What makes an effective leader? One question, 1430 responses...


We posed a seemingly simple question on a number of LinkedIn communities – describe in one word what makes an effective leader. Clearly a hot topic, it received over 1400 responses, each as varied and valid as the next. Interestingly, a mere five words accounted for almost 35% of responses!

With 100’s of random terms making up the remaining percentage, there was clearly a very diverse view. Our statistical Bell Curve was very wide, and not very high.

Leaders are commonly seen as able to take charge, to inspire and give direction. But we wanted to know what qualities produce this level of influence: how do you perfectly describe an effective leader?

 Leadership Quality 

    Tally          Count    
Inspiring 9.7% 138
Character 9.1% 130
Honest 5.9% 85
Integrity 5.0% 72
Vision 4.7% 67
Other Words 65.6%  


Insight: If you’re describing someone you believe is a successful leader, using any of the above terms will help persuade others to agree with you.

One of the collaborators on this LinkedIn research was leading business coach, Marc Johnstone from Shirlaws. Marc strongly challenged the popular views on the qualities of an effective leader, views held by many businesses and HR professionals.

“The respondents are essentially saying that leaders are ‘inspirational and charismatic,’” Marc says, “but research says that this common assumption is wrong. It's the myth of the charismatic leader, people think they need someone who is charismatic to follow and who will drive and make decisions. There's a myth out there like in there is in sports (the charismatic sports captain who leads the team to victory) but all the research shows (e.g. from Jim Collins in Built to Last and Good to Great) the complete opposite."

“That the leaders who are the most successful and retain staff and drive value growth are the ones that are humble, hold people accountable and serve their organisation instead of the other way around.”

As a leading training organisation, our view builds on Marc’s. We believe a great leader serves their organisation and its people, and that the foundation of this success is providing their people with the training that develops their skills and knowledge.

Good insights shared by community members as to why their chosen word resonates for them:

Inspiring or Inspirational (9.7%)
“Inspirational. The effective leader has the ability to galvanise the team into action. The leader who inspires, de facto possesses many of the qualities listed here. Confidence, compassion, integrity, determination, humility and vision.” - Devorah Rabinowitz

Character (9.1%)
“This is an interesting question. Tyrants may command and loners may be effective but an effective leader must be followed. RESPECT is the way the best and most effective leaders operate. - This is something effective leaders give generously and it is something they constantly elicit, almost unintentionally, by both their character and their track record. Over time, respect morphs into admiration, loyalty and love. People rarely willingly follow anyone they do not respect, unless it is for selfish reasons. A respected leader has the trust and the loyalty of his/her followers. He/She gets the best out of them and multiplies his/her effectiveness.” -Duane Miller
“In my opinion there is no one thing or one word that makes an effective leader. Rather a combination of so many characteristics that makes an effective leader. I see throughout the time since I have joined this conversation, there are so many answers to your question. And every single one is part of the answer.” - Nafiseh Sedaghat

Honest (5.9%)
“Authenticity. Honesty really is the best policy. In good times or bad, people everywhere seek authentic leaders who know what they believe, act in a way that is consistent with their beliefs and put themselves second to the mission at hand. That's common sense, but often not common practice. It requires courage to be authentic.” - Tim Fidler

Integrity (5.0%)
“Love (love the customer, love your people, love the work, love your values, love yourself, love honesty, love integrity...always act from love....lead from love... as against greed, fear, numbness and complacency).” - Michael Bunting

Vision (4.7%)
“As a leader you are not dealing with 1 situation at a time, so it won’t be fair to describe it with 1 word as the other important factors of leadership will be underestimated. but obviously, integrity and vision and inspiration are the fundamental, even if you do not act as a leader and just want to be a leader.”- Hsan Jahandarpour  
“Yourself - being a leader is in everyone, they just need to find it. To be a leader someone has to CHOOSE to follow you, to be a manager they just have to be PAID to do what you tell them (i.e. not 'followers' .. and if nobody is following - then there is no leader). They are subordinates in a contractual exchange relationship.” - Matrin Willmin

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