What is a Leader

I had an interview recently, and one of the questions I was asked What does it mean to be a leader? I’ve been reflecting on that, as I think it’s an important question for anyone who is responsible for other people. The Dictionary app on my mac defines leader as the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country, There isn’t one thing that makes a good leader, there are several. A good leader has most of them. A great leader has all of them. Here are the traits:

  1. Trust
  2. Vision
  3. Leads by example
  4. Delegation
  5. Guardian
  6. Teacher
  7. Mentor


If there is one trait that provides a foundation for the others, it’s trust. It makes the other traits possible. Trust is required in both directions. Without trust, a leader can’t be effective. A team member won’t be able to respect their leader. Without that, they likely won’t support their leader’s objectives, or obey orders given to them.  However, a leader also needs to be able to trust their team members. A leader needs to know the team members will carry out orders to the best of their ability.


A leader needs vision, a sense of purpose. They have a set of principles that they live by, that they want to instill in their team. They have a sense of what they want their team to accomplish. Naturally, this will relate to what the organization does. Although, I think a great leader, for each of the teams’ members, has goals in mind and particular directions of growth they’d like to see.

A big part of having a vision, is being able to execute it. A leader makes decisions.  They makes decisions for the entire team. Sometimes these decision has effects that expand beyond the team. Sometimes a leader has to make a difficult decision.  Either way, they need to be able to do what’s necessary, for the success of the team.

Leads By Example

A leader embodies their principles. On a high level, that resembles the idea that “they would never ask their team member to do something, they wouldn’t do themselves”. But true leadership by example goes deeper than that. They know that talk is cheap, and words can be manipulated and misunderstood. They demonstrate their principles through action. A leader demonstrates to their team everyday what to do, and how to be. They are consistent in their actions, whether everyone is watching, or nobody is watching.

Consider the opposite case. Imagine your leader provided you a written list of rules or principles. Then in a moment, when it counted most, the leader betrayed that principle. Depending upon the situtation, you might forgive them that one time. Doing it again, or breaking a different rule, you’d quickly come to the conclusion that their rules don’t mean much.

Without the ability to lead by example, your trust will be broken.


A team needs their leader, and looks to their leader for guidance. A leader also needs their team, to be supported. A leader realizes they can’t (nor should they) do everything themselves. A leader needs to delegate tasks to the team. Even if the team member doesn’t like a particular task, they’ll do it. It’s how they show respect and support for their leader. The leader gave them that task because it needs to get done.


A leader is a guardian for their team. They protect their team from outside forces. It could be from something small – like too many or unnecessary meetings.  It could also be protection from more significant aspects, trying to exert influence on to the team. Either way, this protection is to help the team be productive.


A leader is a teacher for all team members of the team. They pass their knowledge on to their team. They provide demonstrable lessons team members can use on their own.  Leaders help team members learn new skills. They empower team members to be independent actors, while how to work with others to be an effective team member.


Being a mentor goes beyond being a teacher. Everyone has gaps of knowledge and skill. They can’t be everything to all their team members. A leader knows they aren’t always able to be a teacher.  Instead, a leader acts a mentor – to help their team find the resources,  to provide guidance when not all the information is available. A mentor helps a mentee become a better version of who they can be. A great leader knows how to be a mentor for their team members.


After reading about these traits, it’s reasonable to conclude that anyone can  learn to be a leader. People might think of themselves as a leader, until they become one. While these traits don’t come naturally to everyone — each of these traits can be developed. Can you be a leader? Maybe you haven’t been in a position yet to be a leader. Perhaps a better question might be — are you ready to become a leader? Sometimes you just have to believe that you are. After all — leaders are not born, they’re made

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