There are times when we just want to compare ourselves to others. I know, comparisons generally have only one of two outcomes – either pride that you are better than someone else, or shame that you don’t quite measure up to someone else.

Nevertheless, I was reminded of this topic the other day when a client said he wanted to be a better leader. So, being the coach that I am, I asked him a question: Think of some really great leaders you know both inside and outside of your company and let me know 5 characteristics that leader has that make them great, in your estimation.

He thought about it and gave me 5 that I couldn’t argue with. Then, I explored with him how he stacked up in each of the 5 and he gained some new awareness about himself and where he wanted to go.

It got me thinking though…what are some common characteristics of great leaders? Interestingly enough, an article came into my inbox from Success Magazine where Jim Rohn identified 7 characteristics of great leaders.

So, I thought I’d share one man’s perspective on this – here they are with some commentary from yours truly:

  • Learn to be strong, but not impolite – I’d call this being assertive without being rude, abrasive or belligerent.
  • Learn to be kind, but not weak – kindness isn’t weakness; it is actually a strength. John Maxwell is famous for saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Demonstrating kindness is a way of showing you care about someone. We must be kind enough to speak the truth and not deal in denial or delusion.
  • Learn to be bold, but not a bully – I’d say it’s a safe bet we all hate bully’s. Remember the Back to the Future movies? Remember Biff the bully who was always picking on people, particularly Marty? Didn’t we all cheer and laugh when the manure truck dumped its…er, load, on Biff in his nice shiny convertible? Seize the moment, do the work needed to be a leader, but not as a bully.

Ronald Reagan was bold when he told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this (Berlin) wall.” He also made that statement against the advice of some of his close staff, yet he said it anyway.

  • Learn to be humble, but not timid – some people mistake timidity for humility; humility is a virtue where timidity is a disease. Like all diseases, it can be cured. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.
  • Learn to be proud, but not arrogant – it takes pride to build your ambitions and accomplish great things. Leaders who are arrogant actually accomplish far less. Their followers execute orders because they have to, not because they want to. Great leaders are surrounded by people who want to go the extra mile with and for that leader, rather than do just what they are told to do.
  • Learn to develop humor, but not folly – it’s ok to be witty, but not silly; fun but not foolish. It’s ok to make fun of yourself, but not of others, particularly in public or behind their back. It’s ok to laugh at something you did or were thinking as a way to make a point.
  • Learn to deal in realities – it is said the number one role of a leader is define the current reality. If you are prone to deny, defend, or dilute the facts, you will be hard pressed to define the current reality.

These are fundamental characteristics of all successful leaders, yet not necessarily all of them. Why not take a personal challenge and rate yourself in each of the above characteristics on a scale of 1-10. You will come up short in one or two or more areas and maybe that is you facing your current reality.

If you come out a 10 in all areas, relook at the 4th and 5th characteristics!

Let me know how you do.