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What do you think makes a good leader? Are you one?

NOTE: This particular page needs a great deal of work since my job at Plug Power, since I actually got the opportunity to lead a technical team on an industrial project for the first time. Since I have recently started my serious employment search (and also because I think the before/after contrast is interesting), it hasn't been cleanly updated, but here are the most salient points to bring it up to date:

Pre- Plug Power:

First, we'd better be sure we know what we are talking about. The word "Leadership" can be (and is) used in a lot of different ways. People can be:

People also sometimes talk about "personal leadership", the ability to keep oneself productive. I think this is an iffy use of the term "leadership", and is better described by saying that one is self-motivated and self-disciplined. I am very good at this when there is need; if other people are counting on me, I do everything I can to meet my commitments. In the absence of an external motivator or deadline, however, I have been known to relax more than I would like... some of my personal projects never seem to get done. Fortunately, the simple fact that I am being paid is quite sufficient to keep me focused.

I think the most useful and correct definition of "leader", however, is someone who is in charge of coordinating a team, and is responsible for the results of the team's effort. Hopefully, such a person exhibits all of the characteristics listed above, and many more, besides. This is the type of leader that I will talk about further.

As with may other things, I think that the skills necessary to be a good leader depend significantly upon what the team being led needs to do. I strongly believe that the leader of a team should always be the person who is the best qualified to lead. This has many aspects:

Hmmm... after writing all that, it looks like I've been reading a management textbook. Scary. Really, though, this was just the stuff that came out when I started thinking about the question. Hopefully, it's not all completely obvious, and you like my opinions on the topic. It is a highly complex topic, something well worth talking about for many hours straight. (I don't think I actually have discussed this one for several hours straight, but there are many similar ones that I have...)

So, what about me? Am I a good leader?

Again, I think that depends very much on what needs to be done. I have some very distinct strengths and weaknesses in this regard; I'll tell you about them and let you decide. For simplicity, I'll go down my list, in order:

Perhaps the most important question, however, is: Do I really want to lead?

The answer: Not unless I should be.

As stated at the top, I strongly believe that the best person for the position should lead. (Or the best people: there is a lot to be said for multiple leaders -- or a complete sharing of the role, as long as the team works very well together (if not, it'd be a big mess).) I consider myself to be good at what I do, but there are quite a few people out there who are better... and certainly many who are more suited for a leadership role, simply because they have more experience. If any such person is working with me, I am more than happy to let them lead the group... as long as they are competent, and are willing to listen to and at least consider my ideas.