Rare are great leaders that started out to be great. Great leaders become great not by taking leadership classes but by taking chances in life and on themselves - their talents, skills and passion.
They neither ask for permission nor wait for others' approval. They see a problem and seek to solve it or an issue and they are compelled to resolve it. They are driven by passion, pain and/or disdain for the status quo with a deep-seated belief they were created and destined for more. They have a healthy restlessness.
While there are many factors that distinguish great leaders from good leaders, two salient ones are evident. Great leaders are great because birthed within them is an attitude of discovery about themselves and a passion for something they feel strongly about and they want to do something about.
They discover as they take calculated risks and go for opportunities, talents and gifts they otherwise would not perhaps have known they had. It is in "the doing" that they discover them. Some things come about only as we walk them out.
Self-discovery. Self-awareness. I talk alot about these in my book, "Why We Fall: The Power of Self-Awareness." If you aren't self-aware, you're not ready to lead. Great leaders are aware of their weaknesses, triggers and blindspots and with intentionality, stridently refuse to allow any of these to sabotage their success.
It is not enough to be passionate. You must excel at your passion. Great leaders do. Good leaders have merely discovered a job they will be satisfied doing for the next umpteenth years until "retiring."
Great leaders never retire from their work because their work is not their job. Good leaders work their job hoping for a good retirement. Great leaders work their work with the understanding that no one can retire them from their work, only from a job.
Good leaders are afraid to make waves but great leaders cause tidal waves. Good leaders are common. Great leaders are rare.
And we are experiencing the impact of the lack of great leadership. Good is good enough in good times. But in distressful times, great leadership is not an option but a necessity.
What separates the good from the great and the common leader from the uncommon leader? In a word - principles. Why? Because principles never change. Never.
Good leaders follow rules that are subject to change over time. Great leaders practice principles that never change regardless of the times.
I have learned to live my life by principles not rules. Rules are rigid, situational, legalistic and as a rule (pardon the pun), generally broken. Leading to self-loathing, sometimes depression and sense of failure - leading to do-overs and self-promises to next time do better. Great leaders don't have time to waste entertaining such.
Principles on the other hand are not rigid and uncommonly great leaders tend to operate from a set of seven common principles:
1. They own their past - Great leaders understand that no one can hold over their head that which they have already acknowledged and that which has been made known.
They won't allow their past to get out in front of them, thereby removing a roadblock and avoiding a career detour. They recognize the inherent danger and always stay out in front of it.
Great leaders understand human behavior and know that people are more apt to forgive a confessed mistake than a covered-up lie. Own your past. Make right what you can and keep moving forward.
Great leaders never look back. They merely glance back at obstacles they overcame.
2. They know what they bring to the table and aren't afraid to walk away- When we don't know our worth we can't get upset when others don't respect our value.
Great leaders never undervalue themselves. Never. Too many of us underestimate our worth, work and talent. Great leaders are willing to walk away from the table rather than agree to a deal that deals them the lesser hand.
Be willing to walk away when others try to take away your power or diminish your contribution. Never give away your power and know that people can’t take what you are unwilling to give.
Great leaders don't mind giving; however, they are willing to walk away rather than give away too much. If you’re not ready to walk you’re not ready to fly.
3. They are risk-takers - Anybody can swim in shallow water but big fish are only found in the deep.
Great leaders are risk-takers. Calculated risk-takers. They understand that nothing is ever "safe." Every great leader took a risk. A good number of people have great ideas for great businesses but would rather die than try.
The degree of your success will be determined by the degree of risk you are willing to take. Only risk-takers win big in the end. What are you willing to risk to recover what you’ve lost or to gain what you long for?
If you are unwilling to take a risk, you may as well take a seat and watch life pass you by - because it will. Take a risk and work it. No pain, no gain. No risk, no reward.
4. They owe none and refuse to be owned by none - It's hard to be bold when you're broke.
The borrower becomes the lender’s slave (Proverbs 22:7); the rich man’s wealth is his fortress and the ruin of the poor is their poverty (Proverbs 10:15).
While money can't buy happiness, it gives us options. Options are necessary to achieve greatness. Money isn't, options are - and the two are joined at the hip. There is no honor in being broke.
A broke man or woman will always have their hand out and never positioned to extend a hand up. Greatness demands being positioned to give a hand up - but not if we live with our hand out. Those who owe, go to the back of the line.
It is impossible to lead the line when forced by debt, to tow the line. We can only deal from a place of strength when we are beholding to no one. Great leaders understand this simple truth - it is hard to be a bold leader when you are a broke follower.
5. They stay a step ahead - Good leaders keep pace with the pack, great leaders out pace the pack.
Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, has said one of the keys to his success is figuring out where the crowd is going and beating them there. Great leaders always have their antennae up and have learned the art of anticipation.
If all you can see is all you can see you lack vision. Good leaders have sight. Great leaders have vision and the uncanny ability to look beyond what they see.
Walt Disney looked out over a vast swampy land in Florida and saw the Magic Palace and Disney World. His contemporaries merely saw a swamp.
6. They are highly perceptive - If you want people to be for you, you must first make them believe you are for them.
Great leaders have the ability to make people feel as though they care about what they care about.
They give voice to their fears, anger, phobias, frustrations, hopes, dreams; and, makes them feel as though they are one of “them.” Great leaders understand this simple truth - if you want people to be for you, you first must make them believe you are for them. And they will follow you anywhere.
You can’t speak to a need and certainly not meet it if you never take the time to find out what that need is – real or perceived. Great leaders understand that people act on perceived need and part of their appeal is their ability to get out in front of and speak to, that very need.
Whether it is authentic or not, people perceive it to be and in leadership and life, perception always equates to reality - no matter how inauthentic it may be. Great leaders learn to speak the language of those they lead.
7. They will fight to the death for their name, brand and reputation - For leaders who would be great, their name, brand and reputation means everything. Without these, people wouldn't trust them to lead them out of a paper bag with a hole at the bottom.
Great leaders will let a lot slide, but never a lie that would besmirch their name or character. Never allow even the smallest lie to go unanswered. Small lies can bring down great leaders.
Never allow anyone to re-brand or re-define you by your silence. Silence always signals consent. You must answer your critics’ lies with truth; and those who misrepresent who you are, with facts. We sometimes feel we should always turn the other cheek – not so.
Not when your reputation is at stake. Fight for your name, your brand, your work and never let go unanswered a lie that would cast a shadow over who you are, cause others to doubt who you say you are; and, overshadow the great leader you have worked so hard to become.
Leadership is about greatness, not mediocrity or simply being good. Times are too bad to settle for good. And in a world filled with apathy and average, good is not good enough.
Jesus said in John 9:3, "we must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work."
Be great, not good. Great leaders work their work.