Six Qualities of Great Leaders

“Tell me, what is it your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

For many, and, hopefully, all of us, it's changing lives. And I believe that great leadership can make changing lives a reality. 

But what exactly is great leadership?

When you examine the qualities of today’s iconic business leaders like Starbucks’ Schultz, Apple’s Cook, and Pepsi’s Nooyi, you can glean an understanding of the habits of great leaders. But, great leadership isn’t quarantined to the C-Suite.  

What can we learn from other leaders in today’s business community? 

What makes them stand out?

Over the past year I’ve spoken with clients, their peers and team members, high potential leaders, executives, as well as studied leadership blogs, books, and research, and scrutinized my personal definition of great leadership.

I discovered six qualities that great leaders consistently demonstrate. The great news: These qualities are easily absorbed and are possibilities for everyone. 

1. Awareness: There’s plenty of opinion regarding what’s more important: a person’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ) or their Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Great leaders know both are critical.

IQ is your ticket to the dance; EQ will determine if you are actually dancing with someone. 

Deepak Chopra contends that great leaders have awareness and consciousness. They are curious about emotions because they know that emotions shape actions and experiences. 

They dive deep on questions like: Who am I? What are my values? What’s my definition of success? How do my beliefs influence my world, business, and personal view? 

Awareness is the spark of possibilities. Honoring the next five qualities is difficult to do without it. 

2. Meaning: Leaders give work meaning. Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz made a compelling case for rethinking work in a New York Times article recently. The great ones inspire their employees to see the deeper and life-changing purpose to their work. Again, they understand the power of emotion. 

"Most of all, we want work that is meaningful — that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way." – Barry Schwartz

3. Synergy:  We are social beings. We seek community, acceptance, and trust. The best leaders have connectivity. They do so through clear, frequent, and transparent communication. They honor integrity by supporting their message with purposeful action. They build relationship trust for long-term, cross-functional success.

4. Soft Power:  Great leaders empathically focus on serving their team and they check their ego at the front desk. They are confident in their ability to make the tough call, and have the political savvy to filter executive bulls^*#. They are accountable and caring. They’ve mastered the soft power of Luke Skywalker’s mentor, Obi-wan, and understand they are the mentor and not the hero.

Don’t be fooled by a tell–sell–yell approach – any action you see is forced and short-lived.

5. Strength:  They look for passion. That is, passion for the company’s mission. Great leaders don’t want to be the smartest person in the room. They realize mistakes are strength-building opportunities and not personal failures. They hire intelligent, aware, and diverse leaders to strengthen their peloton.

6. Abundance: They see the world through a prism, especially under stress. The best think, “we win” when developing leaders may think, “I win.” Anxiety, worry, and fear are signals that they are on the cusp of a breakthrough. They turn off the story in their head and follow their intuition.

These qualities aren’t just for the 1% – anyone can demonstrate them.  To start, find a trusted advisor, mentor or coach. 

Do you know a great leader? Give them a gratitude shout-out in the comments section below, or share what other behaviors you think define great leadership. I would love to hear your perspective.