Elements of a Great Leader

Posted On: April 4

Throughout my career, I have had the honor of teaching programs for employees who have been identified as “high potentials.” In companies with tens of thousands of employees, the senior management team hand-picks a small group they feel has great promise as the organization’s future leaders. They then send them through an intense executive development program to prepare them for the next levels of their careers. For example, I served as an instructor for the Global Leadership Development Program for a Fortune 100 financial firm. Out of 24,000 employees, nineteen were chosen to work with me.

Knowing that the number one factor in attracting and keeping top talent is the leader they work for, I always ask the group to describe their views on what it takes to be a great leader. Their answers are always consistent.


It turns out that there are five key characteristics that exceptionally talented people demand from their leaders:

1. Credible
  • Completely honest, transparent, and willing to speak with candor
  • Living the company’s values with impeccable integrity
  • Highly competent. Knows how to do the job well and has solid leadership skills
  • 100 percent accountable and always keeps promises
  • Acts on a clear vision for the future of the organization
  • Passionate and excited about the work, the employees, the company, and the customers


2. Respectful
  • Curious. Open to the ideas of others and interested in what they have to say
  • Treats people with respect and kindness
  • Embraces diversity at all levels
  • Treats everyone fairly (not equally but fairly)
  • Goes out of their way to acknowledge each individual’s contribution


3. Approachable
  • Genuine, does not put on an act of superiority
  • Maintains an open-door policy and makes time to meet with people
  • Practices management by wandering around and looking to catch people doing things right
  • A great listener. Focused, never distracted, listens intently, remembers, and cares
  • High EQ. Demonstrate self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and a strong motivation to make the team successful
  • Appreciative. Shows genuine gratitude and thankfulness


4. A team player
  • Develops and displays a high level of competence
  • Follows through on all commitments and delivers results
  • Demonstrates integrity by ensuring that actions and words are consistent
  • Stands behind the team and fully supports team decisions
  • Helps the other members of the team and is enjoyable to work with
  • Asks excellent questions, asks for help, listens, and keeps everyone informed
  • Willing to admit when they make a mistake or do not have the answer


5. Highly professional
  • Takes their career seriously, approaches it as a craft, and is strongly committed to lifelong learning
  • Has a clear set of values and sets the standard for ethical behavior and integrity
  • Communicates with honesty, authenticity, and transparency
  • Treats everyone with respect, fairness, and dignity
  • Loyal to the organization, committed to the team
  • Dedicated to delivering superior service to their team and the customer
  • Strives for work/life balance and helps others to do the same


As you will notice, many of these traits overlap because they are fundamental to being an exceptional leader.

How do you stack up against the elements on this list? What other characteristics would you add to the list?

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