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20 Behaviors the Best Leaders Use to Get Remarkable Results

You know a good leader when you see one.

They’re easy to spot – they communicate well, they’re trustworthy, people respond to them, and they get good results. There is more than one type of good leader and they may have many different styles, but most have some basic traits in common.

You also know a bad leader when you see one.

They lack self-awareness, are typically poor communicators, are inconsistent, and drive people crazy while failing to accomplish their goals. There are plenty of types of bad leaders. Their ineffectiveness is likely the result of leadership deficiencies in one or more critical areas.  

So, spotting a good or bad leader is easy. However, how do we learn to look a little deeper to understand why someone is or isn’t a good leader?

Being able to diagnose a leader’s type, strengths, and weaknesses is an important skill for several reasons. First, it gives perspective on how to identify, encourage, and develop good leaders. Second, it can help us avoid the damage from a bad leader and understand how to coach them to improve. And finally, if we know the basic components of effective leadership, we can assess ourselves to see where we have strengths to leverage and opportunities to grow.

With that in mind, and to give ourselves a simple model we can work with to assess leadership styles and characteristics, let’s take a look at three primary leadership profiles. We’ll call them Absent Leaders, Fake Leaders, and Real Leaders.

Absent Leaders

These are people who occupy leadership positions but are mostly lacking any real leadership skill, behavior, or ambition. They may have attained their leadership role through technical competence or tenure but do a poor job of transitioning to actual leadership responsibilities. They will avoid and retreat from challenging situations that involve conflict or interpersonal skills. They may be friendly and seek harmony but do so at the cost of results. Their inaction eventually exhausts and frustrates employees because they fail to provide guidance and don't achieve results. An absent leader would often be described as weak and ineffective.

Fake Leaders

Fake leaders superficially look like strong leaders. They actively seek leadership positions and won't hesitate to take charge. However, they have selfish motivations. They rely on titles and positional authority to validate their leadership. Their number one priority is self-advancement and they will shamelessly self-promote. They will often be viewed as arrogant and are not interested in feedback from others. These people will judge others and use force and intimidation to push their perspective. Fake leaders may initially have success in certain situations but they eventually alienate others and leave a trail of destruction in their wake. As you can see by this description, fake leaders are essentially self-serving bullies.

Real leaders

Real leaders are those who truly embrace the role of leadership and see leadership as a form of service to others. They are authentic, honest, and empathetic. They have a good degree of self-awareness and are constantly looking to learn. They avoid "or" choices in their leadership style and approach. They are fair and steady. They balance candor and respectfulness. They are positive and yet grounded. They value others but they also hold them accountable to commitments. They are motivated to succeed but also believe in investing in others. These leaders may be described as visionary or inspirational. While some people may naturally exhibit aspects of this style, achieving this type of leadership typically requires intentional planning and development.

Most people don’t fit 100% into any one of these categories. Even excellent leaders may exhibit some characteristics of absent and fake leaders while weak leaders may have some traits of a real leader. However, all leaders should strive to adopt the characteristics of a real leader for one key reason – real leaders will ultimately get the best results for themselves, their people, and their organizations.

Here is a handy chart you can use to take a closer look at how an Absent, Fake, and Real leader typically behave across 20 different leadership competencies.

Leadership Skill / Behavior

Absent Leader

Fake Leader

Real

Accountability

Does not hold others accountable for work or policies because they are afraid to or because they don’t care. This often results in inconsistency, resentment, and frustration.

Uses accountability as a "club" to beat up anyone who makes a mistake or to cover up failures. Not interested in understanding why something might be wrong. More likely to fire or marginalize someone who errs.

Willing to hold others accountable to their commitments. Comfortable speaking up to address issues when needed but does so thoughtfully. Looks for ways to improve processes and support others to set them up for success.

Building Relationships

Wants to be friends with colleagues and employees. Treats some as "insiders" or favorites while avoiding others where there are personality differences. Creates cliques which typically do more harm than good by creating division.

