The Elusive Qualities of Effective Leadership

09 Aug, 2012 John D'Alusio


I have studied leadership for many years, in an attempt to intellectually understand what constitutes the essential qualities of an effective leader. Personal observation has also informed my quest to assay what may be seemingly the amorphous qualities of successful leadership.

Starting from the inverse, studies have proven that there are two “qualities” of certain leaders abhorred by all. 

1)      Leaders who act self-important.

2)      Leaders who abuse their subordinates in public. 

The studies regarding the above two “attributes” were consistent across continents. I have personally had the displeasure of experiencing both behaviors first hand. The psychological damage to subordinates of this type of leadership is enervating at best, and disabling at worst. I have found that “leaders” who display such behavior have basically become nothing more than caricatures of their own perceived images.

In terms of other attributes, there are those that believe that leaders must be tough and demanding. There is nothing intrinsically amiss with a leader having a focus on strategic objectives, and doing what is necessary to insure they are attained. Sometimes it is necessary to be demanding, and even, on occasion, unreasonable. But when a leader becomes irrational and unreasonable, the combination is usually deadly to morale and productivity.

I recall that when I was a rookie claims adjuster, I asked my supervisor why he had requested me to complete a specific investigative task on a file. I wasn't being insubordinate or anything of the sort. I was simply asking for my edification. His response was an imperious, “Because I told you to do it.”  Now that really went far in cementing my respect for this person as a leader. I stored that one away in my mental file of what not to do if I ever progressed into management.

Gradually one builds up an image of what a competent leader's qualities are.  These usually include something along the lines of:

  • Do your best to inspire your subordinates to greater heights.

  • Pay attention to the twin attributes of active listening and clear communication.

  • Deal with different people in different fashions unique to their personalities to insure you establish an environment for them to excel.

  • If you cannot rehabilitate under achieving workers, and you have made an honest and fair attempt to do so, cut the cord and find someone else to do the job. You owe it to the workers who are doing the job to clear out the dead wood.

Of course, inherent in all of this are the underlying endemic requirements of any good leader; ethical and moral leadership. Leadership bereft of ethics and morals is hollow. A CEO may be thought of as “successful” due to the financial performance of the company, yet still be an untrustworthy individual who excels at bullying, intimidation, and abuse of subordinates. You probably know the type all too well; nothing is ever appreciated, nothing is ever done correctly, everyone is guilty of lethargy, poor productivity, and a lack of intellectual acuity. My observation is to think how much more successful the company could be if the person at the top of the food chain exhibited more appropriate leadership behaviors. 

Another problem is that poor leadership behaviors tend to cascade down the organization. When a subordinate is being abused by a CEO, the implication is that the behavior can be repeated down to the next level. When that occurs, the entire company takes on the persona of the “leader” which results in a toxic environment that ultimately has a pejorative impact on every soul in the organization.

Leaders who are ethical and moral at the base of their personality do need to demand respect from subordinates; it is freely given. In fact employees will go to the wall to avoid letting that type of leader down. On the other hand, they uniformly enjoy seeing a leader who is less than moral fail. The observation is usually something along the lines of “He got what he deserved.” Not a great deal of sympathy or empathy is displayed for an executive who is untrustworthy and has no downward loyalty to the staff. 

No one is a perfect leader, but some are clearly better than others. And subordinates always know the difference.

The true art of successful leadership is appreciated most of all by the followers. For they know that they are being led in a fair manner by a moral individual who will do his/her level best to guide the organization toward success. I'm sure you, dear reader, can think back on your career and immediately choose the leaders who had a positive influence on you and those that did not.

In the end, although you may not be able to fully articulate all the specific attributes of a good leader, you certainly can innately sense when a person fits that bill or doesn't. A good leader can make the working environment of a company attractive and satisfying. A poor leader can make the same environment a living hell. May you always work for a good leader! 


About the Author:

John D'AlusioJohn D'Alusio has over 30 years experience in P/C insurance with executive management positions in administration, field operations, and claim technical areas. Mr. D'Alusio has had many articles published in industry periodicals, and is also a contributing author to the LexisNexis published, “Complete Guide to Medicare Secondary Payer Compliance.”  He writes a monthly column for Risk & Insurance Magazine and is a quarterly columnist for AMComp Magazine.


His Risk & Insurance column is located at:




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