The Characteristics that Make a Great Leader

Beverly FlaxingtonBeverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

We are grooming three young people to be successors to our founder. He (the founder) keeps telling me that they don’t display the right leadership characteristics. As COO of the firm, I am charged with their career path and preparing them for future leadership roles. But when I push him to clarify what leadership characteristics they need, I get vague answers. Can you give me some guidance? These are CFP®s, well educated (two have graduate degrees) and are all excellent with clients. What other things should we be expecting of them?


Dear L.S.,

Your founder’s feedback goes in the category of “Do it like I do it,” “Just show more enthusiasm” or “You don’t talk enough!” This type of feedback is very hard to implement because you don’t know exactly what the person wants you to do differently. It’s amorphous and clear only in the mind of the person giving the admonitions!

Do you believe the founder is a good leader? Is he hoping one of these three, or all of them, will do it like he does it? Are there specific things he thinks helped him to succeed that he wants them to imitate or practice?

I would probe him and see if you can get him to define what he is hoping to see that’s not there now. Try and help him be granular – give examples – or ask him for a specific scenario where they might do something “leader-like.” I can give you my view on what makes a great leader but you will need to get inside your founder’s head to understand what he needs to see if you want these folks to be successful.