Does not invest in developing substantive relationships with others. Sees most relationships as a waste of time and energy unless they serve a specific purpose. Keeps others at arm's length.

Has a genuine interest in getting to know others and learn about their goals and interests. Recognizes that relationships are often a key to success. Strikes a good balance between professional relationships and friendships.

Communication

Communicates passively or reactively and only when absolutely necessary. Avoids delivering difficult messages.

Mostly demonstrates one-way, selective communication focused on their own perspective. Tone deaf to what others might expect to hear. Not interested in two-way communication or in hearing from others.

Communicates constantly through a variety of means. Sends consistent messages and does so through appropriate channels that meet the communication expectations of others.

Conflict Management

Read: 3 Steps to Conquering “People Problems” >

Afraid of any conflict. Avoids it even if it becomes significant and negatively affects the organization. Gives in when conflict becomes avoidable but doesn't solve underlying issues.

Creates an environment of negative conflict which becomes destructive, hurts morale, and causes division. May relish confrontation as a way to show superiority.

Embraces and encourages constructive conflict. Looks to get stakeholders into dialogue and to openly debate differing perspectives.

Creativity

Creativity feels like a burden. Feels uneasy about change and prefers a risk-free route by sticking with the status quo.

Views time and energy spent on creativity as a distraction from "real" work. Not interested in the ideas of others. Takes credit if there are new ideas that do work.

Fosters creativity by giving others the opportunity to provide input. Leads by asking questions. Willing to let others test new ideas to see what can be learned. Willing to look outside the organization for new ideas.

Decision Making

Indecisive. Will let decisions linger regardless of the impact. Won't commit to decisions unless there is total consensus on an answer.

Makes rash decisions as a show of assertiveness and power. Ignores input from others. May make excuses or blame others for poor decisions.

Balances thoughtfulness and thoroughness with decisiveness. Consults others as much as possible but ultimately owns decisions.

Developing Others

Treats development passively. May allow staff to pursue development but will not actively support it or give employees the time or resources to genuinely pursue it.

Sees professional development as a waste of time and money. Prefers to keep others in their place. Views emerging leaders as a threat.

Prioritizes the development of others and will provide time resources for learning even if it requires making tradeoffs. Not afraid to create new leaders.

Emotional Regulation

Often overwhelmed by emotions and either expresses them at extremes or withholds them in ways that are unhelpful.

Shows little emotion. When emotions are expressed, it is often an explosive reaction characterized by anger and frustration.

Emotionally balanced. Considers and expresses feelings but does so thoughtfully by thinking before acting. Skillfully controls emotions to enhance leadership effect.

Empathy

Overly sympathetic, easily dragged into and swayed by emotional situations.

Lacks empathy. Not interested in the concerns and circumstances of others. Judgmental.

Empathetic and sincere but balances this with the need for steadiness and accountability.

Giving Feedback

Read: Effective Feedback Made Simple >

Avoids giving feedback or provides ineffective feedback that is non-specific or softened to prevent from "offending" anybody.

Gives harsh and judgmental feedback with a focus on punishing or embarrassing others.

Provides timely, effective feedback with a genuine interest in helping and developing others.

Listening

Read: Listen Up! How to Improve Your Listening Skills >

Listens but primarily does so at a superficial level. Focuses conversations back to themselves and their own interests.

Does not value listening and is generally not interested in what others have to say. Views leadership as telling others what to do, not listening to them.

Listens empathetically. Shows sincere interest in hearing what others have to say. Will give others their full attention and presence.

Motivation

Limited motivation. Looks to do the minimum amount of work to get by. Lacking a focus on long-term goals and progress.

Motivation can be high but is primarily self-focused. Goals are aligned to self-gratification and attaining personal recognition.

Intrinsically motivated. Consistently shows passion and optimism for achieving goals. Creates infectious commitment in others.

