Great leaders come from a wide variety of different backgrounds, achieving wildly different definitions of success in many different industries. However, there are certain traits that all of these leaders share in common, here’s a few of them:
It often goes unnoticed, due to the enormous amount of success that some of the world’s greatest leaders have achieved, but a good number of them have experienced failure along the way. For example, Walt Disney was once fired because “he lacked imagination and had no original ideas”. Richard Branson launched Virgin Cola, which failed to take any significant market share from Coca-Cola. Henry Ford was left broke after trying two other motoring companies prior to founding Ford.
Many great leaders failed at some point, often in a very public and sometimes painful fashion. But the point is that they never gave up, they did not allow failure to distact them from their greater vision.
This links to the previous trait, as overcoming failure and persisting requires a great deal of resilience. Great leaders are able to rationalise and understand that failure is not the end, just another learning experience in the greater journey. Resilient leaders know that everyone isn’t going to be their number one fan, success will also breed it’s critics.
Resilient leaders work within their circles of control and influence, they do not give time to what they cannot change. Then when negative things happen, whether the events are within their control or not, they do not dwell, they do not take it personally, they put every step they can in place to fix the situation and remember the old adage “this too shall pass”.
Great leaders are not afraid to take risks! Fear of failure is one of the main reasons that holds people back from taking the actions that they would otherwise like to. They believe in their vision and know that the cost of doing nothing is often far greater than the cost of taking a risk.
Richard Branson is a good example, he has made a career out of taking risks, trying to shake-up industries that most other people wouldn’t dare to make an attempt on. Sometimes it’s worked out for him, sometimes it hasn’t, but overall I think we can say he’s done OK out of it!
Fearless leaders don’t mind challenging the status quo and they won’t let people tell them ‘no’.
Great leaders make themselves accountable for their own actions, even if those actions result in failure. They understand that acknowledging one’s own mistakes is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and leadership. This can earn them the respect of their peers just as much as their successes can.
Publically apologising for a mistake shows that the leader cares about the people who have been affected. Trying to cover it up, or to shift the blame onto someone else just makes the leader come accross as a person who cares only for themself.
Unwavering focus on a singular vision is something that is seen in the most successful leaders. For example, Colonel Sanders (KFC) had his chicken recipe rejected many times (some say over 1000) before he finally founded KFC at the age of 65.
Successful leaders have confidence in their vision, and will pursue it far beyond the point that most people would have dismissed it as a failure.
It’s almost impossible to maintain any of the other five traits if you do not have an absolute passion for what you do. Passion drives everything else, if you love what you do then you are going to pour your energy, care and creativity into it.
Steve Jobs loved the simplicity, functionality and beauty of Apple’s products. Richard Branson loves to challenge the status quo in various industries and bring better experiences to the customer. I’d imagine Harland Sanders was pretty keen on his chicken too!
Without passion, every step taken will be ten times harder and more painful. Without passion, it will not matter how successful you are at exhibiting the first five traits, you will never have the fire inside that allows great leaders to overcome all obstacles and achieve amazing things.