9 Qualities Separating Great Leaders from Everyone Else

great leaders

In my 40-something years on this earth, I’ve been exposed to my fair share of leaders. Some have been exemplary in every way, and some, in my humble opinion, should never have assumed, much less have been given, the title of a leader.

To be a leader is to receive an extremely high calling. To have people “follow” you means they are trusting you to show them the way that is best. As you go, often they go. If you are arrogant, rude or condescending, most likely the people who connect with you and get on “your team” are like that or will take on that same demeanor.

Whatever you plant in the field of your leadership, you will harvest in abundance. If you plant a big ego, you will harvest big egos. If you plant strength through kindness and humility, the people who surround you will exude much the same.

You can tell the quality of leader by the type of people who choose to follow him or her.

I get in different Facebook groups and I am honestly appalled at how some people promote themselves, but even more so how people talk to each other. And many of these people are supposedly “leaders.” Where has the respect for others gone? It’s as if hiding behind a phone or computer gives someone permission to be rude, mean and offensive. Or, when highlighting one company they’ve bought into and have chosen to “follow,” they feel the need to insert negativity about a competitor of that company.

What would the world look like if we stopped behaving like this? If the great leaders stood up and said, “No more. That’s not welcome here.” A little closer to home, what would the CrossFit industry look like if we all treated each other with genuine deference and respect?

As I was thinking about writing this article, my initial thought was to title it “9 Signs that You’re a Terrible Leader” but there’s so much negativity in this world these days, I wanted this to be positive.

So I thought about the leaders who I admire.

Many of our clients came to mind. All of my 321GoProject team members came to mind. A couple of my family members immediately came to mind. My partner came to mind.

I want to write this article about them. The great leaders. Certainly not perfect by any stretch — and they’d be the first to admit that, which makes them great in my opinion — but just really inspiring. The list that follows are a few characteristics they all have in common:

  • They take the blame, and give the credit. It is one of my biggest pet peeves is when a leader takes all the credit. You can tell this type of person if they often say “I did this… or I did that…” If they use personal pronouns a lot, it’s most likely all about them, and unfortunately, you are just a means to an end for them. The inspiring leaders I know don’t declare their greatness. They give others credit when something good is done, and assume complete responsibility when something goes awry.
  • They have the hard conversations. Communication is a top priority to them. When something is off, they address it head on with kindness. Keeping short lists is extremely important to these leaders I respect. They aren’t afraid of the hard conversations because they know those will only make everyone better. And, whenever possible, they do these conversations face to face.
  • They’re constantly building others up. I recently met with a leader and the vibe he gave off was one of building an open space so that anyone he interacts with is successful. It was inspiring. It wasn’t at all about him, but about how he could positively build up the most people in his corner of the world. It never felt like he needed to be front and center.
  • They know they are not the smartest person in the room. They are constantly surrounding themselves with people they admire. These exceptional leaders are students of others. They know they don’t have all the answers, so they often let others have the floor.
  • They are organized, level-headed and not chaotic. These leaders handle stress like a champ — steady, focused, unwavering and determined. They believe people take precedence over tasks, so they make every effort to live an organized life allowing others to never feel like they are intruding.
  • They are competitive with themselves. There is a significant difference in competing with others and competing with yourself. Competing with others often causes you to focus on things out of your control. Competing with yourself hyper focuses you on keeping your eye on the prize and giving it your very best, no matter what others are doing.
  • They are responsive. They do their very best to get back to people in a timely manner. They answer their phones, they email you back, and they aren’t too busy to meet for coffee or a drink. They are friendly, approachable and helpful in their responses.
  • No tasks are below them. Yes, they are the boss, but they aren’t opposed to cleaning the proverbial toilets. They know how to delegate, but they know the success of the company is just as dependent on the ones delegated to as the ones who delegate. They are constantly and naturally always leading by example.

And one final quality I admire…

  • They love pets. This may seem silly to those who aren’t pet friendly, but I believe you can tell a lot about a person by the way they interact – or don’t – with animals. It struck me as I was writing this article that every one of the leaders I admire have a soft spot for animals and pets.

I’ve been fortunate to have been in many leadership positions in my life, and I will be the first to admit, I’ve made a shit ton of mistakes in those roles. I’m nowhere closer to where I want to be as a leader, but each day I am learning how to improve by observing everyone around me that I can. I want to embrace the characteristics that are good and right and true, and be more aware every day of quickly eliminating the negative.

We are afforded one shot at this thing called life. If you are in a leadership position, it would serve you well to take inventory of your leadership qualities and ask if you’re one of the great leaders. Most people just take life as it comes to them. The great, inspiring leaders get better every day. My challenge to you — and myself — is to make it your personal mission to live every single day with intentionality and purpose so that those people who are looking to you for direction become their best selves.

Julie Weldon
Julie Weldon is on the leadership team of 321GoProject. Her diverse background includes being a cake designer, coaching basketball, traveling to 13 different developing countries to do volunteer work on a year-long trip, working in the not-for-profit world for 10 years, starting two businesses, working as a People & Change consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, taking a product to market (and “failing”, only to get back up and do it a second time), and working as a business coach/consultant to small businesses with her company, A Salty Rim. Her core belief is that it’s always about the people no matter if the company is large or small. Contact her at julie@321goproject.com.
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