What Makes for a Good Leader?

. September 1, 2017.

I have a leadership test. It’s pretty short, not too complex, and I apply it to every leader I know over and over and over. Leadership is a tough subject. We can confuse leadership with directing, dictating, being in charge or having more money. But I hold leadership to a higher standard because I think it’s more than that. When I meet a leader and try to discern if this is someone I want to follow, or would enjoy following,I ask these questions.

First: who’s on their team?
Meaning, who do they associate with, or surround themselves with?

Second: the closer you get to someone, does it get better or worse?
This one takes a bit more time, but it’s been so helpful. When you get to know someone, beyond first impressions and quick introductions, who are they? How do they act when no one else is around? What drives them? How do they handle conflict?

To me, when you figure out who people surround themselves with, and who they truly are as a person, then you know what kind of leader you are following. And the truth is, then you know what kind of person you are following.

As I think about this simple two question test, it strikes me that we can teach our children valuable lessons about how to find good friends, what to look for in role models and certainly, what type of person to become themselves. Now that we’re going back to school, settling into new rhythms and meeting many new people, let’s look at the questions from my leadership test and think about how we can give them to our kids to empower them to make good choices themselves and become the type of leader their peers want to follow.

1. Who is on your team?
It seems basic, but this is a difficult lesson to get through to our children. We are who we spend the most time with, right? So often in school age environments we base this on who is the funniest, who has the best style or who scores the most in a game. But how do we get our children to use different criteria? I think the most important factor here is who we lift up in front of them as the role models in our world. Do we love the star quarterback more than community leader in our neighborhood? Do we spend more time reading magazines about fashion than we do about important issues in our country? The more we lift up the true role models in our world, the more our children will become the true role models in theirs.

2. The More Someone Gets To Know You, Does It Get Better, or Worse?
People are always surprised when they get to know someone beyond the first meeting. For better or worse, we find out more and often are surprised. Either we had it wrong and are disappointed or we are increasingly impressed the more we see. Think about those first weeks in school. Kids want to posture, they want to be liked just like the rest of us. It is imperative that we teach our children to be themselves, right from the beginning. Introduce our true selves to our new classmates, our teachers, our coaches and anyone else who may be watching. Every one of those interactions have the potential to turn into a deeper and truer friendship, and when it does, we want our new friends to be pleasantly surprised.
These two questions have served me well in assessing leaders from every sector, including politicians. And, if we can help our children first apply this leadership test to themselves, we will have given them the ultimate gift as they go back to school and continue in their growth, the ability to not only figure out who a good leader is, but to also be one.