Three Key Qualities of a Great Leader

“You can be a leader, or an excuse maker. You cannot be both. Good leaders talk about where to go. Great leaders help you get there and don’t make excuses along the way.”

Did I hear that right? Did he just start talking about leadership during a church sermon? This guy’s a pastor, not a business coach! I must’ve heard him wrong.

My wandering mind snapped back to the moment and I listened intently. I snatched a pen from my wife and a random piece of paper with kid-drawn stick figures on it. I didn’t care. I needed to jot down what may be important. Little did I know I’d fill that piece of paper front and back!

We constantly hear and read about what makes a person a leader from a variety of articles and podcasts. You need to do this. Or that. Try this. You’re made, not born. Blah blah blah. I think there’s about 90% overlap from one expert to the next.

But what caught my attention during this church service was this person, a pastor, wasn’t a business coach. He may have known human behavior and theological history, but did he know leadership? What can I learn?

Learn I did. In the stories and personal reflection, I was able to glean three key qualities of a great leader.

1. Passion to Inspire. A large global company I worked for had their annual all-employee meeting. The CEO started it off on a positive note, though with less enthusiasm than I usually see from someone at that level. During the meeting, all the heads of the business units got their 5 minutes to give updates. Thus far, every person who took the stage was wearing a finely tailored dark colored suit and stood behind a podium reading from cue cards.

Then, the SVP from a newly acquired company took the stage to give his business update. He was wearing a brightly colored shirt without a suit jacket or tie. No need for a podium or cue cards. He walked the stage. Used hand gestures. Spoke with passion. Talked about the value of his team, the ideas they brought to the business, and the work they accomplished. You could tell this person was a leader! No one that came after him could top his enthusiasm.

Great leaders have a passion that inspires their teams. They’re able to pull the best from the team members to accomplish great things. They don’t push tasks to people, but instead motivates them to achieve a larger goal. These centered leaders are secure, engaged, and guided by internal, unwavering values. You’ll know them when you meet them!

2. Willingness to Empower. Imagine you’re leading a “Mission Critical” project with enterprise-impacting results. You’ve had a few issues come up and someone sounded the alarm to executive leadership. Then, during a team meeting, the COO walks in the room. Everyone went silent! The COO said he was there for one simple reason; his job was to empower us to do ours. He would eliminate blockers, give support, and make phone calls day or night to help us along. On his way out, he said “I trust you. You got this under control.”

You can have control or you can have growth. You can’t have both. Great leaders know that and are not “Command and Control” types. Instead, they empower their teams to make decisions and get the work done. They articulate the goal and present a clear picture of what DONE looks like, then empower their teams to turn that into reality.

Here’s where I feel great leaders separate themselves from the lesser ones; Delegation of Authority. When you’re delegated tasks, someone tells you to do something and maybe even tells you how to do it. But a great leader delegates authority. When they do that, they’re essentially saying “I trust you. You decide how to get it done.” You then have authority to drive progress forward and get what you need.

3. Heart to Care. “Great leaders have a heart to care. This isn’t just about making another person feel good. It’s about noticing them, and how their contributions matter. Appreciate someone more than you think you should, then double it.” I couldn’t write the words down fast enough!

Thinking about this more, some leaders want people to feel “good.” But good is subjective and can also be transactional. A great leader goes beyond by truly recognizing someone’s contributions and appreciating the skills they bring to the team. When someone say’s “You’re doing a great job”, it’s a blanket statement. If they say “You do an awesome job communicating upcoming tasks to the team so they know what’s coming”, that’s more specific and meaningful. When giving this feedback, be genuine and appreciative. The person will show you care and make them feel important!

Caring isn’t all duckies and bunnies, though. There will be times you have to have a tough conversation with a team member. I’m not a fan of the “shit sandwich” approach where I say something good on top, then tough feedback in the middle, then something good on the bottom. People see through that. Instead, tell them up front you’re giving them this feedback because they’re an awesome employee and you believe this will help them grow. Be respectful and make it conversational.

So, what makes a great leader? They inspire, empower, and care about their teams. Good leaders do all these things, but the great ones go above and beyond! What else would you add?

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