The Four Characteristics Of A Great Leader

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”
Peter Drucker

As kids, traveling with our parents on a trip, my brother and I would play a game of “who can spot the highest number of different license plates.” As an adult, I’m more interested in reading bumper strips than license plates. I feel like the bumper strips give me a better glimpse into someone’s life and philosophy.

For example, in the last two weeks, I’ve noticed several unusual bumper strips, including:

“Wear short sleeves! Support your right to bare arms.”

“Join the Marines, travel the world, meet interesting people, kill them.”

“For sale: Parachute, used only once, never opened, small stain.”

“All those who believe in psychokinesis, raise my hand.”

Well, it won’t be long and you’ll see millions of bumper strips advocating certain candidates for President. And in each case, the people putting the bumper strips on their cars believe their candidate has what it takes to LEAD this country to better times.

Unfortunately, millions of other people will be so frustrated by the campaigning process that they’ll end up saying something stupid like, “It doesn’t matter who you vote for; they’re all the same.” Still other millions will be so confused by all the claims, attacks, and counterattacks that they’ll end up wondering, “How can I really know which one will make the best LEADER?”

Let me remove some of your frustration and confusion. I’ve studied, written, and spoken on leadership for years, and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter if you’re leading a country, a company, a department, a team, a church, or even a family … leadership has NOTHING to do with title or position. You could be the President of a country or the General Manager of a Fortune 500 company and NOT be a leader.

In truth, leadership has EVERYTHING to do with behavior. If you BEHAVE in certain ways, you can and will be a good leader. That’s why I recommend my program on “The Leadership Payoff: How the Best Leaders Bring out the Best in Others … And So Can You.”

Until you hear me speak on the topic, start with this behavior checklist. It will help you check someone out to see if he or she would be an effective leader, and it will help you check yourself out to see how you stack up.

=> 1. A leader does the right thing.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of delivering some keynote addresses at various conventions with John Wooden, the greatest basketball coach of all time. But Wooden was more than a sports coach. He was a leader on and off the court, because Wooden always told his players and his audiences: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

In other words, a good leader focuses all of his energy on doing the right thing … instead of spending all of his time on the superficialities of “looking good” and “sounding good.” A good leader is guided by a strong moral compass instead of a slick spin artist.

As author Michael Josephson writes, “People of character do the right thing, not because they think it will change the world but because they refuse to be changed by the world.”

Wes Mirick is one such person. As a leader in the Institute for Management Studies, as a meeting planner who hired me to speak at several of his conferences, I was always impressed with his leadership ability and his overall success. So when I asked him what he would tell prospective leaders, the very first thing Mirick said was … “You must have the courage of your convictions.” It’s not enough to KNOW what is right; you’ve got to DO what is right.

=> 2. A leader is more concerned with “we” than “me.”

Unfortunately, too many “so-called” leaders are on an ego trip, seeking all the glory and hogging all the limelight. From their perspective, it’s all about me, me, me.

You see it at the universities when the graduate students do all the research for a certain professor, and then he publishes their work under his name … as though he did it all by himself and deserves all the credit. Shame on him.

You see it when a certain team develops a new product that becomes a huge financial success, but you only see the CEO on TV talking about her vision and how her vision allowed this kind of breakthrough to take place. Shame on her.

By contrast, Mirick went on to explain that a good leader must “be focused on the needs of other people rather than his own needs.” And Ken Verostick, another leader from the Institute for Management Studies, reinforced the point when he said, “With all that’s going on in today’s society, every leader needs to move beyond his/her own ego and open themselves to all the intelligence around them.”

That’s how real breakthroughs take place. As leadership author John C. Maxwell wrote, “If I want to do something good, I can do it on my own. If I want to do something GREAT, I’m going to have to develop a team.”

As a professional speaker, I get to meet and work with hundreds of leaders every year. I get to speak at their meetings, learning as much from them as I teach to them. One such leader that I hold in high regard is Jill Blashack-Strahan, President and CEO of Tastefully Simple. In June 2000, she received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

When she went on the Academy Awards-like stage to articulate her words of acceptance and thanks, she said she was overcome with humility and gratitude, because as she said, “Any recognition we’ve received, truly does not belong to me. It belongs to all of the people who are ambassadors for Tastefully Simple every day. I didn’t build this company. An amazing team of dedicated, passionate and loyal people did. As Founder & CEO, I’m deeply honored to be the spokesperson for all of the people who have made Tastefully Simple the success it is.”

Jill went on to mention all of those other people. She said, “I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple at every home taste-testing party held by our consultants across the nation. I’m not the smiling face representing Tastefully Simple as our Ambassador of First Impressions in our headquarters’ lobby. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through the excellent picking, packing and shipping of our products. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our contract negotiations or in the quality of our facility or mailings. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in the prompt attention to our accounts payable or in the high-pressure inventory management function.”

Talk about a first-rate leader. Jill continued, “I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in our Sales Team by addressing our consultants’ day-to-day issues and challenges. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple in Team Relations when they’re hiring or dealing with sensitive issues. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple during intense special projects or impromptu, immediate marketing and public relations needs. I’m not the one representing Tastefully Simple through superb training, graphic design and communication pieces and product development.”

Jill finished by saying, “We don’t do it alone.” And I dare say the same thing can be said about every good leader. He or she doesn’t do it alone, and they don’t pretend to have done it alone. They are more focused on “we” than “me.”

=> 3. A leader demonstrates an unshakeable positive attitude.

In other words, they exude energy. They display enthusiasm. They project cheerfulness. And it is nothing short of contagious.

I’m sure you’ve come across some leaders like that. No matter what is going on, you’ve noticed that leader’s department is filled with people who are pumped up, excited, and connected. You may have even wished you were a part of that department … because it’s only natural to be drawn to such high levels of energy.

Of course, not every leader is born with a positive attitude. Some of them had to work at it. Somehow or other, they took on Norman Vincent Peale’s advice, who said, “Be determined to like your work. Then it will become a pleasure, not drudgery. Change yourself, and your work will seem different.”

If you yearn to be a leader, or if you desire to become a better leader, you’ve got to have faith … in your country, your company, your department, your team, your church, your family, your future … or whatever else you are trying to lead. No one follows a negative leader for very long.

A leader must demonstrate an unshakeable positive attitude when things are going well and not so well. In fact, when things aren’t going so well…

=> 4. A leader accepts responsibility.

That’s right. He accepts responsibility for the good and the bad.

Unfortunately, it is much more common to see ego-driven leaders take all the credit when one of their decisions works out well. But when one of their decisions proves to be wrong, they cannot be found, have nothing to say, or blame someone else for their failures.

So it’s no wonder the world is in the midst of an economic crisis as well as a confidence crisis. If public leaders would take responsibility for their failed programs, if corporate leaders would take responsibility for their misguided decisions, public cynicism and employee mistrust would drop instantly and dramatically. The public would applaud a President who admits, “My trillion-dollar program did not work,” and employees would stick with a CEO who was honest enough and brave enough to say, “My re-organization plan did not work out as I had hoped.”

To be a leader who accepts responsibility, you’ve got to have a certain degree of maturity and humility. You’ve got to be able to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. But we’re going to do better next time.” And when you’re proven right, you avoid saying, “I told you so.”

One of the best leaders I ever worked for was Iain Clark at AEGON in Edinburgh, Scotland. His motto was simply, “Leaders accept responsibility for the decisions they make and take full responsibility for any resulting failures.”

No matter what your title or position is in life or at work, you’re a leader of some kind. Apply these four principles to yourself and your work and you’ll automatically become a better leader.

Action:  How can you demonstrate more enthusiasm at work? When will you start?