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The Ten Traits Of Legendary Leaders

How to develop yourself as a leader

legendary leaderWhat is the difference between leaders that are great and other leaders? This is an area that has been studied by many writers like John Kotter in The General Managers, Warren Bennis in On Becoming a Leader, and Burt Nanus in Visionary Leadership. But after consulting with dozens of CEO’s and executives in fortune 500 companies, here are the ten traits that we have seen most often with great leaders. Legendary leaders:

  1. Seek significance (people) rather than success (money). Great leaders are focused on people; their families, employees, and customers. They evaluate each initiative, plan and decision as to the impact on these key stakeholders. People are consistently put first at work and at home.
  2. Serve a purpose rather than achieve results. In a corporate world where quarterly results and profits are the barometer of success, effective leaders resist the pressure for immediate gratification and focus on long term purpose. They evaluate new product and services based on the needs in the marketplace and how they can improve the lives of the users.
  3. Focus on “what can I give?” rather than “what can I get?” Great leaders follow a philosophy of abundance. They know that the more they give, the more that returns. Instead of fighting to get a bigger piece of the pie, they work to make the pie larger.
  4. Do the right thing regardless of the outcome. Legendary leaders listen to their guts and follow a moral compass. With a high value on creativity and intuition, great leaders take time each day for reflection and meditation. They know that creativity does not take place in a cluttered mind.
  5. Expect in advance for things to go wrong. Problems are not only anticipated they are sought out by great leaders. They know that every computer conversion, new product launch and corporate initiative will result in glitches. They openly communicate this to staff so all are comfortable with change and, at times, ambiguity.
  6. Redefine failure for learning. When things do go wrong, effective leaders view these times as opportunities for learning. They analyze and evaluate what could be improved, re-designed, or scrapped. They actively encourage those around them to also participate in a “learning” process and recognize that experimenting is essential for knowledge.
  7. Resist “urgency addiction.” The bane of multi-taskers, great leaders resist the addictive tendency to run around putting out brush fires rather than staying focused on what’s important. They avoid the caffeinated tyranny of the urgent to follow through and complete what is truly significant. They guide others in the organization to resist the “hop-scotching” that decreases productivity.
  8. Stay focused on vision. Like a rudder for a ship, vision guides effective leaders each day, week, and month. They communicate the vision for the organization frequently so all employees understand and can implement what is important. They have employees and customers participate in the vision and direction of where the organization is going to increase loyalty and commitment.
  9. Do not take rejection personally. Great leaders don’t spend time keeping score or worrying about their popularity. They know that the key to success is the recognition that they will never please everyone. With careful consideration they listen to feedback, especially unpopular opinions. They know that this may offer some of the most valuable insights.
  10. Keep a sense of humor. A healthy funny bone allows the great leader to maintain balance, reduce stress and enjoy each day. They communicate the humor to their team and employees which set a positive tone in the organization. The legendary leader knows that happy employees provide effective customer service, are likely to stay long-term, and recruit other positive employees to join the team.

About Barbara Bartlein

Barbara Bartlein is The People Pro. She presents keynotes and training and is an expert in workplace culture. Her new book, Energy Suckers-How to Deal With Bullies in the Workplace is now available. Visit her site for more information.


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