The Six Measures of a Great Leader

The business world is changing at a blistering pace.

In years past, a leader’s success was measured purely by the size of their organization’s balance sheet. Today, a leader wanting to achieve excellence must also excel in a number of intangible factors, as outlined in Follow Your Conscience, by Frank Sonnenberg.

  • Operating according to sound business ethics;
  • Empowering and appreciating their workforce;
  • Communicating in an open and honest manner;
  • Improving business processes and eliminating waste;
  • Developing and maintaining an impeccable reputation;
  • Creating a work environment encouraging risk-taking and discouraging fear;
  • Unifying the organization around an aspirational mission and shared values;
  • Continuously promoting the personal and professional growth of their employees;
  • Nurturing trusting, long-term relationships with employees, suppliers, partners and customers.

Great leaders are effective because they’re knowledgeable, admired, trusted and respected. These qualities help them secure buy-in for their goals without requiring egregious rules or strong oversight designed to force compliance.

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Great leaders hire great people, train them well, inspire them, and then get out of their way.

Six traits of great leaders

  1. Vision — Great leaders are visionaries with a “can-do” attitude. They take on the impossible, confront issues and obstacles head-on and make decisions that position their organizations successfully for the future. Their decisions may not always be popular, but they’ll be considered deliberate and fair; short-term results won’t always be stellar, but long-term investments will secure a brighter future.
  2. Conviction –– Great leaders have backbone. They make every effort to gather information, weigh alternatives, secure buy-in from their constituents, and determine the best course of action. They focus precious resources in areas that provide the greatest opportunity, rather than trying to please everyone or making arbitrary, across-the-board decisions.
  3. Humility — Great leaders do what’s right — period. They recognize their stance represents something much larger than the whim of any one individual and put their egos and self-interests on hold. They do what’s in the organization’s best interest rather than trying to win a popularity contest, playing politics, or advancing their own personal agenda.
  4. Integrity — Great leaders operate with integrity at all times; they’re passionate about protecting their personal integrity and the reputation of their organization. They understand that trust takes a long time to develop, but can be lost in the blink of an eye. They know instilling a strong culture and promoting ethical core values are instrumental measures for success. In today’s volatile times, everything is subject to change except an organization’s core values.
  5. Credibility — Great leaders maintain a balance between short-term performance and building a better future. They know short-term wins enable them to build trust, instill confidence, and maintain momentum. This provides them with enough credibility to make strategic investments and tackle the long-term challenges that ensure success. They understand the importance of motivating others to accept personal sacrifice to benefit others
  6. Collaboration — Great leaders achieve success by setting high standards, remaining true to their beliefs and values, and listening to their conscience. They never stop trying until they do themselves proud. They encourage teamwork, promote win-win relationships, and demand everyone’s best effort. Everyone earns trust and respect the same way because earning trust and respect is priceless.
Michelle M. Smith

A highly accomplished international speaker, strategist, and author on performance improvement; Michelle is a respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, employee engagement and talent. She’s published and presented more than 1,100 articles and lectures and is a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and governments.

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished industry leader who has worked in every facet of recognition and incentives, both domestically and internationally.

She has appeared on Fox Television and the BBC, and been featured in magazines like Fortune, Business Week, Inc., and Return on Performance; as well as national radio programs, and contributions to the books “Bull Market” by Seth Godin, “Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk,” and “Social Media Isn’t Social.”

Michelle is President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association and Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University. She’s Vice President, Research for the Business Marketing Association and serves on the Boards of the Incentive Federation and the Incentive & Engagement Solutions Council. She was also the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine.