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Top 12 qualities of great leaders

Every great leader is unique, but they also have some core qualities in common. Which ones do you notice and aspire to in your own leadership?

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Think of people who’ve shown great leadership, the traits you admire and aspire to have as a leader yourself. I’m curious—do the following “leadership qualifications” resonate with you?

  1. You have a passion for leadership. Most of leadership is about helping others see the potential just in front of them and guiding them to act. How you do it is your style, but you need to have passion. Why on earth would you want to do something you’re not passionate about?
  2. You care a great deal about the people you’re working with. I had a boss once that clearly didn’t care about me. I’m sure you have, too. Are they your boss? Yes, 100%. Are they your leader? Probably not.
  3. You know your stuff. Having the skills and experience in your area of expertise is a given, right?
  4. You understand that work isn’t everything. We are all more than just our jobs.
  5. You’re open to new ideas. Leadership is often about spotting great ideas and clearing the path to help them manifest. And all that starts with being open to initial ideas.
  6. You have a strong work ethic. There are two reasons for this one.
    1. People model what they see and…
    2. Leadership isn’t always sunshine and celebrations. Leadership is finding a way forward when the going gets tough.
  7. You show a willingness to reflect. You simply cannot be perfect all the time. Ergo, when you do make a mistake, you need to be able to step back and learn from it.
  8. You’re highly organized. Leaders who inspire me always seem to have this almost magical hold on all the moving parts — effortlessly moving projects, communications, resources around to make everything work. I have NO doubt their projects start with an organized plan.
  9. You’re always trying to improve your leadership skills. To lead is to understand that You. Are. Never. Done.
  10. You have enough confidence and ego to survive the hard days. The hard days are no fun. But what people notice is how you hold yourself through them.
  11. And you have enough humility to understand that it’s not about you. Yup, I know this contradicts #10. But you and I both know it’s that delicate balance between confidence and humility that makes for great leaders.
  12. You’re willing to work collaboratively. What’s unique about leadership is that not only is it a team sport, but it also requires you to play with the competition.

Did I miss anything? Are there any you items you’d remove and replace with something else? I only allowed myself twelve items for reasons that you’ll learn about in a second.

So now it’s confession time: I borrowed the construct of these lessons from the writer Valerie Strauss and her article The 12 qualities great teachers share. I tweaked the language some and swapped out references to “student” with “team member.” But all twelve of the ideas are Valerie’s.

Why am I sharing Valerie’s work in a leadership article?

Because, here’s the thing: the emerging Knowledge Economy is calling on our leadership priorities to shift—from optimizing productivity to optimizing ideas. And who do I think specializes in optimizing ideas every day? Teachers. Which then led to an interwebs search.

Now that I’ve let you in on the backstory, I want you to go back and look at the list again. They were actually describing great teachers, but can you see how those qualifications completely apply to great leaders, too?

Which begs the question, how much of leadership is, in fact, teaching? Could it be all? And if that’s true, shouldn’t we all be learning how to be great teachers (aka practicing the twelve qualities Valerie discovered)?

In the beginning, I asked you to reflect on what kind of leader you admire.

If you ask yourself, “What do I want to be known for teaching?” it might just reveal your exact path to becoming the leader you aspire to be.

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