A good leader will unite and lead,
A bad leader will divide and rule.
A good leader will be appreciated even in the absence,
A bad leader will not even be appreciated in presence.
A good leader makes leaders, a bad leader makes followers.

~Suneeta Pandey

Believe it or not, leadership can be ambiguous. The action of leading a group of people or an organization can be done well or poorly. Effective leadership requires good leaders. And if we’re asking ourselves to distinguish between good and bad leaders than we should begin to think hard about the characteristics that make up those in either case.

When contemplating good and bad leaders, you’ve probably already begun to picture someone who popped into your mind in both cases. It’s important to not think of bad leaders as some villainous caricature. In our experience, bad leaders can be very good people outside of the leadership role. Bad leaders aren’t necessarily bad intentionally. Bad leaders can emerge from well-meaning people that are dealing with insecurity. Those leaders that find validation from their work solely tend to create oppressive work environments. This happens because boosting themselves takes priority over everything else.

Conversely, good leaders tend to operate in the confidence of who they are as people and as a result function out of that humility. They lead from the inside-out not looking to fill a hole in their character with successes at work. As a leader, the ability to take care of yourself and evolve from within makes a big difference with the team. Good leaders do the hard work of maturing and developing themselves because they know the team’s success depends on it.

All good leaders have a basic competence which makes them suited for the job. But the single factor that moves a good leader to a great leader is those that have the best of the organization at heart. Great leaders are able to connect the dots between what’s best for the organization and what’s best for those that answer to them. Great leaders are able to wed those two objectives in a way that incentivizes and empowers their team for greatness. This creates a foundation of trust. The leaders are able to challenge, inspire, and correct members of the team because the team knows the leader wants what is best for everyone involved.

Bad leaders are trying to advance their own agenda. They are in it for themselves instead of the organization. Pat Riley, the legendary NBA coach, calls it the Disease of Me. Riley makes the case “that whether we know it or not, all of us are team players and it is through the team that we find significance. Yet the team can be undermined by the Disease of Me. In The Winner Within, he describes it as the overpowering belief in the importance of oneself.” Riley has led greats like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwayne Wade, and many others. He stresses that the greatest barrier to becoming back-to-back champions is the Disease of Me. Someone who was all about the team the first year will check that aspiration off their list once they experience winning. Subsequently, they become more focused on their individual gains (pay raise, more credit, opportunity, ownership, etc.). They forget the needs of the team and making the mission top priority which is what got them there in the first place.

Here’s the little known fact: we’re ALL capable of that disease. You have a big dream. You have a major goal and objective. You want to matter. Nothing is wrong with that! But it must be done with moderation and humility. We must constantly be working on our own heart, value, and soul to make sure we’re not falling victim to the Disease of Me. It can happen to any organization. Bad leaders have the Disease of Me. And at some point, it will be exposed.

At the end of the day, good leadership is often assessed for what is in the head. What’s the vision? What’s the strategy? How well is one able to navigate the course we are charting as an organization? All of that is important, but it’s not what you know. It’s truly how you care. Good leaders have a genuine heart. If you’re trying to determine if you’re under good or bad leadership, or if you yourself have slipped into bad leader territory, then check in with your heart. Good leaders have a heart for people and it’s reflected from the top-down in the organizational culture. Perhaps Simon Sinek says it best,

“Bad leaders care about who is right. Good leaders care about what is right.”