The Three Biggest Qualities of Effective Leadership in Business

Leland Sandler Executive Coach

The Three Biggest Qualities of Effective Leadership in Business

Leland Sandler Executive Coach

In my practice as an Executive Coach I have learned what effective leadership looks like.  While all kinds of indivduals can make great leaders, there are a few qualities that stand out. Here are my top three:

Influence. Let’s start with influence. The best kind of influence is a pull influence rather than a push influence. Push influence is when you’re trying to convince someone. You’re using logic and rationale. You sometimes use coercion. You push. You try to get your point across. You try to make them understand. With pull, you draw them in. I learned a lot about drawing people in. You ask them questions. You ask them to explain their logic. You ask them to explain their rationale and get them to speak out loud. Either their stuff stands up to scrutiny or it doesn’t. You don’t antagonize them. It’s inviting. People want to talk. People want to share their point of view. You have patience with them. You’re respectful of them. Those are all things that have made me a much better coach today.

Passion. I’ve also learned about how to help develop a great leader in the very dynamic and complex world that we’re living in today. I learned how you accelerate that leadership. People will develop and grow organically. My goal was not to get leadership organically because that took too long. It takes years. I wanted to figure out how to do it in months. How can someone make a meaningful, permanent change in who they are, their perspective and how they see the world in six to nine months? It doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for me with a lot of people when I focused on my passion for this business.

I compare being coached in business to being a world class athlete. If a world-class golfer wants to get better, they go to a golfing coach. The coach gives them things to do. They don’t just say, “I get it mentally.” They have to physically internalize it. This means that they have to practice hours and hours. I think that’s the difference. The good programs incorporate that practice. They don’t just identify what you need to do.

Strong Work Ethic. The other big thing I’ve learned is that it’s not just practice. On the front end, people have to be willing to confront themselves. They have to be willing to say, “I’ve done something.” This thing is either sub-optimal or unattractive. “I have to be okay with the fact that I’ve done it, but that’s my motivation now for changing.” I think that’s the other problem with these programs. They don’t tap into that. People walk away with tips and good ideas that they think they’re going to incorporate, but under stress, people go back to who they are. And central to leadership development is practicing the right things, the right way. Again, I’ll use the golfer example. If they were simply to practice their swing, but it wasn’t a good technique, they’re not going to get a whole lot better. It has to be practiced the right way. It is about lining someone up to do things that are applicable to them. That’s what’s so hard. We’re all different. You get 100 people, and you could have 100 different situations going on. You can’t have one size fits all. Those other programs do one size fits all. It just doesn’t work.


Let’s break it down further into three areas that describe effective leaders:

Skill Set. Are they technically good at what they do? If someone is going to be a CEO, there are three technical skills. One is strategy. Can they think strategically, see through stuff and come up with creative and innovative ways to get to things? Second is influence. They do a boatload of external influence as well as internal influence. Third, are they someone that people want to follow? Will they influence the culture of an organization? Those are the three big buckets.

Once you know they are decent at all three of those, the two other areas that I’ve found in effective leaders are courage and humility, and it’s best to have a blend of both.

Courage. They need the courage to stand up and willingly talk about their thinking, and how they got there, not just shoving things down people’s throats. They need the courage to tell people, “I was wrong. I got this wrong. I made a mistake.” They need the courage to ask for feedback and insist on getting quality feedback.

Humility. Humility is this idea that, “I don’t know everything. I’ve hired these people because they do know stuff. I want to include them in how this operation is run as opposed to me thinking that I need to be the smartest person in the room.” Courage and humility are big ones.


In addition, being open to others is important. The skill set there is to learn how to listen. Listening is both passive and active. Passive is paying honest attention to someone and asking them questions. Active is challenging their thinking. That’s huge in all of this. There is the inspirational piece. People follow people. Yes, they follow ideas, too. It’s a combination.

You want to have respect for this person. “This person is a thinker that I like. They have a way about them that I want to follow.” As challenging as Steve Jobs was, they loved his ideas. They loved his energy. They loved the way he pushed you. Some people felt pushed too hard. They liked Tim Cook a little bit better. He was inspiring. He had the skill set. The piece missing for him was the willingness to listen. That’s the difference between him and leaders of Google who do listen.

There is Ray Dalio. A big part of it is taking in input, understanding others and being willing to admit that he doesn’t know everything. You look at great companies of the future and you say, “If they don’t have these qualities, why would someone your age or in their 30s follow them?” There are a lot of options out there. I don’t want to follow an asshole. You may follow them for a while because you think, “Maybe he’ll make the company grow and we’ll make some money in a few years.” But if you talk about sustainability, you want to follow someone that you have some respect for, that has these three important leadership qualities, and that you’re inspired by.

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