Vince Lombardi said, “Leadership lies in sacrifice, self-denial, love, fearlessness and humility. That is the difference between great and little men.” The most successful leaders possess unique characteristics that set them apart from the “little men.” They are larger than life in the eyes of those who follow them because of the enormous impact they make in their lives, both personally and professionally. In this series, we will share the 30 characteristics of the most successful leaders that make them great. Here are the first 10:
1. It’s Personal
It’s very personal for great leaders. They recognize that the stakes are high because their success or failure not only affects people’s paychecks; it impacts their entire lives — their marriage, family and relationships. They are not just trying to make money; they want to make a difference in the lives of the people they serve.
Passion is the fuel that drives great leaders and the people who follow them. Their passion is contagious. It is fed by a vision for a better future and a deep-seeded discontent with how things are versus how they could be. They are driven by the pain of what is and inspired by the potential of what should be — and they love closing that gap.
3. Mission Driven
Great leaders are driven by a mission greater than themselves; they are driven by missions that make a positive impact in the lives of the people they serve; customers, employees, vendors, partners and the world at large. Great missions attract great people who want to be a part of something positive, not only to make money but to make a difference. If it’s only about a paycheck, you’ll attract people who will jump ship for a small raise or a better office. If it’s about something bigger and better, you’ll attract bigger and better people. Great leaders are mission driven and they help their team find and fulfill their personal missions, not just the company’s mission. By doing this, they create a happier, more productive culture and workplace.
4. Clear Vision
Great leaders have a crystal-clear vision of where they want to end up. Their vision inspires their team to rise above the unexpected challenges that occur along the way and encourages them to do what they need to do to get what they want. It’s so clear they can see it as if it already exists, because in their mind it does. You can’t achieve what you can’t conceive, so effective leaders see where they are, where they want to go and how they can get there. They have clearly defined goals and they attract and equip the right people to create and execute a plan to achieve them.
5. Self Mastery
Great leaders recognize that the best way to lead others is to improve themselves. You are a billboard and everyone on your team is watching and imitating your example. When you get better, they get better. While no one can control their environment, great leaders control how they react and respond to it. They bring the right attitude and approach to each person or situation rather than reacting to what others do. Great leaders are in control of the thoughts that guide their emotions, habits and behaviors which inevitably determine their results and outcome.
6. Just Do it
Michael Jordan said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” Leaders are doers — action takers who get it done. They realize what they do is more influential than what they say or ask others to do. They don’t let fear stop them from trying and they don’t let obstacles impede their progress. They refuse to quit. They find a way to persevere. They make it happen.
7. Hard Work
Leaders work hard. Most leaders are not balanced, however, so their personal and family life suffers. They accomplish a lot at work but don’t enjoy holistic success in every area of their life. Successful leaders find balance by working smarter, not just harder. They recognize that they need help, so they recruit and develop the right people, processes and tools so their business is less dependent on them and can grow beyond their individual reach. As a result, they are happier and more productive at work and home. With all that said, they still work really hard.
8. Strong Character
The most successful leaders don’t get their sense of self-worth from what others think about them; they get it from the innate confidence that comes from doing the right thing in everything they do, which builds their strong character and resolve. High-integrity leaders realize it feels right to do the right thing, and that’s why high-character leaders are more secure, happier people than those who lack integrity. People follow them not because they are their boss, but because of who they are and how they live their life.
9. Head Strong
You are what you think, so it is important to “mind your mind.” Henry Ford said, “If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” Belief is powerful, and it starts with how we think. Great leaders realize how you think affects how you feel and act, which determines your behavior, habits and outcomes. The challenge is that thoughts of doubt, fear and worry appear often in the minds of the greatest leaders, and without their permission. The most effective leaders pay a lot of attention to their “thought life” and they make proactive efforts to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. They focus on the things they can control rather than wasting time worrying about things that they cannot influence. This allows them to lead better in the here and now because you can’t seize a moment you’re not in. Having a positive outlook is how great leaders keep their heads above the clouds of fear and doubt that cause too many people to quit before they try. Having the right mindset also helps leaders turn adversity into their advantage by learning from their pain and doing better next time.
10. Addicted to Better
The best leaders are humble and hungry students who are addicted to making things better. They are deeply curious and they enjoy improving themselves and the organizations they lead. They have a passion for constant, never-ending improvement; that is why they are forever students who continue to get better over time.
The greatest leaders are not solely interested in making a living; they are driven to make a difference in the lives of the people they serve. They are not just interested in success at work; they seek success in life. As a result, they build healthier cultures and more-productive businesses that generate a bigger bottom line and a happier workplace for themselves and the people they work with. I hope that these insights help you improve the impact you have in the lives you lead.