What Exactly is Leadership and How is it Done Well?

closeup of an angry cat's face

I try to limit my political discussions in this blog, but our current president has offered up a great opportunity to talk about the concept and the behavior around effective leadership. Let’s take our political viewpoints out of this, and instead focus on the lessons that might be learned by observing one’s leadership behavior.

Recently, I posted some of President Trump’s tweets on my Facebook page. I asked what people thought of said tweets and if they were reflective of good leadership. Most people were quite distraught over the tweets that included name-calling and diminishing the character of others. However, a few people suggested that Mr. Trump’s tweets were signs of a good leader because he was “fighting back” against an unfair press and because those same people deserved his vitriol. Others suggested that since name-calling has been done by other leaders in the past, then we shouldn’t judge our current president any more harshly.

Let’s unpack this a bit by answering the question for ourselves regarding leadership. What constitutes a good leader? If a good leader is simply someone who motivates others to follow their lead, then Hitler was one hell of a good leader. Yet most of us don’t want to be a leader like Hitler, nor do we want to work for someone like him. Influential leaders have led people to kill others, take their own lives, commit crimes, as well as steal, cheat, and lie. Are they good leaders? They are leaders, but they are not positive and powerful leaders.

When I train or coach others to be leaders, we start by defining what they think good leadership really is. Almost all say that good leadership is a combination of influencing others, while still living our own lives with kindness, love, and morality. That definition would certainly rule out Hitler and quite a few other powerful leaders in history. For President Trump, maybe name-calling and fighting back are effective leadership skills and they apparently haven’t held him back in too many aspects of his life. They are probably not, however, reflective of how most of us actually want to lead our own lives.

Leading with Strength and Kindness

For the rest of us, his brand of leadership is most certainly not going to work. If I started tweeting things at people I didn’t like or who I felt hurt me, I’d be out of a job in minutes. (And by the way, I work for myself.) Name-calling will never work in my profession or by holding myself accountable for showing up in the best way that I can. So ultimately for me, leadership is both being assertive in what I want and giving feedback, but doing so without name-calling, finger-pointing, or Twitter rants.

Learning how to fight back without bitterness and aggression is very difficult to do. I feel for Mr. Trump in that he (and every president before him) is under constant criticism and scrutiny from most of the world. His every move is dissected and often criticized and that is understandably difficult to take. Yet most of us will have to face difficult circumstances and we can’t resort to name-calling or aggressive fighting back. Effective, positive leaders learn how to receive feedback, even when it’s poorly given. They respond without defensiveness, but rather with thoughtful requests and comments. Someone might say, “You did a bad job on this report.” They are not giving us helpful feedback, but us responding back with, “Well, you are a loser,” isn’t likely to get us a promotion or a bonus at our place of work. So what can we say when someone comes at us with aggressive or unhelpful feedback? We can get curious and we can realize that rarely are those attacks about us, but rather about the person giving them.

Leadership is being assertive without name-calling, finger-pointing, or Twitter rants. #leadership #strength #power Click To Tweet

Here are a few starter lines that powerful leaders give in response to unhelpful feedback: “Hmmmm, that’s interesting. Can you say more?” “Can you give me some specific examples?” “I’m not comfortable with how you are telling me that. Can you use words that aren’t personal and specifics that will help me to understand what it is that you want?” “How can I help?” “What exactly do you want?” Powerful leaders ask questions. They listen and they respond without defensiveness or aggression. Is it easy to do? Nope. When we learn how to be powerful and positive leaders, do we lead better and feel better about ourselves? Yes!

Work on building your own positive and powerful leadership skills by watching others. Some people will be great role models for how you want to lead. Others will be role models for how you don’t want to lead. Either way, getting conscious about how we lead our own lives and influence others is how we will show up and present ourselves in the most effective and positively powerful way possible.


Lisa Kaplin Psy. D. CPC

Lisa Kaplin Psy. D. PCC

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About Lisa Kaplin, Psy. D, PCC

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I’m the proud owner of Smart Women Inspired Lives, where I help overwhelmed and exhausted women move from the feeling of being “stuck” into a life filled with calm, confidence, and joy. In addition to the posts and articles I write, I offer individual and group life coaching sessions, classes and speaking engagement opportunities.



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