12 Characteristics of Great Leaders

July 27, 2016 2 Comments

Word Twelve Stamped in Concrete

The differences between a good leader and a great one boil down to a handful of traits that set the great leaders apart. Fortunately, all these traits are skills you can build over time.

Most of us are good leaders. Most of us aspire to be great leaders. Few are. What’s it take to transcend “good” and become “great?” What’s the secret?

There isn’t one.

The foundation for being a great leader is building a set of traits that inspire people to follow you and achieve outstanding results. In my experience, there are a dozen traits that are required before a leader can even hope to be great.

Building and demonstrating these traits does not guarantee greatness. Not by a long shot. But the absence of any one of these twelve traits will definitely hold you back from being great. In no particular order, here are some key leadership differentiators. Great leaders are:

Authentic – what you see is what you get. They share their hopes, fears, dreams, and failures. They truly care to know you as a person and want you to know them the same way. They strip away the façade and reveal their true selves to their team every day.

Visible – they’re known throughout the organization. They’ve built meaningful relationships with peers, subordinates, and superiors in seemingly every corner of the company. Their reputation precedes them in positive and powerful ways.

Influential – they can sway an audience with their words. They can make a case that’s clear and moves people to action. They’re able to explain not only what they want done but also why it’s beneficial for the listener to support their idea.

Memorable – their stories inspire others. They make their actions memorable and the lessons they teach easily accessible. Everyone loves listening to their stories not only because they’re entertaining but also because they inform, inspire, and instruct.

Compelling – they demonstrate gravitas in groups large and small. People are drawn to them because they know how to connect with their audience. Combined with their ability to influence and be memorable, the compelling leader galvanizes teams to action.

Efficient – they get stuff done. Fast. They’re mindful of how they manage their time as well as how they invest their energy in their team members. Their time investments are thoughtful. They invest based upon where they’ll get the greatest results long term for the time they put in.

Innovative – they see solutions that aren’t obvious. They challenge existing ways of thinking and generate new ideas on a regular basis. They think big and push the organization beyond what it believes its limitations are.

Strategic – the future is something they think about quite frequently. They consider possible scenarios, plan for them, and generate approaches for winning in the markets of tomorrow. The choices they make are mindful of the possible actions of others in the market.

Thoughtful – when faced with a problem or a challenge, they stop and think before acting. They have the ability to break big problems into smaller ones, understand true root causes, and generate solutions that solve the real issue at hand.

Decisive – once they’re done thinking and they’ve considered the options, they swing into action. While they may not have all the information, they have enough information to move forward. They’re able to balance judgment with risk and are willing to take calculated chances to have an impact on the organization.

Fair – when they’re negotiating, they don’t focus on winning for themselves. They focus on winning for everyone. They understand many negotiations are more about the long-term relationship than they are about saving a buck in an individual interaction. They’re able to prioritize fairness over profit. Whether the negotiation is with a team member who wants a day off or a supplier selling a multimillion dollar contract, these leaders strike deals that everyone finds acceptable.

Resilient – there’s no shortage of challenges and failures for leaders to face. The great ones know how to pick themselves up when they’ve been knocked down. They carry on. They dust themselves off and summon strength from deep within to carry on the fight.

Do those 12 characteristics guarantee a leader will be great? Of course not. But they’re a great start.

Being deficient in any of these traits will hold you back from being the best leader you can be. I believe this so firmly that I’ve put together a two-day long learning event focused on helping leaders build these skills. I’m hosting Executive Insight 16 on November 10-11 at the Waldorf Astoria New York. It’s 13 sessions focused on practical, pragmatic approaches to building these critical leadership traits. I’d love to have you join us. Visit to learn more about the program and register. If you register by September 8th, you’ll save up to $300 on the registration fee.

If you know you need to build any of these skills, find other leaders who already have them and see how you can learn from them. The sooner you improve your skills in these areas, the faster you’ll become the leader you’re capable of being.

Executive Insight 16

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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Photo: Twelve by Eric Fischer

2 Responses to “12 Characteristics of Great Leaders”

  1. Elizabeth McPhillips says:

    This is so right on but so lacking in the federal government right now. Innovative, Strategic and Decisive is not apparently possible for 95% of the supervisors or managers I have had over 32 years of working in the federal government. This is most apparent in the Great Plains area where I have spent most of my career. Too many feds in this region have remained in the same area their entire career except maybe the Corps of Engineers and the Military. Its so nepotistic that way. That said I continue to battle it but I am usually overturned for leadership roles because I am told I am a specialist not a leader. That said I did attend Executive Leadership training and the training was mostly right on with your posts which I ran across while in that training. Calling it quits and hanging up my federal shoes for now. Thanks for all your great posts. I will continue to enjoy them in retirement and maybe who knows a whole new career.

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Elizabeth. Sorry to hear of all the frustration. All we can hope is enough folks like you are out there trying to change the system and the culture. Good luck in your future career!

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