11 Powerful Qualities That All Great Leaders Share
From Alexander the Great to Jeff Bezos to LeBron James, great leaders throughout history are linked by a thread of grace that seems to shine from somewhere high above. But when we look at it critically, what is it that makes these individuals so inspiring and successful?
Great leadership is like electricity – it seems to light up even the darkest corners of space. The presence of a great leader is something all of us have felt at one time or another. These individuals have the unique ability to unify, inspire, persevere and achieve – in spite of obstacles, difficulties and circumstances.
It’s my unwavering belief that all of us have the capacity to become great leaders. It might not happen overnight, but if we apply ourselves consistently there’s very little the human mind cannot accomplish.
So to follow in the footsteps of the great ones that have come before us, let’s explore 11 inspiring qualities of the most successful leaders in history.
1. Unwavering Courage
The best leaders excel during the deepest and darkest moments of adversity. Where others fall and crumble, these individuals are able to access another level of peak performance. This allows them to fulfill their mission no matter what the circumstances.
Where’s the proof? On June 10th 2016, Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves down 3 games to 1 in the best of seven NBA Finals series against the seemingly unstoppable Golden State Warriors. Most teams and leaders would have crumbled, but Lebron James summoned unwavering courage that flew in the face of critics and pundits. What happened next shocked the world. James averaged 36 points, 9.6 assists and 11 rebounds over the next three games, inspiring his team to do the unthinkable: break a 52-year NBA Championship drought and snatch the best-of-seven game series in dramatic fashion. No team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit. But James didn’t listen to history – he created it.
All great leaders have a sizeable measure of self-control. If you cannot control yourself, how on earth can you ever expect to lead others? Set an example through your actions, and you’ll find people will admire and follow you. As they say, you need to master yourself before you can master the world.
Where’s the proof? Emperor Nero ascended to the head of the Roman empire in 54AD. But his reign would end fourteen years later, as a lack of self-control and an exhibition of wild decisions led to tyranny and extravagance. The Roman elite simply would not stand by a leader who could not lead himself.
3. A Keen Sense of Justice
History’s most adept leaders all share a keen sense of justice. What do I mean? Well, fairness helps set an equal playing field for everyone. No one wants to follow someone that plays favourites or is driven by his/her own ego. When you create a culture of justice and fairness, you breed an environment of success.
Where’s the proof? Google’s dynamic duo – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – created a culture of fairness that allowed Google to flourish into the company it is today. In 2004, the founders initiated the 80/20 rule, which gave every single employee the opportunity to spend 20% of their time on a personal project that aligned with Google’s aspirational vision. No exceptions, no favourites. Every person was given the same opportunity to shine. Now that’s great leadership.
4. Definiteness of Decision
Every leader is faced with times of doubt and uncertainty. But the great ones meet these moments with absoluteness of purpose and definiteness of decision. This means making a firm decision and living with the consequences. People who waver are not sure of themselves, and are usually therefore unfit to lead.
Where’s the proof? When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 after being ostracized by his own company, he made a definite decision to create products that challenged the status quo. Advisors suggested otherwise, but Jobs persevered and ran with the slogan, “Think different.” His decision paid off. Apple started a cultural revolution with the iPod, iTunes and Mac that were all inspired by Jobs’ decision to lead, even in the face of uncertainty.
5. Definiteness of Plans
Successful leaders must “plan the work and work the plan,” according to Napoleon Hill. A leader that takes action without a planned strategy is like a ship without a compass. It won’t be long before you start drifting off course. Clearly articulated plans help great leaders build for success, so you can avoid becoming a tiny speck drifting aimlessly along the horizon.
Where’s the proof? Gary Vaynerchuk, the outspoken serial-entrepreneur and Founder at VaynerMedia, grew his family wine business from $1m annual sales in 1999 to $50m annual sales by 2005. His definiteness of plans meant creating an aggressive ecommerce, email marketing and pricing strategy that allowed him to carve out an expansive swathe of the market.
