What Makes a Great Leader?

Submitted by Robert Acton on Nov 11, 2013 | Comments (2)

Vision and leadershipThis is a more personal post than I'm usually comfortable with, but I feel inspired at the BoardSource Leadership Forum today, so I want to go on record:

I am inspired by great leaders. They are rare. There is no objective measure for great leadership, no certificate or title, but when you're in the presence of one, you know it.  

The handful of great leaders I've interacted with have a set of characteristics in common:

  • They are obsessively passionate about the mission they are leading.  Their commitment to its success is unwavering.
  • They inspire people by telling great stories. Their scope of knowledge is both deep and wide, but they really connect when they tell stories.
  • They are both confident and humble. Their confidence engenders loyalty to their cause.  Their humility engenders loyalty to them. 
  • They are wise. They have experienced a lot of learning over the years and know how to synthesize and apply it to new and changing circumstances and environments. They make good judgment calls.
  • They invest heavily in others. Without anything to gain, they carve out quality time for high potential people who can learn from them. Yup, they do it pro bono. 
  • They experience life with unfettered enthusiasm, even joy. Each day is an adventure. A day without a hill to take is a day wasted. They live life with the accelerator pressed to the floor, every day.
  • They are easily moved. They laugh and they cry.   
  • They are guided by deep-seeded values. They know they can't fake it and wouldn't want to anyhow. Their core is firmly in tact. 
  • They love people. Actually, they are obsessed with people. They are usually the last to leave a room if there are interesting people to meet and conversations to be had. They always make time that they don't have for people. 
  • They have a masterful base of knowledge. They know their area of expertise, of course, but that's the easy part. More impressively, they know three important things about your area of expertise, as well. 

A few such leaders I've been privileged to know well: Charles Middleton. Tony Campolo. Sylvia Reynolds. Laura Truax.

Some I've observed briefly, or from afar: Tim King. Sterling Speirn. Bill Clinton. Ken Chanault. Cathy Trower.

My aspiration is to learn more and more from the example of these truly great leaders. 


Couple to Add:

1- great leaders I know tend to work out and take care of themselves physically.
2- they do it now, what ever it is.

Great additions, Dan. I'm always impressed that physical fitness is something impossibly busy people nonetheless take time for. Agree re: do it now too.

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