The Six Measures of a Great Leader

The business world is changing at a blistering pace.

In years past, a leader’s success was measured purely by the size of their organization’s balance sheet. Today, a leader wanting to achieve excellence must also excel in a number of intangible factors, as outlined in Follow Your Conscience, by Frank Sonnenberg.

  • Operating according to sound business ethics;
  • Empowering and appreciating their workforce;
  • Communicating in an open and honest manner;
  • Improving business processes and eliminating waste;
  • Developing and maintaining an impeccable reputation;
  • Creating a work environment encouraging risk-taking and discouraging fear;
  • Unifying the organization around an aspirational mission and shared values;
  • Continuously promoting the personal and professional growth of their employees;
  • Nurturing trusting, long-term relationships with employees, suppliers, partners and customers.

Great leaders are effective because they’re knowledgeable, admired, trusted and respected. These qualities help them secure buy-in for their goals without requiring egregious rules or strong oversight designed to force compliance.

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Great leaders hire great people, train them well, inspire them, and then get out of their way.

Six traits of great leaders

  1. Vision — Great leaders are visionaries with a “can-do” attitude. They take on the impossible, confront issues and obstacles head-on and make decisions that position their organizations successfully for the future. Their decisions may not always be popular, but they’ll be considered deliberate and fair; short-term results won’t always be stellar, but long-term investments will secure a brighter future.
  2. Conviction –– Great leaders have backbone. They make every effort to gather information, weigh alternatives, secure buy-in from their constituents, and determine the best course of action. They focus precious resources in areas that provide the greatest opportunity, rather than trying to please everyone or making arbitrary, across-the-board decisions.
  3. Humility — Great leaders do what’s right — period. They recognize their stance represents something much larger than the whim of any one individual and put their egos and self-interests on hold. They do what’s in the organization’s best interest rather than trying to win a popularity contest, playing politics, or advancing their own personal agenda.
  4. Integrity — Great leaders operate with integrity at all times; they’re passionate about protecting their personal integrity and the reputation of their organization. They understand that trust takes a long time to develop, but can be lost in the blink of an eye. They know instilling a strong culture and promoting ethical core values are instrumental measures for success. In today’s volatile times, everything is subject to change except an organization’s core values.
  5. Credibility — Great leaders maintain a balance between short-term performance and building a better future. They know short-term wins enable them to build trust, instill confidence, and maintain momentum. This provides them with enough credibility to make strategic investments and tackle the long-term challenges that ensure success. They understand the importance of motivating others to accept personal sacrifice to benefit others
  6. Collaboration — Great leaders achieve success by setting high standards, remaining true to their beliefs and values, and listening to their conscience. They never stop trying until they do themselves proud. They encourage teamwork, promote win-win relationships, and demand everyone’s best effort. Everyone earns trust and respect the same way because earning trust and respect is priceless.
Michelle M. Smith

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry and to the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished international speaker, author, and strategist on performance improvement. A respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, talent and employee engagement, she’s a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Michelle speaks and writes about what she knows first-hand – as a former executive of a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, and as a researcher and strategist. She passionately shares new insights and tools for leaders to confidently, effectively and strategically lead their organizations to success.

Michelle is the Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University and President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association. Michelle was the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine, and has been featured on Fox Television, the BBC, in Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and other global publications, and contributed to the books Bull Market by Seth Godin, Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, and Social Media Isn’t Social.