March 24

What is a Leader?


What is a Leader?

By Deborah Johnson

March 24, 2023

communication, follow through, leadership, Mary T Barra, podcast, responsibility, self leadership, Space Shuttle Columbia, strategy, Warren Buffet, what is a leader

Why ask “What is a leader?” There are plenty of books, articles and speakers expounding principles of leadership so it seems that answer should be readily available. However, leadership is an attribute that’s in dire need for many organizations, businesses, relationships and lives. An article from listed five qualities of someone with bad leadership skills. These include narcissistic tendencies, lack of recognition for good work, treating people like numbers, too much control and lack of communication.

Here, I’d like to approach some mindsets necessary for good leadership. I feel this is important because good leadership in an organization starts with vibrant and healthy self-leadership. Leadership is not merely asserting a strong personality, will or ultimatum, though a result of leadership may include any of those attributes from time to time. A leader is able to guide and influence toward a common goal or objective. They provide direction, inspiration and motivation. Some qualities that apply to both leading others as well as self-leadership are covered here.

Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson What is a Leader? with Deborah Johnson 3-28-2023
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One: A Good Leader is an Initiator

Evaluating my style of leadership, I realized that I am an initiator. Even though I have not put myself above any of the other members, I am still the one to set in motion meetings in multiple groups.

Rather than feel sorry for myself that others weren’t constantly calling me to get together, I realized that I was probably thought as the initiator of the groups. I had identified the great value of getting together for specific relationships and meetings. It was a turning point in my thought process of continuing to contact others.

Two: A Good Leader Follows Through

Let’s catch up soon! Or Let’s get together soon! Is a phrase most of us often hear. I have a friend that says she’d love to get together soon. I have repeatedly told her I’d fly out and meet her halfway. But there has been no follow-through on her end.

I could either take this personally, or realize that I got the credit for initiating, but can freely spend my time other ways. This has happened so many times that when someone does follow through, I’m actually pleasantly surprised and honored. Follow through applies to most every area, not just relationships. Following through on our word and promises, both to ourselves and others, is a quality of good leadership.

Three: A Good Leader Takes Responsibility

Part of what defines what is a leader is taking the responsibility for failure with the ability to apologize. How often have we seen those, especially in government, blame, blame and blame others? This escape route may work the first time, but most people will wise up fast to this game of avoidance.

The best outcome of taking responsibility is the ability to learn from mistakes. If we can’t analyze what went wrong, we can’t examine how to make it right the next time. On February 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered the atmosphere over Texas and Louisiana, killing all seven astronauts on board. An investigation board determined that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and breached the spacecraft wing, a problem that had been known for years and was even noted by one of the workers. Safety precautions were ignored as there was the reliance on past successes. The remnants of the tragedy serve as a reminder of the value of lives lost and to never ignore a small detail mentioned by a worker again.

Four: A Good Leader Takes Time to Think and Learn

Our world is moving faster and faster, especially with the explosion of technological advances. Shortcuts using AI in analyzation, creation and even communication are becoming common in most every area. But good leaders, or might I say, great leaders take time to think and read. Warren Buffet, investor, philanthropist and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has a reputation for being a prodigious reader as well as thinker. He quotes:

I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.

The easy path for most anyone is to just follow the crowd, staying one step in front of the amount of work there is to do. Not everyone has the freedom and time to read and think as much as Buffet, but most everyone can carve out time to do more than they are currently doing. Deborah's books on Amazon

Five: A Good Leader Develops and Delegates

Developing teams take time to understand and know what their team should do and are capable of doing. Mary T. Barra is the first female CEO for an automaker to earn the Automotive Hall of Fame. At eighteen years old, she got a job on the assembly line at General Motors, inspecting hoods and fenders. Over the next few decades, she rose in the ranks to finally get to her current position.

Many other leaders have done the same, starting at the bottom, thus understanding what needs to happen at every step. In doing so, they are able to understand some of what is involved in a task. With that understanding comes the ability to hire the right people and trust them enough to fulfill their responsibilities. However, not all leaders need to work their way up the chain of command to understand what needs to be done. They just need to know what skills are needed to make the right hires.

Six: A Good Leader Has a Strategy for the Future

If a leader takes time to think, part of that thinking should be toward future trends. No one can fully predict economics, trends or style, but one can make good guesses. A good leader not only knows where a team is but where a team can go and how to get there. Athletics is a great illustration of this. Often, a trainer will push us past where we think we can go physically. Our doubts subside with amazement when we arrive. As well as dreaming big comes the format of a plan.

There are many trend reports that come out yearly. One of my favorites is from Virtual Peter at He sends global thought-provoking developments in technology, medicine and AI. There are many examples in other fields, like finance and medicine. The Stansberry Research team puts out constant updates with trends and is one of the sources my husband follows as a former Registered Investment Advisor. Their information helps investors calculate risk and future moves.

Seven: A Good Leader Communicates Effectively

Disney-inspired tales of leaders picture a king or autocratic leader sitting alone with a scepter in hand.  The evil rulers would yell and scream commands that would intimidate and berate subjects. The good leaders would bestow kindness on their subjects. However, we couldn’t really tell how much they communicated in these fictional sagas.

A good communicator and leader will make the time, even if very brief, to communicate clearly and effectively to team members. Part of this process includes listening.  For many personalities that may not realize they are not communicating, I suggest taking a step back to listen even more attentively to your team. Communication styles are different with how they are received. There are many resources that help with communication style. A couple of my favorites are: The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman or Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.  


We can ask ourselves the following questions as we apply these seven principles to our own self-leadership:

  • Do we initiate?
  • Do we follow through?
  • Do we take responsibility?
  • How much time do we spend thinking and learning?
  • What else can we develop and delegate?
  • Do we have a vision for the future?
  • In what ways can we communicate more effectively?

Those questions should help us up our game with our self-leadership when we ask ourselves, What is a leader?

A leader is able to guide and influence toward a common goal or objective. 

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

1,348 words

Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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