Throughout the course of someone’s career, they’ll likely work with both good and bad leaders. If they’re lucky, they may even get to work with a great one. While the differences between good and bad leaders are more clear-cut, it can be harder to distinguish a good leader from a great one.
The members of Business Journals Leadership Trust understand what it takes to go beyond being simply “good” to become a leader who makes a real impact. Below, they share 16 qualities that make a truly great leader and how you can cultivate those qualities in yourself.
1. Leading by example
Great leaders lead by example, modeling the attributes they expect from their employees. They clearly articulate their company’s vision and goals to ensure each employee has what they need to be successful. Without micromanaging, great leaders remain accessible, encouraging individuals to bring their unique talents to the team and to see themselves as leading the growth of the organization. – Vivek Sharma, InStride
One of my best leaders was a problem-solver. He had a way of challenging you to present a solution. He was an example of success — he had an incredible track record of success. He had a way of letting you know he expected the best because he hired the best. – Corine Prieto, Integrated Geophysics Corp.
The difference between good and great leaders is usually in the eyes of the follower. Leaders who engage in meaningful, authentic and transparent relationships with their teams find ways to meet their team members’ individual needs. By connecting on a personal level and investing in their people, leaders can spark a flame of passion, drive and commitment not touched by any other leadership approach. – Adam Boudreaux, The Leadership Group LLC
Resilience is a quality that great leaders possess. It allows them to avoid the paralysis that haunts others when confronted by setbacks and challenges. It makes them indispensable to a team looking for inspiration and/or confidence in the face of challenges. – Randy Korach, Innovative Roofing Group
5. Taking advantage of ‘teachable moments’
Inspiration — listen and gently challenge. Use teachable moments. Watch for misconceptions and illustrate “truth” by shining a bright, clear, descriptive light to help a person accept that the previously learned concept was wrong. Keep it personal (a la Margaret Mead’s observation that a “small group” can change the world). I believe we should lead from within. – Joy Frestedt, Frestedt Incorporated
6. Leading from behind
We expect good leaders to be in the front, charging forward and demonstrating “how to do it.” Great leaders lead from behind, delegating, directing, coaching and strategizing so others get to shine and learn how to become good leaders as well. This instills a strong leadership culture and creates many leaders at different levels of development within the organization. – Samir Mokashi, Code Unlimited LLC
7. Holding people accountable for greatness
Great leaders are ones who hold people accountable for their own greatness. I sometimes see people — particularly women — making themselves “small” at work. An employee of mine recently said in a meeting, “You’re far more senior than I am.” We have to stop doing that. She was just as qualified, regardless of experience. It’s our job as leaders to show people their greatness when they can’t see it for themselves. – Betsy Hauser, Tech Talent South
8. Guiding others to discover and use their strengths
Great leaders allow individuals to discover their strengths and utilize those strengths for success. Their guidance is subtle and impressive, all while seeming unnoticed. Great leaders are the subtle tide that drifts you while you hardly realize how drastically your position has shifted. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management
9. Empowering their team
Great leaders empower others. You should acknowledge what each of your team members contributes to your company’s overall vision and mission. Ask them what you can do to help them be their best. When you empower your team, they will work harder and take ownership of their tasks. This allows you, as the CEO, to trust work will be completed correctly and spend your time leading your organization. – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group
10. Putting their people in the spotlight
The difference between a good leader and a great one is that a great leader leads from the back. Their team is always in the spotlight — a great leader is most passionate about seeing their people shine! – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners
11. Hustling for results
Something very close to my heart is hustling for results. We shape our surroundings and our future by doing everything that we can to change it. It’s normal for my team to talk about hustling every day because it is a way of life for us. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
12. Communicating effectively
A great leader understands the importance of keeping the team informed. It’s as important to share the good news as it is to share the bad news. If you don’t keep your employees informed, they will fill in the holes with what they believe to be true, which jeopardizes the confidence the team has in you. – Robin Throckmorton, strategic HR inc.
13. Aligning organizational and team priorities
Great leaders know how to align the organization’s interests and priorities with those of employees, which is the key to productivity and high morale. A great leader also constantly assesses and recalibrates to make sure the organization and employees stay aligned during times of change. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove
Coachability is everything. It’s the willingness, as a leader, to humbly admit you don’t have it all figured out and to solicit input from those around you on how you can improve and what the organization can be doing better. Most leaders are too insecure, arrogant — or both — to do this, which is why we have such a leadership void in business right now. – Jonathan Keyser, Keyser
A great leader follows through with their ideas and mission. Talk only goes so far — a great leader will “talk the talk and walk the walk.” – Kristin Mulkey, Bartlett Hartley & Mulkey
16. Willingness to learn and grow
A great leader has to always be learning themselves. If we expect others to grow without pushing ourselves just as hard, no one will follow. – Kristin Hege, Convey Communications