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What Makes a Good Leader?

By Sophie Hussey
July 10, 2024

You can be a leader without being a manager, as leadership and management are distinct roles.

Most people have had a manager who was also a leader. This person kept you motivated effortlessly, informed you appropriately, inspired you, and helped you develop. Most people have also had a manager who could, to put it politely, use some personal development time.

To be an effective people manager there are skills you need to support and motivate your team(s) as well the more demanding side of dealing with performance or behavioural challenges. Managing well is challenging and requires dedication, consistency, fairness, empathy and advocating for your teams, especially by following up on promises.

Being a leader requires various traits, which can vary based on perspective. From my viewpoint, certain key qualities define a good leader, and these are traits I strive to embody:

  • empathy
  • active listener
  • good communicator
  • authenticity
  • honesty
  • integrity
  • receptive to discussion and others’ ideas

The above qualities go together to build respect and trust in the leader.

Can someone be both a manager and a leader?

Absolutely they can. But it’s important to understand that just because someone is a leader, it doesn’t automatically mean that individual would be a good manager, and vice versa. Similarly, if you consider in your organisation, people in executive, director or senior management positions aren’t automatically leaders just because of their titles. Many organisations and people in positions of responsibility struggle to help people make that transition into management and leave them to ‘make it up as you go along’ or ‘reinvent the wheel’.

How can I become a leader, or be a better leader?

Being true to yourself, your beliefs and values, whilst respecting, empathising and listening to those around you is most important. Authenticity cannot be faked. To inspire or motivate others, you must be reliable and eas objective as possible, have a holistic approach, include and collaborate with others. Never stop learning and developing.  Understand that you don’t always have the answers, but have the humility to admit that and use it as an opportunity for growth.

Take the time to grow and learn

There are a million and one books out there with advice, research and tips on leadership and what it takes to be a leader. I’ve read a fair few myself (my favourite being The Phoenix Project) and have learned a lot from those kinds of books. There’s a wealth of resources both within an organisation and outside. Google is your friend. You can gain a lot from reading articles from well-known institutions about self-development, management styles, building skills, and emotional intelligence.

Ask for help

If you’ve been promoted to your first leadership role, ask your organisation to support your development. There is so much to learn about people leadership from a process perspective such as:

  • Conducting effective one-on-one meetings
  • Handling absences
  • Talent management
  • Defining objectives and development plans
  • Disciplinary and grievance procedures

You also need to learn how to effectively manage and lead people, which includes:

  • Providing feedback
  • managing conflict
  • the power of influence
  • setting expectations
  • boundary setting
  • how to create a positive & supportive environment

Mentorship and Coaching

In addition to the support your organisation can provide you, there is the wonderful world of mentoring and coaching. They each have a slightly different approach for each, and investing time in either can contribute to personal and professional growth.

There are so many mentoring schemes available, many of which are free services or relating to memberships of well-known organisations. You can also ask someone in your network to be a mentor; there is no harm in asking. I personally asked the Director of Finance in a previous role to be my mentor because I respected their approach to leadership and thought they would be a great person to learn from. The person was surprised I had asked but agreed and I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions we had.

Coaches are typically paid professionals.   My colleague, who is a coach, mentioned that those who invest financially in coaching tend to experience increased drive and success.

Lead with Empathy

In my opinion, if there’s one area to focus on and develop as a leader, it is empathy.


The hardest thing about managing and leading people is the people themselves. What you see in the workplace isn’t necessarily a true reflection of everything that is going on in someone’s life. Whilst it is very difficult to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, it is important to be open and available to your team, colleagues, peers and managers. The extent of empathy a manager has will differ from individual to individual, but it is a key skill to learn.

These are the top tips relating to showing empathy as a leader:

  1. Understanding the people who make up your team
    Invest time in understanding emotional intelligence of both you and the people you lead. There are several assessments you can use for this such as EQ-i, Insights, mbti, etc.

  2. Show curiosity about others and ask questions
    While you do not need to delve into personal details remembering names of their significant others, children, or even fur babies can make a positive impact.

  3. Prioritise your people
    Where possible, stick to agreed times for meetings with your team. Rescheduling and moving meetings, regardless of the reason, will imply that they are not a priority to you. Show integrity by sticking to your promises and deliver what you said you would.

  4. Be visible
    Avoid the perception of being disconnected by implementing open-door policies and creating time for people to speak with you. A great example of leadership I’ve seen is a senior manager who would walk around the office each morning, saying hello and catching up with team members. This investment in people fosters a positive work environment

  5. Avoid the blame game
    Psychological safety is crucial. Mistakes are inevitable, as human error cannot be completely avoided. Create a safe space for your people to voice concerns when things have not gone to plan, emphasizing on problem solving. Creating a safe environment where people can fail without fear leads to happier teams, increased productivity, and greater loyalty.

Final words

If you want to develop your leadership and management skills, take the time to invest in yourself. Understand the areas you need to develop. Ask for feedback from peers and colleagues. Be open to trying new ways of working and different approaches.

Empathy is not a one-way street

It’s also important to call out that your manager is also one of the team. So often it is easy to forget that your manager is as much a colleague as they are someone with a level of additional responsibility. I’ve seen many organisations often communicate to colleagues, saying “If you need more information, speak to your line manager.” However, they sometimes forget to prepare those managers and provide the necessary support. Empathy is not a one-way street.

Numerous books delve into management and leadership for good reason. While the assumption is that managers lead, true leadership extends beyond direct reports. Anyone—regardless of whethery they manage people—can influence, support and drive direction across teams.

Sophie Hussey has been working in the world of technology for nearly 25 years, following a technical career path before specialising in service management, and fulfilling leadership roles before stepping out to run her own consultancy business, Lapis Consulting Services. The consultancy works with clients to support the growth of their colleagues, drive service excellence and deliver value.

Sophie is passionate about supporting & developing others through leading with empathy and championing being authentic with the mantra “Be bold. Be brave. Be YOU!”. Sophie is an ITIL4 Managed Professional, STEM Ambassador, Women in Tech Mentor & advocate.

To learn more about Sophie, connect through https://www.linkedin.com/in/sophiehussey/

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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent

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