Should we judge our leaders by the character of their followers?

I’ve been following the reaction to the recent resignation of a high-profile leader, who is leaving public office under a cloud of scandal.  A statement in a news article I read really grabbed my attention: “You judge a leader by the people he chooses to be around him…and he chose some of the most ruthless operators to be there to help him implement his vision.” Ouch.

If this is true, then how do you choose the right people to “be around”?  A quick response could be  to choose those who love you, motivate you, encourage you and just make you feel good about yourself, but I think this is incomplete and simplistic.

Using some of the ideas expressed in Barbara Kellerman’s “Bad Leadership” (2004) and “Followership” (2008) let me suggest you add these criteria to your “who do I want beside me” checklist:

  • Has a robust moral compass
  • Doesn’t tolerate “bad” behavior..mine or anyone else’s
  • Has a vision that aligns with my own
  • Gets results in a manner that I respect
  • Contributes competence and diversity of thought
  • Has ego under control
  • Encourages and excites others
  • Invests in strengths of colleagues; encourages and never manipulates or bullies
  • Loyal to the group but not to a single person
  • Admirable work ethic but not a slave to work
  • Always informed and engaged
  • Strong enough to take a stand when necessary

What have I missed? How do we evaluate the success of a leader? Does the assessment criteria differ depending upon whether the leader functioned in the private or public sectors?


About Alex Pollock

Alex Pollock has been studying leadership effectiveness for more than 30 years. A former leader in environment, health and safety, and public affairs at The Dow Chemical Co., he learned that we all have leadership roles to play. He enjoys discussing new ideas and sharing practical ways we can all become better leaders.

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