What Makes a Great Leader

There are followers.  There are leaders.  And then there are GREAT leaders.  Not all leaders are made equal—at least not in my experience.  So what makes the great ones great?  Here are some of the key differences between leaders and the GREAT ones.


These are the first 4 words in Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life” which has sold multiple millions of copies.  And he is right.  Life, real life is not about just us.  It is about our purpose.  And as far as true leadership is concerned it is definitely not just about us.

Many people in leadership never get to “the end of themselves and the beginning of somebody else” as I call it.  What I mean by this is that some leaders stay too self absorbed, self consumed and self gratified to ever really take their leadership to the level they may be capable of.  These leaders may have great communication skills, excellent ability of identifying problems and even developing strategies to solve them.  But along the way of leading their primary agenda revolves around themselves.

Here are two truths.  One cannot entertain faith and fear at the same time.  One cannot be thinking about themselves and about someone else at the same time.

Great leaders have made the decision to humble themselves, become servants and realize that true leadership is about putting everybody else ahead of themselves.  Yes, it is true when it is said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”  Great leaders not only understand servant leadership—the live it.


There is a lot of misunderstanding of fear, courage and heroes.  If you ever have the chance to talk with someone who has truly done something heroic they will most always tell you (if they are honest) that when they did whatever act of heroism they did they were scared to death when they did it.

You see, courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is what takes place when you do what must be done—while afraid.  Fear is a real, natural feeling.  Frankly, fear is one of our emotions that keeps us alive resulting in the old “flight or fight” instinct.  Great leaders have an abundance of courage.  I am not saying they are seldom afraid.  What I am saying is that they have the capacity to do what is necessary while afraid.

So don’t fear fear.  If you are in a leadership role, fear not doing what you know you need to do because you are afraid.


Truly great leaders are honest.  And I don’t just mean somewhat candid, I mean boldly honest.  I remember the first time I had the privilege of being around a real leader.  He was so honest it made me uncomfortable at first because I just wasn’t used to that level of honesty.

Unfortunately we are living in a world that has a serious honesty problem.  Too many people in leadership have ulterior motives, tell half truths and are too willing to not tell the whole story which would ultimately reveal all the facts and therefore the truth of the matter.  There is a difference between lying to people and just not telling the WHOLE truth.  If we want to be great leaders we must be honest.  First with ourselves—which can be hard—and takes courage, and with everyone else.


All great leaders believe passionately about setting clear expectations and holding people accountable.  Being comfortable with holding people accountable is a combination of servant leadership, courage and honesty.  Holding people accountable is one of the greatest challenges we have as leaders because it requires understanding the difference between wanting people to follow you and wanting to please people.  “People pleasing” is a character defect that will literally cripple you as a leader and really choke an organization from getting the oxygen it needs to thrive.

It is a human nature condition to want accountability.  Show me a situation where an organization lacks accountability and I will show you a ripe situation for chaos, anarchy and mutiny.  Great leaders are not confused about the need for accountability and have also developed the ability to hold people accountable in a way that is empowering, encouraging and motivating.  Great leaders know how to effectively communicate with their people without breaking their spirits.


If you are a leader or en route why would you want to be anything but a GREAT ONE?  Becoming a great leader has to be intentional, it takes a lot of work and practice and an unbelievable amount of discipline.  Humbling ourselves is a great place to start, recognizing it is not just about us.  And the more we make it about the people who are following us, the more courage, honesty and willingness to hold people accountable we’ll exhibit.

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