Defining a “Real Leader”

August 10, 2015

Liz Ryan presented a great piece in Forbes titled, “Six Things Real Leaders Don’t Do (Like Boss People Around)” (Ryan, 2015; Link). In it, she described her point of view for what makes a “real leader”:

  • Real Leaders Don’t Boss People Around
  • Real Leaders Don’t Bark Out Orders
  • Real Leaders Don’t Second-Guess Their Team Members
  • Real Leaders Don’t Blame Their Employees When Something Goes Wrong
  • Real Leaders Don’t Bring the Hammer Down Right Away
  • Real Leaders Don’t Chicken Out of Tough Conversations

So, what is a real leader anyway? The concept reminds me of the old adage that “real men don’t eat quiche” (Feirstein, 1982); in that case, the idea being that we can define men by simply offering up a pithy (yet funny) generalization.

X men

Can we do the same as we aim to understand and categorize our beliefs of leaders? Can we generalize the traits that comprise the ideal leader? The notions about leadership are as varied as the number and nature of individuals that offer up ideas about what comprises an ideal leader. There are countless theories.

Of all the hazy and confounding areas in social psychology, leadership theory undoubtedly contends for top nomination. And, ironically, probably more has been written and less is known about leadership than about any other topic in the behavioral sciences. – J.C. Rost

In reading Ryan’s piece, her argument seems sound and logical. That said, I believe that an ideal leader needs to be more than just a barrier-busting-empathic-trusting-supportive soul. I humbly offer some additional characteristics that in my experience elevate someone from an average leader to an ideal “real” leader:

Real Leaders Express Gratitude: real leaders recognize, express and reward positive behaviours.

Real Leaders Encourage Forgiveness: real leaders maintain a culture of continuous quality improvement. They understand that humans are fallible, forgive mistakes and errors and capitalize on the strengthens of the team to foster true improvements in performance.

Real Leaders Build Meaning Into Everyday Work: real leaders provide opportunities to associate activities that align with an individual’s personal values and that of the organization as a whole.

Read Leaders Encourage Personal & Professional Development: real leaders provide encouragement and foster opportunities to develop their team members.

To self-assess your own leadership capabilities, try:

Works Cited

Claremont, C., Simonson, W. & Wiacek, B. (1983). Uncanny X-Men #171 . Marvel Comics.

Feirstein, B. (1982). Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. Collins & Brown.

Rost, J. C. (1993). Leadership for the Twenty-first Century. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Ryan, L. (2015, August 8). Six Things Real Leaders Don’t Do (Like Boss People Around). Retrieved from Forbes: