Qualities of a Good Leader

qualities of a good leader

The world has changed a lot in a century, but Andrew Carnegie’s ideas on leadership endured.

When reading the list of specific traits that define “successful leaders in all walks of life” compiled by Napoleon Hill from an interview with Andrew Carnegie, current or potential leaders might feel intimidated or overwhelmed. Then again, if they’re strong leaders according to Carnegie, they might feel as though they’re being described. On the list are thirty-one attributes ranging from being driven, focused, determined, loyal, attentive, tactful, fair, enthusiastic, open-minded, optimistic, creative, persistent, interested in others motivations, able to collect facts before making judgment, and responsible for the actions of their subordinates, among other things.

We know strong leaders don’t work alone. Carnegie knew how to surround himself with others, those who were talented and shared his vision. According to an Inc. article The Best Leaders Don’t Do It Alone, the most successful leaders also have others in mind: “The most successful leaders, activists, and companies have missions to help a community of people, from Martin Luther King rallying the civil rights movement to Mahatma Gandhi unifying India–or even TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie’s ‘One for One’ program that provides shoes to children in need. ‘People don’t like to follow leaders who are dedicated only to their own personal glory, but they will sacrifice everything for leaders and communities who give them a higher calling, a greater purpose.'” Carnegie himself was, perhaps, the greatest example of philanthropy. By his death in 1919 it is thought that he donated $350 million, and urged his peers to do the same.

Is the wisdom of Andrew Carnegie dated, after nearly a century? Current studies are in line with his beliefs. A 2014 study asked 332,860 bosses, peers, and subordinates what skills had the greatest impact on a leader’s success. “Inspires and motivates others” ranked first at 38 percent, followed by “displays high integrity and honesty” and “solves problems and analyzes issues” at 37 percent.

The Harvard Business Review follows columnist Dan Savage’s formula that he applies to personal relationships, “good, giving, and game” but applies them to professional relationships as well. They say a leader needs to be:


They need to be superb at what they do. They need to, as Carnegie also felt, be able to go above and beyond others’ efforts. They need to be, “smart, prepared, and well-informed, they need to engage in conversations with curiosity and capability. But to be on a team, they need to go beyond that. They need to be gifted communicators and gifted learners, mastering conflict without being offensive, and adapting to their own changing roles as the organization grows.”


They need to put the good of the company before their own immediate interests. They must also be curious about the work of others on their team and “be good-hearted, mutually respectful, and gracious, resisting the urge to dominate, take the upper hand, or shine at the expense of others.” Recent studies have also shown that being the traditionally distant, or “tough” manager leads to stress in employees, which can lead to increased days off, higher health care costs, and turnover. Giving and fair managers bring about loyalty and productivity in employees.


Carnegie listed that a good leader must be able to take criticism and take risks. They need to possess the “kind of confidence that allows them to be questioned by others — even take blame and feel threatened — without becoming defensive.”

The world has changed a lot in a century, but Andrew Carnegie’s ideas on leadership haven’t. They can be applied to our current world, one he may have never imagined, though given his qualities as a leader, he may very well have envisioned it all.


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