15 Traits of Great Leaders

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In thinking about the comments I’ve received from readers on the topic of leadership I noticed an interesting paradox…while many of you vehemently disagree on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of different leadership styles, most of you are in total agreement on the qualities and attributes possessed by great leaders regardless of style. In further pondering this dichotomy an interesting thought came to mind…If I could genetically engineer the perfect leadership gene what qualities and characteristics would constitute the architecture of leadership DNA? 

So, what traits would my perfect leader possess? Courage, vision, wisdom, integrity, empathy, persistence, compassion, aggressivity, discernment, commitment, confidence, a bias to action, creativity, self-discipline, loyalty, confidence, a great strategic thinker, passion, intelligence, humility, great communication skills, common sense, generosity, the ability to identify and develop great talent, attention to detail, faith, an active listener, respect for others, an excellent tactician, charisma, extreme focus, a high risk tolerance, a broad range of competencies, and the list goes on…

If any of you possess all the above attributes please forward your resume to my attention! All kidding aside, the longer my list of desirable qualities became, the more I realized the frivolity of this exercise…There is no perfect leader; only the right leader for a given situation. I have always maintained that great leaders have the innate ability to call on the right skills in a contextually and environmentally appropriate fashion. No single leader can possess every needed attribute. If I were successful in my genetic engineering exercise, I would no doubt have created a leader who would be driven crazy by emotional and intellectual conflicts.

While much has been written about the traits and characteristics that form great leaders, the truth is that leaders come in many different varieties…there is no one-size-fits-all formula for leadership. That being said, all good leaders all possess certain core qualities, and great leaders simply develop said core qualities to a higher level than their peers. Put simply a leader’s shelf life will be equal to their ability to align vision with execution. Great leaders focus on deploying the necessary resources at the right time to achieve to desired results. By exhibiting strong leadership skills you can effectively manage talent, performance, change, innovation, influence, rapport, and messaging to consistently drive a team/enterprise forward regardless of circumstances. If you want to insure longevity and success as a leader, work towards a mastery of the following characteristics: 

  1. Integrity: Always do the right thing regardless of sentiment and never compromise your core values. If you cannot build trust and engender confidence with your stakeholders you cannot succeed. No amount of talent can overcome illegal, immoral or otherwise ill-advised actions. A leader void of integrity will not survive over the long-haul.

  2. Excellent Decision Making Skills: As a leader you will live or die by the quality of the decisions you make. When you’re the leader good decisioning is expected, poor decisioning won’t be tolerated, and great decisioning will set you apart from the masses.

  3. Ability to Focus: If you cannot focus, you cannot perform at the level necessary to remain in leadership for very long. The ability to do nothing more than understand and lock-onto priorities will place you in the top 10% of all leaders.

  4. Leveraging Experience: Inexperience, a lack of maturity, needing to be the center of attention, not recognizing limitations, a lack of judgment, an inferior knowledge base, or any number of other common mistakes made by rookie leaders can cause your house of cards to fall. If you don’t have the experience personally, hire it, contract it, but by all means acquire it. Great leaders surround themselves with tier-one talent and the best advisers money can buy. They don’t make uniformed or ill-advised decisions in a vacuum.

  5. Command Presence: Great leaders possess a strong presence and bearing. They are unflappable individuals that never let you see them sweat (unless of course it serves a purpose). Everything from how they carry themselves to how they speak and dress, messages that they are in charge.

  6. Embracing Change: Great leaders have a strong bias to action. They don’t rest upon past accomplishments, and are always seeking to improve through change and innovation. In today’s fast paced and competitive environment those leaders who don’t openly embrace change will often be shown the door prior to the expiration of their initial employment contract.

  7. Brand Champions: Great leaders understand branding at every level. They seek to build not only a dominant corporate brand, but also a strong personal brand. leaders that are not well branded on a personal basis, or who let their corporate brand fall into decline will not survive.  

