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21 Things All Great Leaders Do

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Ever asked yourself: What do the great leaders do that other leaders (average and, well, poor) don’t? Great leaders are in part born, but it’s also learned. Just because you have the instincts for leadership doesn’t make you a great leader. Great leadership is also about cultivating the right habits and disciplines.

Which is good news for all of us, because that means we can grow and become better.

Age doesn’t make you better as a leader. It just makes you more of who you really are.

Your habits, disciplines and skill sets make you better. So how do you move toward joining other great leaders? These 21 practices will do it.

I’ve written on qualities of leadership before, but I thought I’d expand, revise and summarize my thinking into one post.

Here are 21 things I’ve seen all great leaders do.

Great leaders:

1. Make the mission more important than themselves

The sure sign of a mediocre or poor leader is that their leadership is about them.

And it’s not always ego that drives this. Self-centered leadership can be driven as much by insecurity as it can be by pride.

The reason people want to throw their whole heart into a mission is because the mission is about a cause bigger than everyone, including the leader.

2. Work on their character even harder than their skill set

I used to think being a great leader was about your skill set.

But character sinks the ships of otherwise highly skilled leaders. Ethical breaches, moral lapses and character flaws take highly skilled leaders out of play regularly.

Great leaders know that character—not competency—determines your capacity as a leader. So they work hard on their heart, their lives, their morality.

3. Refuse to make excuses

Ever notice that the best leaders never make excuses?

In fact, the leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses. And the leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress.

This is one of my pet leadership themes: You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

So stop making excuses. You’ll start making progress.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.