What It Takes to BE a Great Leader

Want to know how I know the difference between a good leader and a great leader? I used to be a bad leader… okay, maybe bad is too harsh a word; let’s say decent.

We’ve all had our fair share of “bad” leaders, the ones that suck the life out of their teams, uninspiring and soul-draining, but have you ever experienced working with a truly great leader? A Rockafella, Founding Father, kick arse, let’s take this team to the next level, a catalyst for transformation, inspirational leader? The kind who makes you feel like you can conquer the world? How do you become one of those?

For three decades, I’ve been fine-tuning my leadership skills. I’ve stocked up on books, tuned into countless podcasts, and closely scrutinized the paths of the greats. Take Hubert Joly (Best Buy), Brene Brown (Author and Professor), and Satya Nadella (Microsoft), all of whom faced their fair share of missteps along the way. How did they become not just good but great? The answer is more straightforward than I thought. Collectively, they embody a set of seemingly simple yet profound traits that have elevated them to greatness.

A good leader inspires, guides, and empowers others to achieve common goals. A great leader goes the extra mile, and they work tirelessly to BE what their employees and businesses need to be successful. This journey requires time and, unfortunately, a fair amount of mistakes.

Here are the 7 things I’ve learned a great leader must BE…

1. Transparent

“Transparency comes down to treating everyone in your organization with respect and by giving them access to everything they need to know to be successful in their role,” The Practical Optimist. Communication is the key to effective transparency and the cornerstone of good leadership. Active listening paired with clear and concise speaking lets you convey your ideas, expectations, and feedback clearly to keep your team “in the loop.”

2.  Empowering

This is often referred to as servant leadership. This leadership approach prioritizes the well-being and development of your team members. A leader views him or herself as a servant first, working to support their team’s growth and success by providing opportunities, mentoring, or training.

3. Connected

Connection is an essential quality that enables leaders to understand and connect with their team members on multiple levels. Good communication is the cornerstone of that connection. Good leaders listen actively, show genuine concern for others, and demonstrate a deep understanding of their goals, expectations, needs, and inspiration. They are also skilled in speaking to convey ideas, expectations, and feedback clearly and can adapt their communication style to suit their audience.

4.  Decisive

Leaders are continually faced with time-sensitive, tough choices, making decisiveness crucial. When you doubt, your team doubts. When you hesitate, your team feels insecure, disrupting the business flow. Good leaders take a stand and make informed decisions in a timely manner, considering the best interests of their people and the organization.

5. Committed

This is most important when it comes to hiring. As a leader, you must be committed to bringing on the most qualified people, not your friends. As a small business owner, this was a harsh lesson to learn. Early on, my biggest supporters were friends and family. Many shared my vision and matched my enthusiasm. Not to mention, they were skilled in a lot of the areas in which I needed support. However, that did not make them a fit for the role or organization. It was tempting to bring them on board, but I was committed to building a company around the best of the best, not my friends.

6. Accountable

Successful leaders take responsibility for their actions and those of their team. They hold themselves accountable for outcomes, both positive and negative, and foster a culture of accountability within the organization. Most importantly, they collaborate with their teams to identify lapses in communication, processes, or procedures. They provide the necessary training (or re-training), mentoring, or policy changes necessary for everyone involved to avoid this pitfall in the future.

7. Results-driven, not activity-driven

Have you ever known someone who is incredibly busy but has nothing to show for it? (I’ve even hired a few if I’m being honest.) This is why, as leaders, we must establish and communicate specific measurables for our teams. Don’t get me wrong, acknowledging someone’s efforts is important, but effort without results doesn’t pay the bills, nor does it benefit your employee. If you’ve given your team the necessary resources and training to meet their goals effectively, it is reasonable to make decisions (promotions, bonuses, etc) based on results.

You can write a book, or you can host a podcast, but to BE a truly great leader, you must embrace the simple truth – it’s an ongoing journey that involves self-awareness, continuous growth, and a fair amount of time being a not-so-good leader. The qualities above have become the foundation for me to be an effective leader. Embracing and developing these traits will help you BE a better leader and positively impact the individuals and organizations you lead. Remember that leadership is not about having power over others but empowering them to reach their full potential.