What Makes a Great Leader?

Leadership is often defined as influence.

In my opinion, everyone possesses the ability to “influence” or lead others in the general sense of the word, but not everyone is a leader (i.e., someone who functions in a publicly recognized role of guiding or influencing others). I have worked with several people who influence the lives of many people but didn’t function well once given a key role of leadership in an organization and/or company.

The reality is that leadership in a formal sense requires a certain set of perspectives, values, and praxis that very few are able to carry out well. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some phenomenal leaders that are literally changing the landscape of our world. Here are a few insights I’ve picked up about what it takes to become a great leader:

  • Pain Frames Purpose – Great leaders do not run away from pain, but rather, recognize that pain is what truly forms and informs their life purposes. It is not to say that they are sadistically seeking pain. Passion for one’s purpose is often fueled in part by one’s pain and suffering. Passion by definition is not only a reference to fervor but also the willingness to work with pain.
  • Collaboration is Necessary for Creative Innovation – Leaders recognize that they cannot and will not do it alone. Every great endeavor needs a team or community to help it flourish. Great leaders move from simply wanting collaboration to needing it. In addition, they welcome voices from unrelated fields to spark creativity and refinement of purpose.
  • Courage Guides Decisions – Great leaders are marked by their courage in decision making. They rarely lean towards the popular vote. Courage implies that there is often a deep presence of fear and obstacles. Courage is the ability to move forward in the presence of fear.
  • Compassionate Justice Provides Perspective – No matter how tough a great leader may appear, deep inside they all care about the people they lead. Compassionate justice is a reference to a work that seeks to make things right with a posture of real care. Great leaders are leading because they feel they can change the environment or direction of something that could be better. People ultimately “follow” a leader because they sense that they have their best interest in mind, even if it means that they go against the grain.
  • Focus of Implementation – Great leaders don’t just talk; they do. They realize the hard work is in the implementation of their vision and courage. They don’t make excuses nor choose to sit on their ideas. They simply move forward and figure things out along the way. Great leaders are focused on implementing better. They’re not satisfied with a 30,000 feet view. They also want to see what’s right in front of them. The focus is not just greater vision but greater action.

Living life as a leader is a noble pursuit. It takes a special person to move beyond the romanticized benefits of its role.

Are you a leader? If so, our world needs you at your best!

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Charles is the CEO & Chief Idea-Maker at Ideation, a brand innovation company that specializes in helping businesses & organizations build remarkable brands via innovative business design, organizational change architecture, brand integration, design, web, and marketing services. He is also the author of Good Idea. Now What?: How to Move Ideas to Execution, a practical book designed to help people move ideas to implementation. Charles is regularly invited to speak to leading companies and organizations on topics such as creativity, innovation, idea-making, and branding. Executive leaders from brands including Wells Fargo, Toyota, The White House, Catalyst, William Morris Endeavor, mun2, Council of Urban Professionals, Chick-fil-A, and many others have benefited from having Charles present at their key events.