Strong or hard leader?

Being strong and being hard is not the same thing. Something that is hard breaks easily when under pressure. Whereas something that is strong bends and flexes, following the changing forces around it, while keeping its original essence. This is true whether you are a strong or hard leader.

A hard leader is someone who follows the rules, making no exceptions, They easily say no to enforce power, demanding rather than earning loyalty. A strong leader, on the other hand, is someone who is flexible and approachable. They make exceptions to the rules where it is called for, always focussed on empowering their people.  A hard leader demands compliance, whereas a strong leader allows their people to follow them by choice.

How do you notice a strong leader?

As an employer or recruiter, how do you recognize a soft, but strong leader?  What do you look for and how do you evaluate the soft skills that can not be written on a CV?

1. A strong leader is an influencer, not the influenced

You don’t have to be the CEO in order to be a leader or an influencer. An influencer is someone that people look up to, a role model.

To evaluate the level of influence an individual has, present them with a current issue within your organization or team, leaving out some critical piece of information, and give them an opportunity to advise you on the best solution to follow.

An influencer will usually start their response with a question to gain more insight or clarify the issue. They will only respond once they are fully clear on the problem and will confidently suggest a practical solution that is simple, yet effective. Their answers will usually be short and concise and will convince you without having to spend hours explaining why it is a good idea.

It will be obvious.

If they can influence you, they will be able to influence other people too.

2. A strong leader has strong boundaries

As a woman, and growing up in a household where it was not acceptable to say no, saying no was probably one of the hardest things that I’ve had to learn. But life quickly taught me that when you don’t say no, you are pushed more and more until you do.

Like river walls contain the water flowing within it, boundaries contain our values in the workplace. Sacrificing our boundaries ultimately leads to a flood, destroying everything around us rather than nurturing and feeding as intended.

Weak boundaries, weak values. Strong boundaries, strong values.

To evaluate the boundaries of a potential candidate, ask them what their expectations are about the working conditions. Then offer them something less and see how they respond.

For example, if it is an international relocation and the candidate would like a full relocation package, ask the candidate whether they would be willing to pay for the relocation themselves. If they are willing to compromise without a good reason why it will be acceptable. They most likely will not be able to say no once they are in a leadership position.

3. A strong leader allows rather than controls

They don’t micromanage as they trust their team and empowers them to deliver. They present a goal to the team and then allow them to succeed or fail, without influencing how the work gets done. Rather focusing on why it needs to be done. Ensuring that the team has all the resources they need to get it done. This allows the team to come up with creative solutions and it allows a team to learn from failures.

Determining the difference between being a leader who allows rather than a micro-manager, brief them on a small project and ask them to draw, either on a piece of paper or a whiteboard and then explain to you how they would handle it.

An allowing leader will focus on the goal and the “why?”  around the project. They will clarify the boundaries and they will ensure that there is a clear feedback loop back from the delivery team, with clear requirements around communication. How the team delivers will be a black box, and listening to questions and asking about what the team needs and why.

A micromanager will include a lot of detail in their diagram and include detail in the areas out of their control.

4. A strong leader is an effective communicator

A strong leader listens more than what they speak, but when they speak, they are very clear on their message and is able to present it in the least possible amount of words. They articulate their message clearly without repeating themselves, and they ask a lot of questions.

To evaluate the communication skills of an employee, present them with an issue or question and carefully notice their body language while you are speaking to determine whether they are fully engaged, or trying to formulate an answer as you speak. Then see how many questions they ask, and notice whether they rephrase to clarify fully before answering. Finally, listen to how many words they use to give a satisfactory answer to the issue.

5. A strong leader has good judgement

This is probably one of the hardest things to articulate in words, as it really depends on each situation, but a strong leader will be able to demonstrate good judgement at all times.

To evaluate judgement skills, present the employee with a situation in your current workplace where you have recently had to make a judgement call and ask them for their advice on how to handle the situation. Listen for questions or any indication that they are seeking to understand, as without understanding a situation fully it is impossible to make a good judgement on the matter.

See whether the employee only focuses on one person’s perspective of the issue, or whether they also take other people’s opinions into consideration, including external factors.

Good judgement can only be made once a fair and complete evaluation of all sides of the issue has been obtained.


Strong leaders are people who listen more than what they speak. They communicate fairly and has good judgement, and they empower their teams rather than telling them what to do.

Photo Credit – Depositphotos

With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.