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Fundamentals of a GREAT Leader

Updated: Feb 6, 2022


Weather you're a tenured people leader or an individual contributor with grand ambitions to become a GREAT Leader someday, the fact that you're reading this article is a promising sign.

In the first article of this Leadership Renovation newsletter, I pontificated about the difference between what I call generic-label leaders and GREAT Leaders (emphasis intentional) and the need for #LeadershipReform in the corporate world. I also listed a few questions you can ask yourself to very quickly determine which of the two categories you fall into.

As early as the 1940s, with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs study on human motivation, and then in the 1950s with Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y on work motivation and management, studies have proven time and again the important role a leader has in the lives of their employees. Those studies are still reinforced abundantly today via the infinite inventory of memes, videos and podcasts that result from a simple search online.

My definition of a GREAT Leader is someone that has "something special" that enables them to inspire the best in others. If you can do that - everything else will follow. In future articles, I'll provide a detailed checklist of specific actions you can take to help you become a GREAT Leader. I'll also be sharing insights from other experts in the industry.

But first, we need to talk about the three fundamental character traits that any GREAT Leader must possess. These are the characteristics that you will need to come to the table with before signing up for the GREAT Leader program. They are humility, trust and selflessness.

"The good news is that, if you DO have these traits, everything else can be learned." -- The DIY Leader

The bad news is that, if you don't have these basic character traits (or don't have a genuine desire to cultivate them), then this article is not for you. That type of leadership coaching is way above my pay grade (and skills).

However, if you do have a genuine desire to be a GREAT Leader, read on.

Humility (n)

  • What it is: The quality or state of not thinking you are better than others.

  • Why it matters: If a leader thinks they have all the answers, their team then simply becomes an assembly line of underutilized order takers who eventually become bitter because their skills are not being appreciated. While it may seem counter-intuitive, people respond favorably to leaders who are humble enough to admit when they don't have all the answers. In other words, humility begets respect. That is not to say that people respect a leader who has zero knowledge about the subject matter. After all, even the sub-par, generic-label leaders that I referenced in my last article have SOME knowledge about the subject/function/team they are leading. However, these are the same generic-label leaders who tend to think they deserve respect simply because of their title. <Insert your own reference here to "respect must be earned">. While that approach may fool some of the people some of the time, I promise you, employees will eventually see through this façade. They'll then start comparing notes and voila! You've just become a meme or a gameboard option for corporate BINGO. (True story!)

  • Side effects of humility in a GREAT Leader: Team synergy, creative ideas, mutual respect, increased employee engagement, increased employee satisfaction (when employees realize their thoughts matter!) and decreased employee turnover. Humility also indicates humanity, and open-mindedness. Fellow employees appreciate the GREAT Leader’s ability to recognize and give credit for another’s ideas. Long-term side effects include an increase in professional growth for leaders and employees due to the cross-pollination and consumption of ideas.

Trust (n)

  • What it is: Belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest and effective.

  • Why it matters: If a leader is not trusted and behaves shrouded in secrecy, camouflaged as executive privilege, a toxic environment manifests where "the feeling is mutual." No team can thrive in this type of environment. If a leader doesn't demonstrate trustworthiness, they create a culture of unhealthy competition where it is "every man for himself," so no one prospers. That, my friends, is a fundamental character flaw that will destroy even the strongest of teams.

  • Side effects of a trustworthy, GREAT Leader: This fundamental characteristic trait has such positive, far-reaching influence that folks will still be touting your praises years from now, long after you've been scooped up by "the competition." Long-term side effects include employee loyalty and dedication as well as increased employee engagement and productivity.

Selflessness (n)

  • What it is (in this scenario): A tendency to regard the professional well-being of others as more important than one's own professional well-being.

  • Why it matters: If you make your employees your top priority, you will succeed. If you prioritize the professional development, fulfillment, and well-being of your employees, you will succeed. Selflessness also indicates to your employees that you care. Leaders in the agricultural industry abide by this philosophy because they know that nurturing their plants and livestock always leads to a better product and subsequently, increased profitably. This same concept is even more imperative with humans because humans (employees) have the option to pack up their skills/knowledge/experience/productivity/ideas and channel them to the benefit (and profitability) of your competitors. For any lack of attention or ability to be selfless - your competitors thank you.

  • Side effects of a selfless GREAT Leader: Long term effects include employee loyalty, increased productivity, increased employee satisfaction, and decreased employee turnover. WARNING: This fundamental character trait may result in chronic, long-term friendships with employees.

If you've made it this far in the article, I believe there is hope for you because that indicates to me that you care. And if you care enough to make a conscious effort to cultivate these three character traits that are fundamental to a GREAT Leader, I have confidence that you will succeed.

Here are my recommended steps to start construction on the three fundamental character traits of a GREAT Leader:

  1. Share this article with your employees (trust).

  2. Tell them you want to be a GREAT Leader (humility).

  3. Schedule a recurring meeting series with them to discuss this topic and ask for their ideas/suggestions (selflessness).

  4. Attend the calls... but be an active LISTENER.

  5. On the "kick-off" call, ask for volunteers to act as project manager for this project. If you get multiple volunteers... even better. Delegate this project to them and let them work together to take it from there to create an action plan to help you move the needle in the right direction (trust, humility, selflessness).

  6. Implement the plan. Use your recurring calls to hold yourself accountable.

  7. Prepare yourself for BIG rewarding changes to start taking place with your team. Seriously.

If you make a genuine effort and successfully complete the steps above, you will have built the foundation you need to be a GREAT Leader. In upcoming articles, I'll offer some DIY Tips for expanding and improving on this solid foundation.

Like and share this article with your friends and co-workers, and follow me as I continue to post articles about #LeadershipReform and becoming a GREAT Leader.

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