What Makes a Good Leader?

I have sometimes half-jokingly said that a fair bit of what I know about ministry, I learned from my mother. I think I might have learnt a few things from her about what makes a good leader, too. After all, I doubt you can bring up three children single-handed as she did without some skills in that department. My learning has been added to over the years, I hope, but as I reflect, I can still see the maternal influence there in many ways.

So what do I think makes a good leader? Fundamentally, I believe it's rooted in building good relationships. I don't think you get very far or can be very effective as a leader without that. A number of factors then come into play. For me, the characteristics of a good leader include:

Being a good listener – not only as an important part of relationship building, but also because even the best leader in the history of the universe doesn't have all the knowledge or all the answers. The greatest experts on the people you are seeking to lead are the people themselves. Needless to say, being a good listener also includes hearing what is said.

Responding to what you hear – which may or may not include acting upon it. Sometimes being a good leader means considering all you hear and still having the courage to take an alternative path.

Having a clear sense of where you want to go – while still being open-minded, strong and flexible enough to change tack and modify your thinking as needs be. A good leader expects the unexpected!

Not expecting the people you lead to do anything you wouldn't be prepared to do yourself – and preferably to have first-hand experience of the circumstances and situation of those you are leading. At the very least, empathy, passion, compassion and love are needed.

The desire to build relationships with other groups – while still being very much on the side of those to whom you have been appointed. As an old Welsh saying puts it, “A fo ben bid bont” – let the one who would be a leader be a bridge.

Looking after yourself as well as seeking to care for those you lead – because as the old farmer who was a mentor to my brother used to say, “Tha’s no good t’ man nor beast if tha’s no good to thisen”! There is something very important about being a good leader that means trying to model a way of being or a way of living for those you lead. While good leadership involves holding high personal standards and expectations, it doesn’t mean flogging yourself into an early grave. Most challenges in life can be faced better if you sleep well and eat well and have taken time for yourself to cultivate the kind of friendships that can see you through almost anything.

And finally (for this list, which is far from exhaustive), good leadership involves fun and laughter, joy and joking – because we all need to play as well as to work, and as Emma Goldman is reputed to have said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!” A good leader helps people to celebrate when things go well, and encourages with cake and kindness when a little boost is needed.


Written by Revd Jennie Hurd, SCM Friend and Chair of the Cymru Synod in the Methodist Church in Wales.