Not all heroes wear capes. This oft-cited reference to good leaders carries with it much wisdom. Reality can be stranger than fiction, and a person in real life can be as good a leader as any idealized superhero in our favorite comic books or in movies. Another modern truth: there can be no clear-cut image of what makes an effective leader, only snippets of qualities that form one cohesive set of attributes of a modern-day hero without a cape, speaking at the center of the meeting room and passing by rows of work cubicles on a regular day at the office.

There is no perfect mold that can shape an aspiring employee to become an ideal leader. For one, there are no ideals when it comes to leadership. What makes one an epitome of effective leadership is seen based on his or her contributions to the growth of the organization. A Gallup study highlighted that positive influence from leaders boosts employee engagement and productivity. On the flip side, the Predictive Index’s 2021 People Management Report found that more than half of employee-respondents dealing with a bad boss are likely to quit their jobs in the next 12 months. This means that having good bosses on board has a positive influence not just when it comes to decision-making and implementation of company policies, but also in retaining valuable talent.

Still, if we can cite some insights on what makes leaders shine in the crowd, what are some characteristics of a good leader? Speaking as a mentor, here are my pieces of advice to rookie employees aspiring to lead by example.

Be assertive, but compassionate

These two qualities serve to complement each other. Being compassionate means having real connections with and empathy towards others, and in the workplace, this also means forging strong relationships with team members. But as one Harvard Business Review article puts it, being compassionate is clearly not sufficient. Compassion must be balanced with assertiveness.

A decisive boss is a firm decision-maker who makes plans based on appropriate information and deep understanding of data provided in reports and other company information. Once he or she has come up with his or her decision, an assertive leader acts effectively on it.

Accept that you cannot pour from an empty cup

Taking care of ourselves is a crucial but often overlooked step in providing guidance to colleagues and immediate team members. Indeed, we cannot pour from an empty cup, no matter hard we try. We simply cannot give what we do not have. For us to give sound advice and help in decision-making as well as look out for our peers, we must take care of ourselves first. Easier to say than do, but definitely achievable. Burnout affects everyone in the organization, and it presented a real challenge when the pandemic struck. Leaders are likely to put the welfare of their team members and colleagues first, and often neglect their own.

First, accept that you cannot always serve positivity in the workplace and acknowledge that it is impossible to have the right answer to every question or work dilemma. Invest in your own well-being first, for when you feel recharged, you begin to make more informed decisions and be able to guide your team members more efficiently.

Be bold and divergent

Lastly, always choose to be undaunted by challenges. This holds true particularly for women employees who aspire to make their mark within their respective organizations. This is one of the key action plans suggested in Grant Thornton’s 2023 Women in Business Report (WIB), which cites that businesses in the mid-market sector are well-positioned to push for parity. To drive change, companies must be unwavering in their resolve to reach their goals. They can do this by blazing a trail and being bold in their commitments. In terms of elevating employee engagement and looking out for the welfare of staff, being bold means considering new, flexible work arrangements and embedding leadership programs aimed at mentoring and coaching as part of leadership succession planning.

To accelerate progress, the mid-market sector needs more of these programs, plus an increased transparency on leadership pathways and a business culture that supports greater diversity in senior leadership. In addition, accelerating and closely monitoring initiatives designed to encourage diversity and inclusion, including women-only programs, will have a positive effect on overall company growth and employee productivity. Not an easy feat to achieve, but certainly not impossible. Every time, all it takes is boldness to adopt new initiatives and willingness to adapt to the changing needs of the company.

Not all heroes wear capes. There are those who don a business attire, go through the daily grind of making informed corporate decisions, and spark positive influence in the workplace. From one leader to another, always aspire to be compassionate but assertive, take care of your own well-being, and remain unfazed by challenges – all noble goals of modern-day heroes at work to contribute to the growth of their organizations.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 19 April 2022