Good leaders fit a variety of descriptions. But what about great ones? When considering the DNA of a leader, what makes a leader “great” at their essence? While we could debate what makes a good leader, the core of great leadership is easily condensed to a few key traits I think we can all agree on.
What’s the difference between the DNA of a leader and the DNA of a great leader?
Integrity is baked into the DNA of a leader, and the great ones exemplify it. Great leaders are honest and trustworthy. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They stand behind what they say and what they do. You can always count on great leaders to keep their word.
When it comes to taking responsibility, great leaders are hand-raisers. They say, “The buck stops here.” They don’t point fingers; instead, they accept blame for their own actions, choices, and decisions when things don’t go as planned. Beyond personal accountability, you can count on great leaders to hold their teams accountable as well. They don’t play the blame game and don’t tolerate it on their teams either.
Deep in the DNA of a leader is the power to change how others think. Good leaders motivate their followers to do better. Great leaders inspire others to greatness. Great leaders are more than a model for others to follow, they’re a model to which others aspire. Through their words, actions, effort, and example, great leaders inspire you to “be all you can be,” to borrow a phrase from the US Army. This quote from former President Ronald Reagan does a great job explaining how a leader inspires: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
Great leaders have a way with words. They communicate clearly, efficiently, and effectively. They’re direct and straightforward. They have confidence. They’re experts at setting the tone. When giving direction, they focus not only on the what but also the why. They are intentional about sharing praise when it’s due, and they offer correction with professionalism and purpose—and in a way that empowers instead of demoralizes. Great leaders know what to say and when to say it. And for them, communication flows both ways. When it counts, they know how to be great listeners too.
To truly lead, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your followers. Great leaders do that. They treat others as they want to be treated. Beyond that, great leaders also have empathy for what their team may be experiencing, personally and professionally, and how it affects their ability to perform. They personally connect with their team’s ups and downs, accomplishments and challenges, and wins and losses.
Located in the DNA of a leader is the drive to keep moving forward. Great leaders are able to not only advance but adapt and adjust. When things don’t go as planned, or unexpected things happen, great leaders can switch gears to Plan B, or Plan C, or Plan Z. They don’t throw in the towel. They don’t give up. They keep on trying. They persevere.
Do You have the DNA of a Leader
When looking at leaders, either on the field or off, they seem to share many similar qualities. Having integrity and accountability, being inspirational, communicating clearly, and showing empathy and resilience are the hallmarks of great leaders. As you look to take the lead in your profession, check in with yourself. Do you have those traits? If so, you may have the DNA of a leader.
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