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Three Qualities of a Leader

Dear Reader,

Recently my son, who is a senior in high school, asked me the following question. (In typical Evans family tradition, it came via instant message)

This may sound weird but it’s for a bible project. I need you to answer the following question:

What three qualities do you think that an effective leader must possess, and why?

I do a lot of writing on leadership and management and how they relate to software development; that background taints my answer. I first want to point out that leadership and management are not the same thing. A person can be an effective manager without being a leader. Problems in business arise however, when people who are not leaders – who do not possess these three qualities – are thrust into a leadership role.

Son, as I see it, the three qualities that every leader must possess are as follows.


People will not long follow someone who is always staring at the roadmap. An effective leader has to be confident that they know where they are leading their group. Only in this way can the followers be confident in the leader.


An effective leader must have the courage to go where they have not been before and to face problems that scare them. An effective leader will show those who are following that the task at hand important enough to overcome fears and face tough obstacles. Mark Twain said it best when he said:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. “


A leader must have great humility. An effective leader will recognize greatness in others, not themselves. An effective leader will help others to rise to their full potential, regardless of personal gain. An effective leader understands that the task at hand has to remain the focus of the group, not the one leading the group.

Notably absent from the list of qualities of an effective leaders are things like:

  • Being the smartest person in the group
  • Always being right
  • Being the most popular person


Effective leaders look to surround themselves with council that is smarter than themselves. They understand when they are wrong and admit it so that their followers can help them correct course and get back to the task at hand. Effective leaders know that leaders have to make decisions that are not popular. Some of the worst leaders throughout history have been the most popular ones. Because their power is based on being popular, they base their decisions solely on what will keep or increase their popularity, ignoring the true needs of the group.

The problem with these three qualities is that they have to remain in balance for the leader to be effective. Too much confidence leads to situations where a leader begins to believe that they are the focus of the group they are leading. Too much courage will cause a leader to make reckless decisions, putting the group or its mission in jeopardy. Too much humility and the leader will not be respected by the group they are attempting to lead.


It is impossible to say that one of these qualities is more important than the other two. All three have to be present and all three have to be in balance for a leader to be effective.

The presence, in equal measure, of Confidence, Courage, and Humility, is what separates a manager from a leader.

Until next time,
I <3 |<