Five Qualities of an Effective Leader

leadership Oct 01, 2020

As I've studied leaders and leadership over the years, I discovered many share similar qualities and practices. I learned many of these from leadership giants such as Peter Drucker, John Maxwell, Steven Covey, and others. I've assembled those that have helped me the most in my journey and would like to share them with you. 

Leadership Qualities

  1. Leaders know where their time goes. Influential leaders and productive people understand time is limited. If you think about it, time is a funny thing for humans. It's a finite resource and one in which we genuinely don't know how much we have. It's non-renewable, and once it's gone, it's gone. Yet, many of us live our lives without any regard for the preciousness of time. Think about the last bad movie you watched. What were you more upset about, wasting $12 or ninety minutes of your time? Strong leaders know how to budget and control their time. I think Steven Covey's Habit #3 sums this concept up the best. In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit #3 is Put First Things First. When discussing this Habit, Covey describes the four quadrants of focus, Important, Not Important, Urgent, and Not Urgent. Every task we do can be placed in one of those quadrants. Effective leaders spend their time planning Important and Not Urgent activities. Occasionally Urgent and Important items will arise, but don't live in that quadrant. If you do, you'll burn yourself and everyone else out. By focusing on Important and Not Urgent, you can hopefully avoid the Urgent, Important quadrant. 
  2. You're the Boss Covey's Habit 1 is Be Proactive. In the book, he describes being proactive as being accountable for one's own actions. Effective leaders know where the buck stops. They accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. They are in control of their own time. In healthcare, it can appear physicians are out of control of their time. It's easy to feel that way with many parties demanding our attention. Family, friends, employees, partners, and patients all require our attention, but an effective physician knows how to budget their time and allocate it. 
  3. Leaders focus on their outward contributions. When I think of outward contributions, I immediately think of a phrase I associated with John Maxwell. If you've ever heard him speak or read his books, you're familiar with his slogan "adding value." John's concept of leadership is adding value to those they lead. A strong leader continually looks for ways in which they can improve the lives of those they lead. This takes a concentrated effort and willpower to do. - They seek to help others and add value. It's the epitome of a servant leader.
  4. Leaders build upon their strengths. Good leaders know where they can grow the best. We all can grow in almost any area. However, there are areas in our lives in which we can make greater improvements than in other areas. It's those areas of potential growth that a strong leader focuses on. They understand their potential and work to grow in that area. They are aware of their weaknesses and work to minimize them. However, they also recognize their effort is best spent making what's good better.
  5. Concentrate on creating superior performance. Strong physician leaders know how to set goals and objectives. They realize goals are those items we want to achieve. They then set valid objectives that support them in achieving the goal. Too many times, people confuse goals and objectives. Goals are those things you want to accomplish. Objectives are the physical activities you do to achieve those goals. Let's say your goal is to lose 20 pounds. Then you probably need to set some valid objectives that support that goal. You might want to watch what you eat. Perhaps exercise more. Get a good night's sleep. Drink less soda. Each one of those is valid objectives that support the goal. By crafting goals and supporting objectives, leaders can create superior performance in their clinic. 
  6. They make effective decisions. Strong leaders aren't afraid to make a decision and can accept when they are required to change that decision. They know when they have enough information to make a decision and take a calculated risk. There's no paralysis of analysis.

David J. Norris, MD, MBA, is a practicing anesthesiologist in Wichita, Ks. He is the author of The Financially Intelligent Physician and Great Care, Every Patient and is a frequent speaker on physician finances. Read more about David at

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