Negotiating

Averse to conflict and, therefore, takes an accommodating approach to negotiation (e.g. giving in to all demands). Gets poor results.

Views negotiation as a way to assert themselves and "win.” Will look to take as much as possible regardless of the impact on the overall outcome or other party.

Seeks real collaboration in negotiation. Prioritizes shared goals and outcomes across all parties. Sees negotiation as problem-solving, not adversarial.

Problem Solving

Similar to decision making, they will ignore or work around problems to avoid causing tension. Hopes the problem/situation go away.

Looks for quick fixes. Will not spend time to find systematic solutions.

Has a consistent and disciplined approach to problem-solving. Thoughtful but willing to commit to solutions. Involves others but takes ownership of decisions.

Receiving Feedback

Retreats from any feedback seen as negative. Takes it personally. Does not use feedback to attain improved performance.

Not interested in receiving feedback. Thinks they already have things figured out. Generally ignores it or blames other causes for poor performance.

Open-minded and truly interested in feedback that can help them improve. Actively seeks feedback from supervisors, colleagues, and employees.

Resilience

Easily discouraged when things aren’t going well. Likely to be devastated by any setbacks and is paralyzed moving forward.

Seems to be oblivious even if things around them are falling apart. Resilience is more a function of blindness to reality than a strength.

Steadfast. Not deterred by challenges or setbacks. Looks to learn and adjust from tough circumstances.

Risk Taking / Failure

Read: All Great People Fail – So Should You >

Will not take any risks to avoid failure. Afraid to make mistakes. Sees failure as debilitating and as a reflection of themselves.

Can be thoughtless and reckless. Does not take responsibility for mistakes and is prone to repeat the same mistakes again in the future.

Willing to take reasonable risks to benefit the organization. Sees failure as inevitable and a learning experience.

Self-Awareness

Lacks of self-confidence. Has observable low self-esteem. Overly self-depreciating.

Overinflated sense of self. Seen as arrogant. Views self as superior to others.

Grounded and realistic assessment of themselves. Confident yet humble. Doesn't take themself too seriously.

Strategic View

Does not look out into the future. Lacks the ability to see beyond short time horizons. Focused only on short-term assignments.

May become overly focused and personally invested in one goal while losing sight of impacts and tradeoffs. Tunnel vision.

Consistently looks at the big picture. Invests time and process in setting goals. Re-evaluates progress and makes adjustments. Aligns resources and decisions to top priorities.

Trust / Integrity

Will tell people what they want to hear. Will be inconsistent on how they act and respond to certain situations as they seek to appease others.

Prioritizes outcomes over trust and hides mistakes to save face. Willing to lie or bend/break a rule to get a certain result.

Has clear personal and professional values. Demonstrates them consistently in communication and action. Consistent with honesty and follow through.

Now that you’ve spent some time considering these three basic leadership profiles and behaviors, ask yourself the following questions and let us know your answers in the comments below:

  • Consider examples of leaders you’ve known that have been ineffective. Which absent or fake leadership qualities did they exhibit? How did their leadership style affect others around them?
  • Consider examples of leaders you know that have been very successful. What are some situations where you saw them demonstrate the skills and behaviors of a real leader? How did others react?
  • How do you assess yourself against each of these behaviors? Do you mostly fit one of these profiles? If you catch yourself acting as absent or fake leader in one more areas, how might those behaviors be holding you back? What real leadership skills do you have that you can build on?

Remember – learning to become a world-class leader is a journey. There is no shame in admitting you have room to improve. In fact, a willingness to learn it is a sign of being a real leader. Look for opportunities to gather feedback, set a plan to work on your weaknesses, invest in your personal development, and seek the help of others who are willing to help you grow and thrive.

In future posts we’ll dive deeper into each of these areas to discuss specific strategies you can use to achieve your leadership goals. Receive our weekly posts by becoming a free Modern da Vinci Member today.