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Qualities of a Good Leader

Leadership is a complex competency that you can develop and improve.  

As a project manager you can benefit from an understanding of what leadership is and how you can develop it further.Leadership is a complex competency that you can develop and improve.  As a project manager you can benefit from an understanding of what leadership is and how you can develop it further.

A leader directs, enables, commands, conducts, influences, inspires, guides.  She can lead a small team, large project, program, department or enterprise.

But, what is a “good” leader?

There is no simple answer.  Many see Ghandi, Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Dr. King as good, if not great, leaders.  Others see the likes of Hitler and Kim Jong-un as great leaders.  It is all relative to one’s values and self-interest.

We can make deciding on the goodness of a leader more objective by defining leadership qualities, though it will always remain somewhat subjective.  For example, some boards of directors might consider a CEO who makes great profits a good leader even though he/she promotes business practices that cheat subcontractors or pollute the environment.  A project manager may be considered a good leader because she gets projects to come in on time and within budget, even though half the team vows never to work with her ever again.  

Qualities of a Leader

“Leading effectively is less about mastering situations or even mastering social skill sets, than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.”  1

A good leader possess sufficient self-awareness and intelligence to display the following qualities:

  • Empathy – a sense of how others feel; feeling with them 
  • Courage – the capacity to behave in a way that may buck the system and speak truth to power
  • Organizational awareness – experientially understand the big picture of how people relate to one another and the nature of the environment
  • The ability to work collaboratively with others
o Responsiveness as opposed to reactivity
o Trust in oneself and others and the ability to delegateo The ability to communicate clearly to a diverse audience – executives, technologists, administrators – across organizational hierarchies and knowledge areas
o Open mindedness and the ability to be influenced by others
o Caring
  • Honesty – Being trustworthy
  • Charisma – The ability to influence others
  • Resilience and cognitive readiness – the capacity to effectively manage in an predictable changing environment
  • Confidence in oneself and the correctness of the mission.

Core Capabilities

The key underlying capabilities that a leader must possess to exhibit these characteristics are

  • Mindfulness – the capacity to observe whatever is occurring objectively while remaining integrally involved in action
  • Emotional intelligence – the ability to recognize, fully experience and manage one’s emotions and be aware of the emotions of others
  • Social intelligence – the ability to apply interpersonal competencies to inspire others to be effective; the capacity to communicate and work well with others.
  • Intellectual or cognitive intelligence – the capacity to use information to reason, plan, solve problems, learn, synthesize abstract ideas, and understand.  It is beyond book learning and involves the ability to deeply “get” what is going on

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As a leader or follower, it is important to recognize that the more subtle qualities of ethical behavior and positive values are critical differentiators.  For example, a very mindful person, with a high IQ, who can manage his emotions, is sensitive to the feelings of others can rationalize the marginalization or dehumanization of some people “for the greater good” and lead the team, organization or country in a self-serving direction.  Let’s look at some of the key differentiators

Trust and Delegation

Lao Tzu says “a leader is best when people barely know he exists.” When the work is over and the objectives met, people feel that they did it themselves.

The effective PM sets the stage by providing the right resources, articulating the vision, goals and objectives and collaborating with the team to define the approach.  She steps back to allow the team to get the work done.   From behind the scenes the PM protects the team from the demands and distractions that can mike project work more difficult than necessary and adjusts the process to accommodate change.  The good leader trusts and delegates.

Ethics and Values

The leader’s values are a foundation for his behavior and direction.  The PM who values hitting the deadline over product quality and quality of life is not likely to be a gooid leader.

There is an ethical quality.  Without ethics the qualities of honesty and trust are in jeopardy, self-confidence is weakened and the ability to lead is diminished.  In project management, according to PMI  “Ethics is about making the best possible decisions concerning people, resources and the environment. … Leadership is absolutely dependent on ethical choices. PMI members have determined that honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness are the values that drive ethical conduct for the project management profession.” 

The good leader/PM takes responsibility for his decisions and actions, respects the norms, customs and points of view of others, directly confronts differences of opinion with a respect for truth, facts and fairness – even if these attitudes and actions are not reciprocated.  The PMI code accepts that even in the face of organizational and peer pressure “We make decisions and take actions based on the best interests of society, public safety, and the environment.” 

Spiritual Intelligence

Values and ethical behavior are supported by spiritual intelligence.“Spiritual intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the intelligences, because it becomes the source of guidance for the others.” 2

Spiritual intelligence enables values based ethics  by recognizing the importance of awareness beyond intellectual understanding.  The spiritually intelligent person has a positive outlook, sees the big picture as well as the details and seeks to benefit others as well as herself.  She wants to know why things happen as they do.2 3  

Servant Leadership

Spiritual intelligence  folds into servant leadership.  Servant leadership is founded on the idea that the leader is there to serve the needs of his followers.  This is vastly different than the idea that the leader is to be served and revered.  

The servant leader paves the way for his people to get their work done in a healthy well balanced way.  This leader is willing to fight battles over irrational expectations.  The good leader cares about the people and works towards their well being.

A Good Leader

As a project manager, to be a good leader recognize that the people are the key to success.  With this in mind focus on the communication and relationship skills as well as the technical PM skills and capabilities.  This in turn will promote the loyalty and motivation that is needed for optimal performance.  People will go the extra mile to succeed.  If you lead effectively you will get out of the way and make it seem as if you barely exist.

1 Goleman and Boyatzis, Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership,  Goleman and Boyatzis, Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership, 
2 Covey, Stephen, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (Simon and Schuster, 2004, p.53) 
3 Zohar, Danah, Q’s for Great Leadership: 12 Principles of SQ,

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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