Wisdom//

How to Be a Great Leader, According to 7 Political and Business Greats

This wise advice will earn you respect and success, no matter your field.

Bill Pugliano / Stringer / SOPA Images / Contributor / Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images / Contributor / Getty Images
Bill Pugliano / Stringer / SOPA Images / Contributor / Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images / Contributor / Getty Images

Think of the best boss you’ve ever had — what tactics did she employ to get the team on board with her mission? Studies show the best leaders are emotionally intelligent, innovative, and great communicators. It has also been argued that you can’t be a great leader without being a great follower. And, according to Harvard research, the most impactful leaders are exceedingly self-aware.

Clearly leading isn’t easy, but with the right set of skills, each of us can become someone others look to for guidance. These powerful people have proven they can successfully manage teams, companies, even countries. Here are some of their time-tested tips for being the kind of leader people are inspired to follow.

1. Be the kind of person others want to work with

“It’s not necessarily how smart [leaders] are, or how charismatic they are, not how hard they work. It’s whether people want to work with them and for them,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said at an Axios event. Leaders should ask these questions, Dimon advises, to make sure that’s the case: “Do they share credit? Do they blame other people? When the going gets tough do they become the worst people in the room? Or the best people in the room?”

2. Focus on trust over growth

Marc Benioff, the founder, chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce, believes that growing a company should never be the top priority: establishing trust with your employees and consumers is more important. “Never put growth before trust. If you put growth above trust, then all of a sudden you create a toxic culture. People don’t want to work in that environment or use the product,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. He’s seen the backlash and consequences of the growth-first mindset. “You get these campaigns, #deleteuber, #deletefacebook. It’s a referendum on the culture, not the product,” he explains.

3. Ask for feedback and put it in action

At the Wharton School of Business’s 2018 People Analytics Conference, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, emphasized the importance of asking your staff questions like, “Did you get what you needed from this meeting?”, and, “What’s your opinion?” Leaders continue to improve when they draw on their employees’ on-the-ground knowledge and experiences, she explained.  

4. Know why you do the work you do

“To create new businesses and drive growth, you need to have a leader who wakes up wanting to make an impact,” Shantanu Narayan, President and CEO of Adobe, explained to his business school alma mater, Berkeley Haas. For him, that impact means to “empower everyone from emerging artists to global brands — to bring digital creations to life and deliver them to the right person at the right moment.” But whatever your industry or position, to lead effectively, you need to care about what your team is working towards.

5. Be a little deaf

Ruth Bader Ginsburg got some great advice from her mother-in-law, which she says she has applied to everything from her marriage to her role on the Supreme Court: It helps to be a little deaf sometimes. “When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade,” she wrote in a New York Times opinion piece.

6. Keep your meetings to “two pizza” groups

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, believes that a meeting should never include more mouths than two pizzas can feed, his biographer Richard Brandt revealed in a Wall Street Journal profile. A good manager should keep teams to that two-pizza size, a piece of advice Bezos put into practice as company policy at Amazon.

7. Be persistent

Barack Obama taught his daughters that they can change the world — but it won’t happen overnight. “You have to be persistent. We get disappointed and we get frustrated. I always tell people that my early work as a community organizer in Chicago taught me an incredible amount, but I didn’t set the world on fire,” he said at the 2017 Goalkeepers event. Despite helping build public parks for communities that needed them and setting up a job training program for laid-off workers, there was still more work to do. “Those communities weren’t suddenly transformed, they still had huge problems,” Obama noted. “But I took that experience and then I was able to build on it.”

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