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What are the traits that differentiate a great leader from and a good leader?

Posted by Chris Adams

Article Rating // 4442 Views // 1 Additional Answers & Comments

Categories: Leadership & Management, General


All leaders are usually rather intelligent and many possess hard skills and technical skills that help them perform well. But more important than IQ or hard skills is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor your feelings and those of others to guide your behavior.  Studies have found that emotional intelligence is twice as important at all levels of leadership. And when studying top tier leadership positions emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 95% of the difference between average and star performers.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, has identified 5 components of emotional intelligence:
  • Self-Awareness - thoroughly understanding yourself and your affect on others.
  • Self-Regulation - controlling disruptive impulses and thinking before acting.
  • Motivation - driven to achieve beyond expectations, usually out of passion for the work.
  • Empathy - considering and understanding the feelings of others.
  • Social Skills - summarized as friendliness with a purpose, this component draws on all four other components.
Each of these five emotional intelligence components can give leaders an edge.
Leaders with self-awareness welcome feedback. They know their abilities and play to their strengths but they don't overreach and aren't afraid to ask for help. Leaders who see themselves clearly also see their companies clearly.

Leaders who show self-regulation are slow to react to bad news or results.  Instead, they consider the reasons for the outcome, share their thoughts, and propose a solution.This creates an atmosphere of fairness and trust among the team which reduces politics, curbs unethical behavior, and increases productivity.

Leaders who show motivation set the bar high for themselves but also do for their companies.

Leaders who show empathy are able to read between the lines. They consider other peoples feelings in the decision making process. Empathetic leaders are able to navigate cultural differences well and pick up on body language and other non-verbal cues.

Leaders with strong social skills are great at building and leading teams due to their empathy. They are expert persuaders because their self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy guide them whether to make an emotional plea versus or to appeal to reason.  They are excellent collaborators. Their passion for their work spreads to others and their motivation drives them to find solutions.

So can emotional intelligence be learned? Yes. Like many soft skills in our lives, it takes a real commitment and a strong concerted effort but many components of emotional intelligence can be measurably improved upon over time.

Video: What Makes a Leader


Chris Adams
LinkedIn Profile



Stewart F posted on Friday, June 7, 2019 4:16 AM
I liked this answer from Chris. So much in fact, that I got one of my team to go through the points and score me against them! Thankfully, I came out quite well. Their pay rise is already signed off, so no cash incentives were earned in the making of this post !!!

There is also, of course, the day to day activities of a leader that also make a difference. I could write a book about these and call it "Confessions of a BA Manager" but that's for retirement !

3/4 of the work that I do, my team do not even know that I have done. This is good as it typically includes things like Team Management upwards (to the other Heads Of Departments), defending my team, its members and its reputation (for times when Directors want someone to blame) and things such as budgets and resource sign off.

Most of these a leader will learn over time, and it isn't always easy to put down in words how to carry out each of these. However, I will try to give some pointers.

Defending your team: Sadly, it is a fact of life, that many people try to pin blame on to others, when in actual fact, it is probably closer to home. A project going over budget, or not delivering on time are all common in real life, but when questions are asked, inevitably a finger will wind its way to your team.

The key to this is not to jump on the band wagon and immediately point fingers elsewhere - you are just passing the problem on. Instead, look to the minutes from the Project Debrief. In this meeting, held at the end of a project when it has been delivered and is up and running, it allows all stakeholders to feedback to the project team any issues or things that could have been done better OR things that have been done well, and they would like you to do again. Discuss each one in a proactive way. It really doesn't matter whose fault it was. How can it be improved?

It may well have been the Stakeholder from the Finance team , who was a complete moron, that let you all down. But it really isn't going to help your team by saying that.

Instead, use that as a learning to the team "When you get a Stakeholder who is a moron....." [By the way, don't actually call them a moron, nor write down anywhere, the fact that they are a moron - just hold that thought in your head until next time you have to deal with them]. Learn how you can identify that dodgy stakeholder early on, and, if needs be, as the leader, offer guidance on how to handle them, to your team.

For those that don't currently hold a Project Debrief (it is the most common thing to be axed in a project, yet is arguably the most important) - HOLD ONE. As team Leader or Manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that your processes are followed, This is one of those processes.

I actually put it in both mine and my PMs PDP objectives to meet a target of 100% Project Brief meetings being held - if people don't turn up to them, that's their problem, but make sure you hold one, and invite all of your stakeholders to them.

One other side issues here. If, as previously mentioned, you have a problem in your team, whatever it is, guide your team members on how to handle it, if they need you to - BUT DONT do it yourself.

Your team will not learn anything, if you keep diving in. People learn things through making mistakes - so let them make them. As their leader or manager, offer support and let them carry on with the task. Only dive in if you really need to, and I mean REALLY, need to or if it is getting out of control. Even then, guide your team, don't take over. I've gone a bit off topic at the end there, sorry for that, but thought it needed saying !!
Stewart F
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