing together” (38%). As on a biological level attachment is crucial to development, connection positively affects emotional wellbeing and the productivity of your employees. When leaders are able to create a connection with their employees, they are allowing a safe and caring workplace which assists in employees reaching their full potential.