The Definition of a Good Leader

By Mark Graybill

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

First, what is your definition of a good leader?

In the article Characteristics of Leadership Effectiveness: Implementing Change and Driving Innovation in Organizations by Gilley, Dixon, and Gilley (2008), we find a simple but operational definition of a good leader for our use here.

According to the article, a good leader can “communicate appropriately and motivate others significantly” to forward the mission.

Good Leaders

The key concept to understand is that a good leader can interact with followers so that they want to listen to and want to be motivated, not that leaders actually motivate (control) them.

In this definition, to answer the question of innateness, we must generalize this definition to a category of human nature; our social nature.

In the literal meaning of innate, I would say very little that makes a good leader can be attributed to intrinsic sources.

Some leaders, who do not have direct contact with those they lead, may naturally lead simply in how they look, talk, and carry themselves (e.g., Warren Harding Effect).

But those effects often wear off as the leader’s direct interaction with followers increases. Then it is how the leader interacts with followers and the decisions they see their leader make that will differentiate them as good or bad.

Leadership Style

What little might be attributed to innateness could be connected to such things as temperament or attachment style, which is often visible very early in life, but I won’t go into them here.

It should suffice to know that such styles often change as we grow up.

However, if their upbringing wasn’t conducive to them growing out of their temperament or attachment styles as children, such may carry over into their leadership style.

For instance, if someone is insecure, they may not trust, which leads to micromanaging, pigeonholing, or withholding opportunities, making for bad leaders.

If the leader has a problem regulating emotions, they will lose trust and send followers into self-protection mode.

Consequently, leaders may have difficulty motivating them, or they won’t listen. All this relates to how a leader interacts with followers, which is why I brought up the category of social nature.

Good Leader in Deep Thought

Know Thy Self

Leaders would be wise to know themselves well and honestly.

If leaders have an innate trait that gives them an advantage, they should use it wisely. And if it imposes a disadvantage, they should learn how to overcome it.

All human beings have a social nature with many “instinctive” qualities that vary between people.

Some of those qualities may be advantageous or disadvantageous in motivating others or communicating appropriately.

Someone diagnosed with mild ASD, for instance, might have an inherent disadvantage but can still become an excellent leader.

Advantages, like the Warren Harding Effect, tend to persist as leaders because those with the power to put them in power were likely wooed by those advantages.

Red Herring

I call such innate qualities Red Herring Qualities. They are Red Herrings because they distract from detecting, at least early on, the actual performance of a leader.

We all have several fundamental drives or innate social goals.

One major goal is to differentiate what group we do and do not belong to and who does or does not belong to our group (in short, where is it safe and who is safe).

Some are more likely to fulfill this goal proactively by excluding others who do not want to belong to their group.

This instinctive drive may have led them, as children, for instance, to actively exclude other children, AKA bullying (about 1/3 of all public school children are bullied on a persistent and long-term basis).

However, these are not attributed to mental or emotional problems but rather normal human social instincts left unchecked.

If such persists as adults, it will disadvantage leaders who may be more prone to favoritism and nepotism. These are bad leadership traits and cancers to an organization.

Social Instinct

If disadvantageous social instinct is left unchecked, we neither learned nor were taught to override and reprogram our social selves – even if we seemed to (may just hide it).

As children, we naturally have little ability to override and reprogram because the equipment we need to do so (brain structures) is not developed until we are in our early 20s.

Mainly, suppose innateness impacts our leadership ability. In that case, it does so because of how our innateness interacts within the contexts of our daily lives throughout our life (nature + nurture, not nature vs. nurture).

This means that whether someone may be a “natural” leader or not likely hinges on their background, not their genes.

When we talk about innateness, we have to understand the truth about human nature: we can override innateness, which in summary, we all can learn to be good leaders.

What Is Your Definition of a Good Leader?

If you have ideas about being a good leader that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Mark Graybill
Mark Graybill
Mark has a Master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and is a management consultant, a leadership instructor for the Air Force Reserves, and a Ph.D. student of Psychology specializing in Social Cognition and Instruction.
  • joan cornelio palma says:

    like what do John Quincy Adams said if your actions inspire others to dream more learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader, so leader is also a good follower to their endeavours.

  • Zissie Wang says:

    A good leader never gives up hope in trying to inspire people to strive and grow. As John C. Maxwell once said ” A good leader is one who goes the way, knows the way and shows the way.”


    1. A leader knows that all entities like he himself in this world are directly or indirectly manifestation of one common causative which is non causal and is store house of all knowledge, intelligence and wisdom and energy and consciousness.
    He is empathetic to all and thinks good of all all the time.
    This knowledge is the source of his fearlessness and enthusiasm and courage, intellectual fortitude, good memory as well as sources of harmony in thoughts speech and deeds and trustworthiness and source of unruffled happy disposition capable of being creative and innovative for being part of solutions rather than part of problems. T
    Thi knowledge his innate divinity is the primordial sources of his power of influencing others
    2, He has contagious commitment of being good and doing good where good means creating value for larger good at large with positive returns employing righteous means and right and righteously mopped up resources
    3. He has no followers but works with people who are like him are inspired and motivated for being good and doing good.
    4. he works through the strengths of people and sees to it that weaknesses in people with whom he works are eradicated or minimized
    5. He thinks that people who has works to fulfil the cardinal purpose to achieve of being good and doing good are like him fair firm and friendly and feel rewarded by their own performance and he arranges awards for their good performance to sustain their morale at high levels and also enables the one who has poorly performed. He believes that proficiency is the source of one’s reference authority.
    6. He is process oriented and not just result oriented to achieve a goal by hook or crook and processes involving high risks and high probability of losses.
    7. He has high power to discern what is right or wrong at any given situation which is dependent on righteous gains vs wrongful loss.
    8. He nurture the value of clear and authentic connmunication which can influence others as his instructions
    8. He does not consider himself as irreplaceble and has the element transcendence ro raise dependable successors.


    The cardinal purpose of life of being good and doing good for larger good at large make the core of a leader and all other aspects are either his attributes or his concerns.
    This power of influencing, born of his commitment of being good and doing good for larger good at large employing the best-in-class technically and socially accepted methodologies and technologies, is an essential aspect of a leader. This power of this commitment has to be earned through hard work involving cultivating and nurturing right beliefs and right values, right education and gathering of right professional and lateral knowledge, harbouring inquisitive, adventurous, creative and innovative spirit and right social behaviour with a view to possess fair and friendly bent of mind and trustworthiness. A leader keeps alive the student in him throughout his active life to be abreast of the latest developments in his personal, social, academic and professional life.

  • What Makes a Good Leader? 7 Qualities to Aspire to - Sickpage says:

    […] do you know if you’re a good leader? What separates great leaders from the rest of the pack? Are some qualities better than others when […]

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
    Brilliant Leadership Logo

    Improve Yourself & Your Team

    Get The Training Proven By 40,000+ Leaders