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January 29, 2024

What Makes A Great Leader?

River + Green
What Makes A Great Leader?

How do you define a leader? By the time most of us hit 30, we’ve encountered enough coaches, parents, and bosses where we could identify characteristics of “good leaders” and “bad leaders.” Despite this widespread acknowledgement of the importance of effective leadership, a staggering 82% of US workers agreed that their boss lacked leadership skills (Gallup).

In 2020, a SHRM survey found that 84% of US workers say that their bosses create “unnecessary work and stress.” Alarmingly, 60% of people have left their jobs because of their leader, and an additional 32% state they have considered it.

So, again, given the emphasis on leadership, why do so many people still struggle with it? For one, we often have such bad examples, coupled with outdated perspectives on leadership.

I am not a leadership “expert.” While I have led diverse, global teams, I have often gotten it wrong in leading those teams. And in part, that’s why I can talk about good leadership. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I’m okay saying to my team, “look, I made a mistake or I missed that one.” This vulnerability is one of the key qualities of conscious leadership.

For me, conscious leadership gets to the root of our humanity, allowing us to not just lead from our intellect, but create a more holistic approach to our work. Put another way, conscious leadership combines the head and the heart to lead better teams (when I talk about teams, I mean at work, on the court, or in our families).



Organizations that focus on leadership and culture as drivers of performance are 220% more likely to meet their financial targets and 540% more effective at recruiting top people (Bersin, 2021). Yet, 90% of leadership development has no clear business impact (McKinsey, 2017).



We begin our work with leaders focused on self awareness. Consistently, this gap between the leaders perspective of their skills and that of those they lead is very wide, and getting wider. Without a strong foundation of self awareness, it’s very difficult to build a conscious leadership approach.

As we continue to peel back the onion on ourselves, we get to a place where we can lead with strength by leading with compassion. While many may say, “hang on, compassion and strength don’t belong in the same sentence,” these characteristics aren’t a sign of weakness, but in fact, a sign of great solidity. When people feel seen and valued, there is increased productivity, greater employee wellbeing, improved retention, and higher customer satisfaction. Being a compassionate leader drives bottom line business success. Period.

Many leaders initially struggle with the concept of conscious leadership, or human centered leadership, in practice. This is, in part, because human nature often swings the pendulum from one extreme to the next; from toxic environments to an environment where anything goes. Conscious leadership isn’t “soft” and doesn’t lack expectations or accountability. Just the opposite in fact. When leaders develop their teams from a growth mindset, embracing inclusivity, with clear communication and feedback, then everyone understands the vision, and their place in it.

Let’s be very clear. Being a great leader, or even an average leader, is challenging. When you are in a leadership position, you have to make decisions everyday that impact the lives of others. In fact, a recent Forbes study suggests that nearly 70% of people say their managers have more impact on their mental health than their therapist or doctor, and equal to their spouse or partner. In the same study, 43% of employees report they are exhausted and 78% say stress negatively impacts their work performance. I don’t think people want to be poor leaders, negatively impacting the mental health of those they lead, but that is so often the case. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to our teams, to our families, and to our organizations, to find better ways to do this. Fortunately, we don’t have to recreate the wheel. We just have to be dedicated to learning, growing, and putting into practice new strategies and approaches that have a positive impact on all aspects of our lives and businesses. That sounds like a win-win-win to me.


Nick Reich is the Founder of River + Green, a coaching and consulting firm dedicated to meeting you at the intersection of where you are + where you want to be. Visit us at or at Booth 303 this year's The Business Show, Miami.

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