August 9, 2016

What makes a great leader, manager and colleague

Every other week, the Industry Dive sales team sits down to discuss issues we're facing as individuals or a team. It helps us get better at our jobs. Usually, the topics are pretty sales-specific: Tips and tricks on emails, brainstorming outreach strategies, processes that need to be improved, better ways to market our products. This regular discussion helps foster individual improvement and keeps a pulse on the state of affairs of the team.

In last week's meeting, we decided not to focus on a sales-specific topic. I wanted to hear the answers to three questions from the team:

  • What makes a great leader?
  • What makes a great manager?
  • What makes a great colleague/peer?

What resulted was a frank and insightful discussion. Obviously there are a number of ways to answer these questions, so it was revealing to see what floated to the top for us. It solidifies our values as a team, and to those striving to emerge as a leader, manager or great colleague, it signals the actions and characteristics that our team respects in each of those roles.

A few caveats:

  • This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more attributes that could be listed below. Is there something important we missed? Email me to let me know what should be added.
  • We didn't rank these in order of importance. Generally, they are listed in order that each was brought up. These also aren't applicable 100% of the time.
  • We avoided lots of repeats by not relisting anything from a previous question. In particular, most of the leadership characteristics could be relisted for each question, but we assume you understand that.

With that said, here is the list:

1. What makes a great leader?

Set a good example

  • Through actions like hard work, how you treat people, language you use, work/life balance, more
  • Communicate actions to others so they may improve
  • Keep an eye to the future of the business, and of your career

Have a positive attitude

  • Don't be confined to job description, come from a place of yes when asked for help
  • Find ways to make the job fun, for you and those around you
  • Positivity must be grounded in reality

Be accountable and communicate well

  • Hold yourself accountable and be willing to hold others accountable (without nagging)
  • Be willing to give and receive negative feedback
  • Have a direct communication style

Stay in tune with the team around you

  • Be willing to step up and make changes when needed
  • Beaccepting of change when it is imposed on you

Celebrate accomplishments of other people

  • Find value in lifting those around you
  • Show appreciation publicly and privately
  • Share learning opportunities with others

Help solve problems

  • Bring ideas that make the company better
  • Be creative and provide new perspectives
  • Listen to individuals and to thegroup as a whole

Be a key player in company culture

  • Know the culture we strive for, help communicate it and build it throughout the team
  • Seek information from others on how they feel about their jobs, and be a resource for people to provide that information
  • Be empathetic and willing to forgive

Be trustworthy

  • Be true to your word and keep your promises
  • Keep private conversations private
  • No negative gossip

Be decisive

  • Doesn't imply speed. Sometimes a quick decision is needed; sometimes there is value in slowing down
  • Communicate decisions clearly and track follow-through
  • Gain buy-in when appropriate
  • Be thorough in your analysis of the decision
  • After analysis, trust your gut

2. What makes a great manager?

Accomplish things through other people

  • Be willing to let go of work/roles
  • Identify opportunities for new work/roles that aren't being addressed


  • Identify tools or skills needed by others
  • Apply personal experiences to problems/challenges of others
  • Articulate the what and the why, but not always the how, provide latitude to do it themselves
  • Help your person/team prioritize different things at different times


  • Identify key actions that lead to results
  • Goals should be aggressive yet achievable
  • Gain buy-in from team on goals when appropriate


  • Be direct yet empathetic. Your reports should know where they stand and know that you care about their well-being
  • Credit others when they have good ideas or accomplishments
  • Not all about wins -- communicate and don't hide from failures
  • Project a calm demeanor
  • Insulate your team from anything that doesn't help them do their jobs better
  • Listen to feedback that your team gives you

Provide freedom and responsibility

  • Trust that your report is doing his or her best
  • Don't micromanage. Its easy to develop a blind spot to this behavior, so seek feedback
  • Be willing to let them struggle in the short term for the long-term benefits

Understand personalities differ. Be able to adapt style in:

  • Teaching
  • Motivation
  • Feedback
  • Execution/Job

Think ahead

  • Address problems early/before they are major; this gives you a chance to fix them
  • Identify opportunities for your team. Develop a plan to take advantage

3. What makes a great peer/colleague?

Be team-oriented

  • Provide energy to those around you
  • Positive attitude
  • Be encouraging of others

Give time to your colleagues

  • Listen when someone has a problem -- and don't tell others
  • Be willing to do things that fall outside your job description

Embody and lead aspects of company culture

  • Let that extend beyond our department
  • Bring different people together both at work and at company events
  • Take pride in the company, co-opt the strategic vision
  • Trust your colleagues; default to assumption of good intentions


  • Effectively communicate to management on behalf of others/the team
  • Be receptive to communication from managers and buy into company needs/strategies

Strive for individual success

  • Be willing to learn and consistently to improve
  • Work hard, be smart about your career
  • Find pride in your work
  • Leading by example will elevate those around you

A list can never capture all the qualities of a great leader, manager or colleague. However, this exercise encouraged everyone to clarify what he or she values in these roles. With this sharpened, we are able to introspect and ask, Do I embody these values? In the week since the meeting, I have seen a number of people on the team doing just that.

What do you think? Did I miss something? Tweet me at @ryanwillumson or email me at ryan at industrydive dot com.