Leadership: What Defines a Great Leader?
January 9, 2015
I wasn’t born a great leader. Throughout the last twenty years of business, I have had the fortune of working with, and for, some fantastic leaders. So, when I sat down to write this blog post, I tried to think about the leadership qualities they possess which I have tried to emulate as I strive to become a leader myself.
“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price
which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
–Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers
I grew up as the oldest child, so my younger sister might say I exhibited some leadership traits — or maybe I was just plain bossy as a child. My Dad was always a good leader. As long as I can remember, he made people laugh. He used humor to connect with people. And, fortunately, I think I got a little bit of that gene. It has seemed to serve me well because it’s a great tool to have in high-pressure, business situations. Laughter offers levity during tricky times, and people always seem to admire someone who can poke fun at themselves.
I think I have learned more through sports, from a leadership perspective, than I have in all my years of business. I have played for coaches that literally took teams from mediocrity to champions solely because they got every ounce of effort out of each member of the team. These were the types of coaches who, by their very presence, inspired greatness.
Leaders are sometimes described as ruthless or cutthroat. I think, at times, people confuse abrasiveness and aggression as qualities of a good leader. Anyone can lead, but not everyone leads well.
Great leaders must be, first and foremost, self-aware. I would describe self-awareness as being conscious of what you’re good at, while acknowledging what you still have yet to learn. Great leaders value listening, engaging, observing and learning over “hearing their head roar,” as my dad used to say. A lot of leaders seem to feel they should act like they know everything. However, I think a good leader should be able to admit when they don’t know the answer.
Leaders who possess a high-level of self-awareness recognize that it’s ok they don’t know all the answers. In fact, they recognize that making mistakes isn’t a bad thing, as long as they learn and grow from them. Without that self-awareness, business owners might tend to be defensive when their decisions are called into question, and miss the lesson they could otherwise learn from someone else’s perspective.
Here is a list of the traits I think every great leader should strive to have:
- They put their people FIRST.
- They display empathy, kindness and compassion.
- They are self-aware.
- They surround themselves with talented people who share their core values and purpose.
- They bring out the best in those around them.
- They treat everyone with respect.
- They develop relationships with people who are different.
- They always hold themselves accountable.
- They dare to be different.
- They are decisive but fair.
- They know they can’t do it all or know everything.
- They know when to delegate.
- They are enthusiastic.
- They are open-minded.
- They are honest.
- They can laugh at themselves… and make others laugh.
- They are loyal.
- They are laser-focused.
- They recognize the achievements of others.
- They are optimistic.
- They are creative.
- They continue evolving and developing their skills as a leader.
I’ll admit, this is a long list. And adopting some of these traits isn’t easy. Vince is spot-on when he says leaders aren’t born. But where he really gets it right is that the act of becoming a great leader is hard work. Admitting to ourselves when we lack these traits is one of the hardest things we have to come to terms with. But, I would bet, the more of these traits we can exhibit as leaders, the more successful our businesses will be in the long run.