Key Characteristics of Great Leaders – Part I

Great Leaders charactersticsWhat are some key characteristics of a great leader? While many books and countless articles have been written about this subject, we continue to witness a significant shortage of great leaders in many companies and institutions. Here are some essential traits and skills that great leaders must possess.

Great leaders are people persons. They must like being around people, be comfortable talking to and listening to people, and know how to relate to them. Great leaders must know how to communicate with their employees, speak their language, and not talk down to them. This is essential. Anyone who is not comfortable being around people, or exhibits anti-social or narcissistic behavior, should not lead or be in charge of anyone. Bullies, sycophants, and loners never make great leaders, regardless of their level of intelligence, education, and capability.

Great leaders are knowledgeable and effective administrators. They understand the work that is being done in all areas of their organization, how those areas and the people interact and relate to one another, and the roles their managers play in getting the job done efficiently and correctly. Great leaders have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the people they manage and proactively dedicate resources and time to correct the weaknesses and reinforce the strengths. They don’t micromanage, know how to delegate, and empower those around them to do what’s needed. They almost always promote from within.

Great leaders are pragmatic, proactive, and fair managers. They are reasonable and realistic in their management and set challenging but sensible goals and objectives for their people. They reward excellence, productivity, loyalty, and ethical conduct. Great leaders do not allow problem employees to accumulate in their organizations and disrupt others, or negatively impact their customers. They admonish the lazy, irresponsible, and unethical employees, and promptly fire incorrigible individuals. They understand that every minute spent on a bad employee who refuses to improve is a minute stolen from the good employees that deserve the leader’s full attention and support.

Great leaders display visionary, passionate and inspiring leadership. They are passionate about their work and their organizations, their employees, their products or services, and their customers. They are also passionate about life and excellence in all areas. They set out the vision, direction, and goals of their enterprises, communicate the big picture to their followers, and continually inspire and motivate their employees to follow. Great leaders encourage others to dream, to be creative, to excel, to innovate, and constantly improve. They stay focused on the long-term success of their people and their organizations, and build up the branding and long-term value of their companies and the trust and loyalty of their customers.

Great leaders are emphatic and active listeners. They understand that the people who know best how the job should be done are the ones doing it. Great leaders genuinely care about and show a sincere interest in what their employees have to say and take the time to listen to them. They are active listeners who pay attention to what is being said, concentrate on the ideas and issues their followers raise, and take appropriate actions that demonstrate their understanding and concern. Great leaders spend time among their employees and empathize with their followers. Their open door policies are truly “open door”, not just a fancy catch-phrase used for self-promotion. Anyone with a genuine concern or valuable contribution is welcomed and encouraged to share it. Great leaders also listen to their customers and do what is needed to address their concerns and strive to meet and exceed their expectations.

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Part II: Key Characteristics of Great Leaders – Part II


8 thoughts on “Key Characteristics of Great Leaders – Part I

  1. Great list Chris! Very few business executives have even 10% of these characteristics. It’s amazing to see how rare it is to find great leaders in corporate settings. I’ll be sharing this with everyone I know.

    Look forward to Part II. Keep up the good work!

  2. Chris,

    As Michael said, it is rare to find any or at least some of these qualities in business executives today. In my experience, most leadership positions are given to those who have garnered favor within certain social circles. Sometimes that post is well earned, sometimes not.

    I look foward to seeing the second part as well.

    Frmr student 2002

  3. Chris,

    The first 2 responses above testify to the accuracy of your opening assertion, “[We] continue to witness a significant shortage of great leaders in many companies and institutions.” I concur.

    I’m curious. How would you diagnosis the current lot of presidential candidates? Which candidate best exemplifies your list of characteristics? Can we apply your
    list to this office?

  4. Terry,

    Those are good questions. Yes, we should apply this list to them. I’m not sure if any of the current candidates would embody many of the required characteristics I included in my article. Granted, it’s a hard task to accomplish and few “true leaders” can come close to the ideal, but it seems that with rate exceptions, politicians make too many compromises in order to be liked, elected, and hold on to power. This process, I believe, makes it that much harder for them to come close to the ideal.

  5. Hi Chris,

    It’s a great article. I was searching the net to find articles of great leader and came across your blog. I will be having a radio interview on this subjeck tomorrow and allow me to quote your articles during interview.

    I’m Malaysian, soI seek your permission to translate the article into my language and put it in my blog. I will give you the acknowledgement there.

  6. Hi Tengku,

    Sure, you’re more than welcome to use the article during your interview. Please just provide the reference to your listeners to know who wrote it and where they can locate the English version. 🙂 You have my permission to translate into Malaysian and post on your blog.

    Thank you for the comments and feedback.

  7. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  8. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful articles you write. I’m using your Characteristics of Great Leaders I & II, and the Warning Signs articles for my project thesis, which is Effective Management: Creating a culture of trust in the workplace.

    Keep up the great writing…

    Julie DeLong

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