Great Leaders: 17 Qualities That Set Them Apart

Too often, great leaders are those once in a lifetime happenings. Leaders will emerge anywhere there is a group – workplaces, organisations, teams, friendship and social circles, communities, families – anywhere. You won’t find many of the qualities that make a great leader on a resume or a job description – which is a shame – because they’re the ones that make the difference. Here are some qualities that make unforgettable and influential leaders.

  1. They genuinely care about the success of the others.

    Great leaders will do whatever they can to keep the path to success wide open for everyone – and not just by giving well suited bottoms a comfy place to land when the midnight oil is burning on – night after night after night. In workplaces they’ll challenge and develop employees and offer opportunities for intellectual and professional growth.

  2. They say ‘Yes, and …’ instead of ‘Yes, but …’.

    Before moving on to change, advise or tweak, they acknowledge the work behind the idea and the contribution it makes to the ones that come after it.

  3. They are open to new ideas – and not just their own.

    Being able to say ‘no’ is important but if it’s used too quickly or too often it will stifle creativity. The best ideas come from the nuttiest ones. Great leaders support ideas and concepts and allow them to be expanded to their full potential. That doesn’t mean they jump on every pony that comes along – some things were never meant to fly – but they acknowledge the thought, effort and value behind an idea, even if the value is what track not to travel down.

  4. They are emotionally open – in a professional way.

    They get excited and are quick to let on when they’re disappointed in themselves. They’ll celebrate everyone’s wins and will empathise when things don’t go to plan. At times they’ll become cranky or frustrated. And then they’ll apologise. Professionalism with humanity. A heroic combo.

  5. They appreciate others – and others feel appreciated.

    Great leaders are very quick to give positive feedback. Because of the way they lead, employees feel like they work with not for a boss, so will have more of an investment in the outcome. People work harder when they know what they is being noticed.

  6. They don’t steal credit.

    They give credit openly, publicly and wholeheartedly. We learnt not to steal as toddlers because it was the quickest way to be tumbled. Nothing’s changed. People aren’t stupid and those who steal credit for someone else’s work will find it’s the quickest way to have a target plastered on their back. 

  7. They are humble.

    When things are going bad, they’ll blame themselves. When things are going well, they’ll applaud the efforts of those around them. Leaders who have solid self-insight, are more self-critical, humble and whose opinion of their leadership quality are more inline – and not grander – than the opinions of those they are with, are more engaging and engender more commitment, according to new research. The overwhelming bulk of leaders in highly successful companies, including Fortune 500 companies, have this one particular trait. 

  8. They are never abusive.

    Leaders who are abusive throw an entire team into conflict. Productivity is reduced as the focus is shifted from coping with the conflict and away from performance. 

  9. Intelligence with integrity.

    Intelligence is important but it isn’t enough on its own. There are plenty of intelligent leaders who have made bad decisions. A lack of integrity will blind wisdom and will too often lead to decisions that fail to consider all possible implications. When a decision is made by a leader of high integrity, even if the decision is an unpopular one, it will be respected all the same and will generally engender the least fallout. Generally.

  10. They are likeable.

    People won’t follow people they don’t like. Leaders with good character will inspire others towards optimal performance. Leaders can be as educated and impressive as they think you are but if people don’t like them, their influence will wither. People will do as much as they need to, and nothing more.

  11. The instill trust.

    Leaders who lead through fear will get the mimimum. Leaders who connect with those around them and genuinely care will inspire peak performance. People will want to do their best and work their hardest for somebody they like. For someone they fear, the goal becomes staying out of trouble.

  12. They aren’t afraid to say the tough stuff.

    Great leaders know that constructive criticism is never ‘constructive’. It’s just criticism. (How did those two words ever find each other anyway?). Putting the word ‘constructive’ in front of criticism doesn’t make it so. That doesn’t mean they only ever talk glossy. Not at all. If something needs addressing, they’ll do it but they’ll do it with grace. They’ll sandwich it between strengths, reassure, and offer constructive advice.

  13. They inspire, educate, motivate. 

    Inspiration. Education. Motivation. A great leader will always provide at least two of these – not necessarily the same two – to everyone around them.

  14. They get their hands dirty.

    They’ve been there. Done that. Haven’t stopped yet. They never feel so self-important as to be above the grunt work. As a result, people will put in the work that’s necessary. They lead a culture where entitlement isn’t tolerated and hard work is valued and appreciated.

  15. They won’t tolerate ‘white-anting’.

    Organisations and groups are brought to their knees by rumour-mongering and smack talk that happens behind backs. Great leaders create a culture that squeezes this out. Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t always be people with forks in their tongues. What it means is that they run against the tide of the organisation.

  16. They see opportunity in the uncertainty and the problems.

    Crisis brings opportunity if there is a leader ready to learn, change and flex around it. Major changes don’t generally happen when things are going well.

  17. They keep improving.

    Even at the pinnacle of their career they will continue to grow. They will seek out new directions, read and listen. The will continue to grow and expand themselves, both personally and professionally.

Aside form being sharp, quick and intelligent, great leaders are emotionally intelligent and have a profound capacity to inspire and connect with those around them. Great leaders aren’t easily defined, but when you’re in the company of one, you know it.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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