What are the characteristics of a great leader?
Do you have to hold a certain title or be in a certain job to be a great leader?
Is there a difference between a leader and someone in authority?
How can you spot a great leader?
I want to suggest the top traits of a leader and to prove that you can be a leader right now, regardless of who you are and what you do.
Before I do, I want to tell you about an amazing story of leadership and bravery.
Sergeant Dakota Meyer served in Afghanistan in 2009 and was involved in the Battle of Ganjigal.
A distress call came from 100 soldiers, pinned down by enemy fire. The soldiers request for artillery support had been denied.
Sergeant Meyer and his team were in the area. They looked to his Commander for instruction.
Meyer was told to ignore the distress call. It was too dangerous and the order was to retreat and wait with the vehicles.
Sergeant Meyer knew that unless something changed the 100 soldiers were likely to die.
Meyer, disobeying a direct order, climbed into a Humvee and headed towards the distress call with another soldier. Under heavy enemy fire Sergeant Meyer saved more than a dozen fellow Marines.
Over the course of five hours Meyer blocked many enemy attacks. He used machine guns, rifles, grenade launchers and even a rock. He carried wounded Afghan soldiers to safety and provided cover for dozens more to escape.
Sergeant Meyer, despite disobeying a direct order was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions and bravery.
I recommend reading the full account here.
What Are Your Demands?
When Sergeant Meyer was asked why he decided to disobey the order his answer was a simple one. ‘They are my family. They are my Brothers and I was not going to leave them behind.’
Leadership comes in all forms. You don’t have to be in a position of leadership to show leadership qualities.
You will have worked with people who are great leaders but not in a position of leadership.
You will have also worked with people who are a leader by title, but have no leadership traits, zero. They rely on their authority to get things done and leverage power in their favour.
The perfect scenario is working for a leader who creates a positive environment. One where you want to give your best every day. Not because they demand it of you, but because they have created an environment where you demand it of yourself.
Sergeant Meyer fought in this environment. It was not good enough to look at others and expect them to step up. Everybody had to, regardless of rank, give the best of themselves every day because this is what they demanded of themselves and each other.
Characteristics Of A Leader
How do you know if you are working with a leader or an authority figure?
Here are a list of key traits you will see in leaders that you definitely won’t see in authority figures.
They Do The Right Thing – Even If It Is Unpopular
Leaders have to make tough and uncompromising decisions, some you won’t always be happy with.
A great leader will explain some of the rationale behind the decision.
This type of communication is vital in maintaining and building trust.
Keeps Their Word
We have all worked with people who either back track on what they said or outright lie. A strong leader keeps their word and maintains commitments.
This is key in creating an environment where trust is high and others in turn keep their promises. A high performing team will back each other up and not shirk their responsibility.
Tenacity, grit, the ability to keep going – call it whatever you want, this is one of the most important characteristics of a great leader.
When others feel like giving up they are looking at different ways of knocking down the obstacle. They may not always manage it but their hunger for action trickles down to the rest of the floor. This inspires the rest of the team to hunker down and give it their best.
This can be a double edge sword. You achieve success but rarely do you take a moment to savour and appreciate what has been achieved.
Instead you are looking at the next opportunity and challenge.
In the right hands being rarely satisfied means you are always looking to raise the bar. You encourage others to go beyond what they thought is possible. In the wrong hands it can come across as being unappreciative. Be careful out there.
Humble – Rarely Take The Credit
Think about the great leaders you have worked for. Rarely do they boast about their achievements. They tend to be grounded and if anything they are critical of themselves. They always believe they can be better.
A great leader will talk about success and pinpoint the success on the efforts and ability of the team. The leader is part of something much bigger. The team comes first and without their support and brilliance the leader has nothing.
A Strong Sense of Purpose
A great leader will set a compelling vision. They will create an environment where everyone wants to work towards a common goal.
The sense of purpose each person has will be strong. They understand how their efforts impact the success of the team. If the team suffers a defeat a great leader will lift spirits and refocus everyone.
Yes You Can
You don’t have to be in a position of leadership to show any of the above. You can take one or all the above characteristics and start to live them, right now.
Sergeant Meyer was just 21 when he saved dozens of lives and was not in a leadership position.
We are not in a war zone or contending with the possibility of death.
If Sergeant Meyer can show all the above, in such an impossible environment, you can too.
Here are some questions to reflect and act on.
How can you create a positive impact your team?
What type of environment do you want to create for those working around you?
If you have to make a tough decision, how will others understand this?
If I spoke to someone you work with, what would they say about you?
What small step can you take right now that will make a difference?
I would love to hear from anyone that answers any of the above questions.
Be the great leader (regardless of your title) that you want to be.
Demand the best from yourself and create an environment where others feel the same.
Don’t settle for anything less.
Believe and Take Action.