6. The Habit of Doing More Than Paid For
The most successful leaders consider it a prerequisite to do more than they require of their followers. If you push yourself into the habit of doing more than you’re paid for, you will begin to shift your state and see that hard work and consistency breeds success.
Where’s the proof? Ever heard the expression, “Leaders eat last?” Well, Simon Sinek has done a ton of work and research into what makes great leaders great. According to Sinek, the most inspirational leaders are biologically wired to work harder and “eat last.” This means doing more than what is asked of a “normal” person.
7. An Authentic Personality
Truly inspiring leaders project an aura of openness and warmth that encourages others to achieve their best. This stems from an authentic personality that allows for better cooperation, collaboration and connection. If you want to become a better leader, try leading with authenticity. If you’re genuine and authentic, people will feel naturally attracted to you.
Where’s the proof? Authentic leaders don’t fear looking weak. In fact, these individuals accept the judgments of others without wavering. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos models his business for long-term shareholder value, rather than immediate quarter-to-quarter results. Bezos realizes that in order to nurture talent and improve engagement, you need to plan for the long-term and practice patience. Clearly, this genuine interest in employees and shareholders is paying off exponentially.
8. Sympathy and Understanding
Emotional intelligence is one of the most important (and underrated) characteristics of a successful leader. It’s also challenging to quantify and measure. However, don’t let this get in your way! You need to be able to sympathize with and understand your audience in order to grow or scale your business. Use empathy and persona maps to understand what makes your audience tick. This means putting yourself in the shoes of your audience – what motivates them? What excites them? What keeps them awake at night? Knowledge is the cornerstone of great leadership.
Where’s the proof? Gandhi is one of the most powerful leaders of all times, yet he didn’t command an army nor own a treasury of wealth. His leadership power came from the unique ability to leverage sympathy and understanding. This brought disparate groups together and united the people of India under one common cause.
9. Mastery of Detail
Successful leaders master the smallest details and plan for every contingency. This means you need to think and work harder than your competitors. When you combine detail with work ethic and strategy, you create the formula for powerful leadership.
Where’s the proof? Tony Robbins, the world’s most famous life and success coach, runs seminars around the globe with millions of attendees. At each event, he and his team to read through every attendee story so that he can identify, pinpoint and remember which stories and names to focus on. His dedication is so complete that he often works for 18 hours straight to ensure he has mastery and control over the outcome of his seminars.
10. Willingness to Assume Full Responsibility
Successful leaders must be willing to assume responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings (and those of their employees or co-workers). If you try to shift this responsibility, then you aren’t really a leader. When you make a decision, you need to accept it, live with it and be happy to grow and learn from it – whatever the outcome.
Where’s the proof? In the 2014-2015 English Premier League season, Chelsea FC manager Jose Mourinho guided the team to victory after victory, winning the league title in impressive fashion. Just a few months later, however, when the 2015-2016 season kicked off, Mourinho and Chelsea ran into a spell of bad losses. What did Mourinho do? The one thing leaders should never do. He began to deflect responsibility and lost the support of his players! The poor form continued and the board had no choice but to fire him. And get this: with almost the exact same team, Chelsea (at the time of writing) now sit top of the Premier League having won 11 straight matches. Why? The team have a new manager who is willing to assume full responsibility for winning and losing. This has given players the freedom and license to reach even greater heights.
Successful leaders must understand and apply the principle of cooperative effort to encourage a positive team-spirit. The world’s best leaders realize that only through cooperation can greatness truly be achieved.
Where’s the proof? When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and took control of Babylon and Persepolis, most expected him to destroy his enemies completely and wipe out any trace of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty. What he did surprised many. Alexander was a shrewd leader, and realized that through clemency and cooperation he could install local leaders (or ‘satraps’) to govern smaller areas of land. By personally handing them power, he employed the strategy of cooperation to build trust and strengthen his ties within the native population.