One of my students shared the following quote on our WhatsApp group this week: “A truly great boss is hard to find, difficult to part with and impossible to forget.” Upon which another bright spark remarked: “I agree but you can’t forget a bad boss either. LOL!”

It just reminded me how major the impact is that leaders have in the lives of the people they lead. I like to believe that there isn’t too big a difference between leadership and parenting. I believe the attributes that make parents great are pretty similar to the things that people say about great leaders.  Peter Koestenbaum writes about the diamond of leadership greatness. Reading through his material reminded me of five (5) things that you’ll find in all great leaders.   

They know who they are, and love that person.

The word that is key in this section is authenticity. Someone who is value-driven, and comfortable in their own skin. A leader with a keen awareness of themselves, consistent in word and deed. Someone who underst ands their strengths and weaknesses, and doesn’t feel threatened by a team member who is brighter or more competent in certain areas than them. A leader who has no need to blow their own horn, or to hang their achievements on the big clock. Someone who enjoys where they are, what they do and who they are.

They know where they are going.

You can call it a vision or a dream or goals, or all of the above, but a great leader knows the way, shows the way and goes the way. Because they have such a clear picture of where they are going and what they want, they have the ability to clearly explain that to the people they lead. Not only do they know where they are going, but they are as excited about the journey as the end destination. They have a passion for the process as well as the desired end-result. Their excitement is contagious. People want to be a part of it.

They are disciplined and realistic

You might have heard the saying: “He is so heavenly minded, he is of no earthly good”. Some leaders have a blown-up view of themselves as well as their dream. They are so absorbed and focused on realising some future reality, that they drop important day to day disciplines in their pursuit of fame or fortune. No dream has ever paid the rent; it is hard work, self-control and consistency that takes us all the way. This is true of our finances, our relationships, our health and our development.

I believe one’s destiny is closely linked to one’s natural abilities and passion. Great leaders are honest about what they can AND what they can’t do. They face their realities and live the truth. Their vision or goals are exactly that “theirs”. They don’t dream about, or work at something because somebody else has done that, but because they have the potential, the passion and the commitment for the task at h and.

Great leaders have their eyes on the future, but their h ands on the plough.

They are not afraid to take calculated risks

Anything worth having has a price worth paying. If something comes too easily, it often leaves the same. According to Anthony Robbins, we humans share the need for certainty (security). This is true of every part of our lives. But if we continually live our lives safely, controlling the process and the outcome so we can feel safe, we often do that at the expense of another common human need – variety or uncertainty. Life becomes boring, predictable and stale. Besides this, we often lose out on personal growth and the joy of feeling alive. A late mentor of mine Bill Gibson loved to compare South Africa to Canada where he was from. Although he was very aware of our challenges (he came here around 1994), he said that South Africans were alive! When people asked him why he came here when Canada had such a healthy economy, he used to jokingly reply: “You must remember what Churchill said. He said: “There’s nothing more exhilarating than being shot at and missed! You don’t get that in Canada”. He’d very quickly become serious about the real challenges South Africa is facing, which included violent crimes – not wanting to make fun of those who were victims. But if we want to be great, we can’t always stay with the tried and tested safe options. If we don’t risk losing, we don’t give ourselves a chance of winning. If we don’t risk getting hurt, we don’t give ourselves a chance of feeling loved. If we don’t risk failing, we don’t give ourselves the chance of succeeding. Great leaders will take a chance on someone, a process, an opportunity or situation. When it comes off; they give credit, and when it fails, they take accountability. 

They truly care about people’s wellbeing and growth

 “Servant-leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don’t work for you, you work for them.” – Ken Blanchard

Great leaders know they are not here for themselves. Our talents, passions and capabilities, are meant to make a positive difference in the world – for others. If my vision is just about me, I’m missing the point, and even if I’m successful in achieving the end result, I’ll need someone to celebrate with at that point. Great leaders take time out to underst and the goals or dreams of the people they are leading. They ensure that their vision encompasses these goals. That the successful pursuit of the one means advancement of the other. If my people are not included in my vision, don’t know that they are, or don’t feel excited about it; my own people will be a big part of the reason why I won’t make it. But if they are, they will engage voluntarily and creatively, to make it a reality. Together we will plan, work, fail and succeed. Together we will celebrate our success.

Great leaders don’t talk about I, ME and Mine – but US, WE and Ours.

Good leaders have compliance. Great Leaders – commitment! Good leaders have control. Great leaders – Power!

Stefan Lessing