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True Leaders Have These Ten Characteristics In Common

Updated: Mar 24

Leadership is more art than science and every leader knows when dealing with angry constituents, clients or disgruntled staff, two plus two will not always equal four. Some days it will equal five or six.

These are the times that try leaders’ souls, not to mention their patience. Being a good leader is good, but for you to rise and remain at the top, it will take being more than good. We no longer live and lead in a world where good is good enough.

To be good in this frenetic, politically-charged, hyper-divisive environment is no longer good enough. Those who are good maintain while those who are great attain heights where only the strong survive and where only the great ones thrive.

Greatness doesn’t just happen. It takes intentionality and flexibility. Leadership is not learned, it is revealed in circumstances when the need for leadership arises - often out of necessity and chaos, not by choice.

If classes in leadership and leadership degrees made one a true leader, we would not have the leadership crisis in America we have today. It is possible to graduate with a degree in leadership yet still come out as a follower.

True leadership is not common but true leaders have these characteristics in common:

1.  True leaders lead out of a sense of passion, not duty.

True leaders are passionate. They don't have to be cajoled or chided into taking on challenges. They get up and get after it early with passion and vigor. They do what they do not because they have to, but because they would be no good to themselves or others if they didn’t. They view time as a prime commodity, thus they arrive early for meetings, are intentional about what meetings they take, and keep to the agenda. They value punctuality in others, don’t waste others’ time and they sure will not allow others to waste theirs.

2.  True leaders are secure enough to play a lesser role.

True leaders are secure enough in themselves to take on a lesser role if that is what it takes to move the ball forward. Their self-confidence and knowledge of who they are give them the freedom to lead demonstrably and comfortably without taking into regard their title or position. They make the position, not the other way around. True leaders have no qualms about laying aside their positional role to demonstrate to their team the importance of not allowing the position to interfere with the accomplishment of a goal. True leaders do instinctively what needs to be done without waiting around for someone else to do it.

3.  True leaders know their team. 

True leaders know the members of their team well and know how to leverage individual strengths to minimize weaknesses that could damage the whole. They recognize the value and capacity of each team member, what each team member brings to the table, and how much each can handle on their plate.

4.  True leaders are persuasive, purposeful, and strategic communicators.

True leaders work to obtain buy-in to their vision, goals, and mission by appealing and relating to others in a language and in concepts by which they can relate and understand. They connect easily and effectively with others at their level of understanding in ways that make sense to them. True leaders understand the foundational importance of the low man on the totem pole and that if misinformed, he or she could hinder the execution of the vision or worse, topple the whole team. Leaving nothing to chance, true leaders have learned to gain buy-in from the bottom up. They understand the power of influence and often the low man on the totem pole is more influential than the one in the C-suites.

5.  True leaders never abandon the mission or allow emotions to dictate their actions.

True leaders persevere, don't lose focus, and for the sake of the team and mission realize that they don’t have the luxury of allowing their private emotions to dictate their public actions. They recognize they are the standard bearers and have learned to not give way to pettiness, and negative or angry emotions which could have long-term damaging effects. Fear is not in their DNA and is not an option. True leaders can’t be bullied and will always make decisions based on the best interest of the team and organization. They may feel at times fearful, but true leaders fight through fear, dismiss doubters and critics; and, push ahead to complete the mission.

6.  True leaders know how to affirm and how to confront.

Particularly tricky in this highly-charged environment, true leaders always affirm the person, but confront the problem – never the other way around. True leaders build up and never tear down their team members or subordinates, especially in front of others – nor will they allow anyone else to do the same.  They value those who add value to the team and understand that everyone – even their best team member, now and then has a bad day. They also affirm by way of participation. True leaders listen, participate, and motivate, but never dictate from on high.

7.  True leaders seek wise counsel.

Only the fool believes they know it all. True leaders understand they don’t have all the answers and in humility seek, welcome, and never foolishly shun the wise counsel of others. True leaders are wise enough to know what they don't know and when to ask someone who does.

8.  True leaders make those around them better.

True leaders often see the greatness in those others have overlooked. They have the innate ability to look beyond what they see to the potential of what others could become, not what they currently may or may not be. True leaders take the time to mentor, teach, demonstrate, model, and set into motion the process of developing others into the leaders they know they can become. They are not at all intimidated by others’ potential for greatness and will pour into their lives what is needed to fully develop it.

9. True leaders are curious.

True leaders never stop learning. They are voracious readers and are inquisitive. Not because they're nosy but curious about the world and people around them. They don't settle for the status quo, always believing there is a better, faster way that makes better sense. And they will prove it. It is never enough to know who, what, when, and where. They never stop until they can answer the question why? The quickest way to lose their interest or their business is to insist that the best way is the way things have always been done. While they may be content, they are never satisfied. To true leaders, there is always a better way and they don't stop until they find it.

10. True leaders have impeccable character and unquestionable integrity.

True leaders stake their reputation not on their title, position or pedigree, but on their character. Far from perfect, and having enjoyed seasons of success, weathering seasons of setbacks, failure, loss, or mistakes, true leaders emerge with a strong sense of self and a true north. Their word is their bond and honesty is not their "best policy," honesty is their only policy. They know who they are, who they aren't, what they want, what they don't want, and leave no doubt where they stand. They are dependable, predictable and reliable, driven by character and guided by integrity. They can be counted on to be true to others because there is never a time when they aren't true to themselves.


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