The One Trait All Great Leaders Have in Common

I’ve often said I’ve learned some of my greatest lessons from those who have botched things up…

  • I’ve learned how to supervise people from my worst bosses.
  • I’ve learned how to manage my money from bankrupt family members
  • I’ve learned how to be a decent spouse by watching couples treat each other like dirt

And I’ve learned how to be a good leader by…well…taking a look around.

In fact, one need to have only paid attention to the news for a smidge of time recently to find some terrible characteristics of some terrible leaders…and in turn learn valuable lessons on how to be a good one.

Two recent examples?

Sure, Gadhafi and Sheen’s stories might seem unrelated, but trust me on this. They’ve got one big thing in common.

It’s the thing they both lack…the characteristic that makes great leaders.


Why do you want to be humble? Why is it so important?

Because it means you are strong. It means you are confident. It means you build trust. It means you get respect.

It means you are better at what you do. It means you get better at it everyday.

But let’s get specific. Humility means…

  • …that you are sure of your skills, but you also know that you make mistakes. And you learn from them. And they don’t rock your world.
  • …that you are willing to listen – really listen – to the opinions and feedback of others, and integrate them into your actions
  • …that you give away credit, take blame, and know that neither makes you better or worse as a person

Humble, strong, confident leaders know that…

  • …they don’t always need to be the one speaking, and shouldn’t be.
  • …they won’t prove that they’re smart simply by monopolizing every conversation.
  • …they gain knowledge and respect when they listen to others, instead of waiting impatiently for them to finish so they can open their own mouths

To be clear, the very best leaders aren’t just willing to show their humility.

They truly believe it.

They know that they have done their part in achieving something grand, but are equally certain that they have had help along the way…that some circumstance, person or external force has assisted in their success.

When we look to these leaders it is obvious that they are comfortable in their own skin, confident in their abilities.

They don’t need to talk about how great they are. You already know it.

They are always looking to learn more, expand their skills, grow. And so they do. 

They aren’t afraid to take risks because they know that they will be fine, no matter what. And they are.

And they don’t blame others when mistakes happen. Because they know mistakes will only make them stronger. And they do.

Now…Here’s the big secret. The thing you might not realize yet.

But it’s not about great leaders, the ones who possess humility.

It’s about everybody else who lacks it.

What these people don’t understand is that their refusal to be humble actually speaks volumes about their lack of confidence.

By talking about how great they are – and closing off any negative feedback – they actually expose themselves as terribly insecure. Because one bad comment makes their world crash down.

By letting their confidence cross over into plain, old, obnoxious arrogance, they prove they must be validated by others in order to feel good about themselves.

And the worst part? They don’t even get how insecure they are. And so the cycle continues.

  • And they put their own interests before the interests of their organizations.
  • And they can’t build trust.
  • And they are less effective.
  • And they wonder why people don’t get them.

Now, what about you?

  • Do you feel the need to talk about yourself? Do you shirk responsibility when things go wrong? Claim it all when things go right?
  • How often do you talk about yourself? How long do you do it?
  • Do you ask good questions of others? (to get this one right, check out my blog about how to engage absolutely anybody)
  • Do you really listen to their answers?
  • Do you learn from them?
  • Do you even believe you can?

You can.

This week, focus on humility.

  • Know that you are skilled and capable. But also know that there are more skills to learn.
  • Pat yourself on the back for your amazing achievements. But don’t do it in front of others.
  • Learn how to take a compliment. Then move on from it.
  • Learn how to take the blame for mistakes. And learn from them.

Do this, and know you’re a great leader.

And just maybe you’ll teach others – those who need it most – to be one, too.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

2 thoughts on “The One Trait All Great Leaders Have in Common

  1. Patty Costa says:

    Thank you Deirdre for such a wonderful concept about humility. I think it is sometimes seen as a negative characteristic but you clearly demonstrate how self-empowering it can be.

  2. Rhonda Rhyne says:

    Spot on Deirdre!

    “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Prov 11:2

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