10 Things Every Good Leader Knows

We want our doctors to be “the best.”

We want to know our children are safe with our nannies.

We want our airplane pilots to handle turbulence with skill and a cool head.

In short, we want our lives to be populated with great leaders: not people who tell us what to do but people with our best interests in mind who guide us expertly.

Though we may not feel up to the task of leading others ourselves, we all have the ability to provide leadership in some way: as professionals, as parents, as spouses, or as friends.

good leader

And almost all people in formal leadership positions—myself included—occasionally look around in the middle of whatever they’re leading and wonder to themselves why anyone would let them be in charge of anything.

And yet, what I’ve learned from being a leader is not only that absolutely anyone can provide leadership, but that the attributes that make a great leader in a formal, corporate setting also make a great leader in life.

But how do you become a great leader?

10 Ways To Become A Good Leader

1. Be confident.

A world of difference exists between saying, “I don’t know” nervously, and saying, “I don’t know” confidently. The former communicates incompetence. The latter not only communicates competence but also that it’s perfectly acceptable that you don’t know the answer to the specific question you were asked.

Related: 6 Ways To Have Body Confidence This Summer

Not knowing something doesn’t make you a bad leader, but allowing that lack of knowledge to sap your confidence does.

2. Be kind but firm.

Being a leader means having to set boundaries. However, boundaries can be set angrily and condescendingly, or gently and compassionately. There’s a vast difference between the two. Do it gently and compassionately, and people will not only respect the boundaries you set but you as a person and leader.

3. Be an expert.

However long it takes, whatever you have to do, know what you’re talking about. Don’t ever try to fake knowledge. If you don’t know what you need to know, find it out. You don’t want to lose the trust of those who follow you.

4. Be decisive.

A great leader listens to a diversity of opinions, asks probing questions, debates issues, challenges positions—but when the time to discuss and debate is over, makes a decision and moves on.

Related: How To Develop Mental Toughness

5. Be willing to have people disagree with you.

If you’re setting appropriate boundaries and taking strong positions, some people may not only disagree with you but actively dislike you. But that’s more about them than it is about you. Don’t take it personally.

6. Know when to spend time building a consensus and when to make an executive decision.

Sometimes everyone involved needs to agree before progress can be made. Other times, waiting for a consensus risks failure. Learn to recognize when it’s time to take over.

7. Have a vision.

True leaders have a vision that excites the people who follow them and will inspire in such a way that they perform (or want to perform) at a level they didn’t know they could.

Related: 3 Ways To Become The Person You Want To Be

8. Care about the people you lead.

Genuine concern is always perceived and appreciated—and is far more motivating than any punitive measure could ever be.

9. Mentor people.

Great leaders always have people who want to learn from them. Someone is always watching you, whether you realize it or not. If you’re ever unsure about what decision to make, think about what each of your choices will teach the people around you. Try to pick the choice that demonstrates the greatest virtue.

Related: The Kindness Cure: 4 Ways Being Nice Can Be Good For Your Health

10. Fully visualize every repercussion of each of your decisions in advance.

Plans often fail because of unforeseen consequences. Follow the predicted results of your decisions into every nook and cranny, and take a 360-degree look around in your mind. The more concretely you can do this, the more likely you’ll be able to predict results no one else can.

The Takeaway

Anyone can become a good leader with enough effort. Just follow these steps, and you can do anything you set your mind to.


Alex Lickerman

Doctor, author and former assistant professor Alex Lickerman, M.D., is the Assistant Vice President for Student Health and Counseling Services at the University of Chicago. He is the author of THE UNDEFEATED MIND:  On The Science Of Constructing An Indestructible Self. 

Photo by Carenet Healthcare Services

Originally posted in 2012 and updated in 2014.

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