  8. Boundless Energy: Great leaders have a boundless amount of energy. They are positive in their outlook and their attitude is contagious. A low energy leader is not motivating, convincing, or credible.

  9. Subject Matter Expertise: Great leaders have a deep understanding of their subject matter, and a strong orientation toward achievement. Great leaders possess what often appears to be a sixth sense or an almost instinctive feel for what the needs to occur leverage their knowledge into a competitive advantage.

  10. People Acumen: Great leaders have a nose for talent…They understand how to recruit, develop and deploy talent focusing on applying the best talent to the best opportunities. They also know when it’s time to make changes and cut losses as needed. 

  11. Organizational Acumen: Great leaders know how to engender trust, when and how to share information, and are expert listeners. They develop strong and positive team/organizational cultures driven to performance by aligned motivations. They can quickly diagnose whether the team/organization is performing at full potential, delivering on commitments, and whether the team is changing and growing versus just operating.

  12. Curiosity: Great leaders possess a powerful motivation to increase their knowledge base and to convert their learning into actionable initiatives. They question, challenge, confront and are never accepting of the status quo.

  13. Intellectual Capacity: Great leaders are also great thinkers…both at the strategic and tactical levels. They are quick on their feet and know how to get to the root of an issue faster than anyone else. I’ve never met a great leader who wasn’t extremely discerning.

  14. Big Thinkers: Regardless of the physical or geographical boundaries of their current role, great leaders think big and add a zero. Limited thinking results in limited results. Whether global thinking is applied to capital formation, supply-chain issues, business development, strategic partnering, distribution or any number of other areas, those leaders who don’t grasp the importance of thinking globally will not endure. Great leaders are externally oriented, hungry for knowledge of the world, and adept at connecting developments and spotting patterns. 

  15. Never Quit: Great leaders refuse to lose…They have an insatiable appetite for accomplishment and results. While they may reengineer or change direction, they will never lose sight of the end game.


10 Responses to “15 Traits of Great Leaders”

  1. 1 Jim Ciotti July 1, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Congrats on the listing with Globe Street! I have always appreciated and enjoyed your articles, comments, suggestions and positions re CRE management. Glad to see your message growing within the Market space.
    Please keep up the good work and I will look forward to your features! Best wishes for your successful growth.


  2. 2 n2growthmyatt July 1, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks for the kind words Jim, and please stay in touch.


  3. 3 michaelj007 July 6, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    16. A Bad-Ass Mustache: Mike, shine on you crazy diamond!

    • 4 n2growthmyatt July 16, 2009 at 9:31 pm

      Hi Michael:

      I’ve had the stache since I was in the Army more than 25 years ago…some habits die hard.

  4. 5 RICHARD HUFFSMITH July 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Thanks for a good article.

    I had a question after pondering the article’s content.

    I wonder whether “knowing to lose” is as important a trait as
    all the rest.

    I am looking forward to reading your reply.

    • 6 n2growthmyatt July 16, 2009 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Richard:

      I’m not sure I completely understood your question, but if you’re asking if not giving up is as important as some of the other traits mentioned, my answer is absolutely yes.

  5. 7 Jim Ciotti July 16, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    One last thought on the 15. “Courage” The courage to embrace change and use it for the benefit of your Cutomers and Team, Board and Stockholders.

    • 8 n2growthmyatt July 17, 2009 at 1:37 am

      Hi Jim:

      Great point…Leadership absent courage is not truly leadership. A lack of courage from leaders results in a watered-down vision, poor performance at both the strategic and tactical levels, bad morale, and mediocrity at best. Great insights Jim…


  6. 9 Dan Colton December 21, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    In a moment of dispair and struggling to stay a float its nice to look in a mirror of intellect to see a glimmer of your self… even as the water is nearing your nose. Never capitulate! In the line of fire just keep putting one foot in front of the other otherwise you will succumb to being a statisic.

  1. 1 15 Traits « Trackback on July 6, 2009 at 3:24 pm

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