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Great Leaders Work For It

leadership development san luis obispo

What makes a great leader? During my time as a consultant, I’ve seen patterns among my hundreds of management trainees that lead me to understand that the answer to this question can be boiled down into seven key attributes:

  • Vision

  • Expectations

  • Communication

  • Accountability

  • Development

  • Innovation

  • Balance

When a leader understands how to fully capitalize on these key attributes, they will build trust and confidence within their team.

leader attributes: vision accountability and development

Now that you recognize what makes a great leader, ask yourself this: Are you this kind of leader for your team? If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Here’s some tips to help you navigate the areas I see the most struggle in: accountability, vision, and development.


When leaders and managers rate low in accountability, it is due to a combination of the following:

  • Discomfort with difficult conversations: Team members feel their managers can’t convey their feelings and instead sweep the issue under the rug, holding no one accountable.

  • Unclear communication around expectations or outcomes: When managers don’t spell out what they want and need, it’s impossible to deliver.

  • Taking back work: When a manager takes back work, they’re really saying that they don’t trust the employee to complete it properly.

  • No measurement in place: Without tracking projects, tasks and team member skills, the manager has nothing to benchmark success or failure.

To improve accountability, leaders must clearly communicate outcomes and timelines. Understand that giving feedback doesn’t have to be difficult; in reality, situations become uncomfortable when the leaders let things go without ever addressing them. Look at it this way: If you, as a manager, were underperforming, you would want your leader to tell you, so do the same for your team.


Managers are often shocked when their employees express that they don’t know the company’s mission or vision or how their role ties into it. The following issues often lead to employee turnover:

  • Lack of mission, values or five-year vision/plan: When these areas are missing in a company, employees have no idea what they’re working for.

  • Managers don’t embed mission/values into everyday conversations and decision making: Even if a company does have an established mission, values and five-year plan, employees might not understand what they mean. Managers must continually discuss how projects and tasks tie into the company’s overall strategic plan. When leaders neglect to make decisions within the mission or values, the strategy is basically useless to everyone else.

Leaders and managers can resolve these issues by sharing successes and discussing how they relate to the mission or values. Working within these bounds helps managers explain the “why” behind a task: “The reason I’m asking you to do it this way is our value of …” The executive team must take on this task as well. One way is by attending team meetings to share the company’s vision and goals.


Many leaders became managers because they demonstrated superior performance. However, they have a hard time switching from being a doer to being a coach/mentor.

Many employees will stay engaged without a promotion if they feel they are continually developing. Managers who face issues related to development often do the following:

  • Say they’re too busy to train or coach: Managers must be properly trained to understand that coaching and training is a large part of their role.

  • Neglect to set up one-on-ones or develop growth plans for direct reports: Managers must check in on their direct reports through face-to-face interaction and the development of growth plans.

  • Protect their direct reports too much: Experiencing other projects will aid in development. While a manager is protective of their employees’ time, they must realize that these new projects will make them better workers.

  • Tactical work instead of delegating/training: It’s easy for managers to fall into the trap of doing the work of their direct reports because it’s faster and easier than delegating and training their people.

Managers can improve development by ensuring their team members have short and long-term goals to work toward. Frequently assess the team on potential and performance — SHRM has a useful matrix to assist. Managers should strive to invest in the professional development of their staff, both formal and informal. An easy way is to include a “quick tip” in each team meeting or delegate a different employee to come up with one at each meeting.

Bottom Line

If you want to be a great leader to an exceptional team, you have to work for it. Take the time to ensure appropriate professional development for leaders and managers so they can gain the skills to properly advise and develop their team.


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