6 Things That Make Someone A Great Leader

by  John Bossong  |  Leadership Development

There are a lot of good leaders in business today.  But what separates the good from the great leaders?

In golf, the difference between making the PGA tour and playing on a mini-tour can be less than a stroke average.  The margin is very slim.   That’s true of most professions.

Those that put in the effort and time create their opportunity or luck 

Below are six things you can do to become a great leader.  There is no guarantee.  But, with the effort and time, I believe you will create your own opportunity and luck.

Remember, the margin between being good and great can be slim.  Create every opportunity you can.
1. They don’t sit back and magnify the past ( “good old days”).   Business changes too fast today.  What works today may be obsolete tomorrow.  If you sit back and relish your past accomplishments, that’s a recipe to get passed by. Great leaders disregard the status quo. They move forward and spend little time looking in the rear view mirror.

2.  Hire great people.  This seems like common sense but it’s not common practice.  Most organizations don’t spend near enough time hiring people.  Especially in “key” positions.  More often than not, a quick decision is made to alleviate the stress.  What happens is the poor hire creates more stress 6 months down the road.

 Great leaders take their time and hire people that fit culturally first.  Then they match up the skill-set and determine the training needs.

3.  Realize that failures can lead to success.   Great leaders are not scared of taking risks. They know what author Seth Godin states is true, “not starting something and failing is worse than starting and failing.”  However, great leaders do avoid the fatal errors.  They don’t bet the farm.   They know when to take the leap.  They don’t hide their mistakes, they confront them and learn from them.

4.  Fanatical about culture.  Great leaders create a culture (cult like) of family and entrepreneurial spirit.  They are fanatical about principles and live by them.  Great  examples are AppleZapposSouthwest Airlines and The Dave Ramsey organization.  Employees either buy into the culture or don’t stay. This all starts with a great hiring process.

5.  Are great delegators. This develops over time. It is developed through trust and accountability, which, results in extreme loyalty. This also goes back to the hiring process. Great leaders attract exceptional talent they can delegate to.

6.  Reproduce other leaders.  John C. Maxwell, in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, calls this the Law of Reproduction.   Great leaders produce other leaders.

Great organizations commit the time and effort to leadership development.  This is the lifeblood of the organization.  Great leaders know this and so do the organizations they work for.

What makes a great leader?  Doing these 6 things over time with diligent focus.  There is no shortcut.  It won’t happen overnight. You can’t take a leadership course or go through a seminar and be a great leader. Those will help, but time and effort over decades of focus is the answer.

You will wake up an overnight success!

What do you think makes a great leader?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

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What People Are Saying

Kel  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Thanks John for sharing such leadership nuggets.
I love to delegate those under me as I see it as a way to create a sense of belonging, inclusion and promotion of new skills. Sadly most employees view it as the leader being lazy.

I am presently learning how to develop leaders from those who are peforming well without promoting them prematurely. I believe that everyone can be a leader in some capacity, depending on their abilities, skills and experience.

Above all I believe that great leaders will be able to develop other leaders if they are not threatened about upcoming leaders, which can be challenging for some.

This list will be one of my references as I further develop my leadership skills.

Again thank you,

John Bossong  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Kel – thanks for your comments. You are on the right track! Great points. I agree with you, everyone can be a leader in some capacity. It’s great that you love to delegate, you will be able to get a lot more done with that mindset.

Take care,

David M. Dye  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply


I appreciate the emphasis on hiring great people – if you bring someone on the team who doesn’t have the work in their DNA, that’s your responsibility.

Great list!


David M. Dye

John Bossong  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

David – thanks for the comment. Great point about the DNA, it is our responsibility as leaders.

Take care,

Jon Mertz  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Great points, John. It is a mindset and actions that enable leaders to be great. It is a mindset of making yourself and other better, and it is actions to enable this approach. Leading is about people. Leading is about making all better in what they do and how they do it. This is intertwined throughout the points you highlight. Thanks! Jon

John Bossong  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Jon – good thoughts, I agree with you on the mindset aspect. That’s true with just about everything. I also like your point about making others better, great point!

Take care,

Margaret  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

related to the “starting and failing” one–they self-initiate, despite the fear of failing

John Bossong  |  22 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Margaret – thanks for your comment, great point on the self-initiate (that’s really true). I like that. Thanks for your thoughts and comment.

Take care,

Sheri Lehman  |  23 Oct 2012  |  Reply


Enjoyed your list of things to cultivate a great leader and emulate great leadership. I particularly enjoyed #1. Robert Greenleaf, author of The Case for Servant Leadership, and Michael O’Brien, author of Profit from Experience, both emphasize the need to be forward-thinking. Complacency is an avoidable part of leadership and it is refreshing to see more lists empowering people to disregard “it works for us now” and involve foresight in daily research and activities.

John Bossong  |  23 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Sheri – thanks for commenting. I’ll have to check out those two books. You make a great point about complacency. It seems like change is an everyday thing, if you stay in the status quo, it’s just not good enough.

Take care and good luck with your studies. Your website is well done.


William Seidman  |  27 Oct 2012  |  Reply

While I appreciate the effort that went into this post, it strikes me as mostly the same old bromides for leadership. Most leaders I deal with know all of these things, but few do them and when they do, not much actually changes. For example, be a great “delegator” only works if the leader has built a strong sense of direction in the organization and trusts that people are good at their jobs. Otherwise, delegation is bogus and doesn’t work.

In over 15 years of working with organizational performance improvement, we have been able to develop and implement leadership programs that actually develop leaders because they are based on leadership in the messy real world conditions of uncertainty, limited information, conflicting agendas, insufficient resources and many other challenges. The core of these leadership programs is what we call the 4 “positives:”

– Positive deviance — leverage your best people
– Positive images — focus on the greater purpose the organization is trying to achieve
– Positive practice — consciously take the time to practice doing everything in the organization right the first time
– Positive reflection — take the time to think about what happened when you tried to do something right the first time

If a leader does just these 4 things, she will do everything on listed in the post and a lot more, and it will take much less time.

John Bossong  |  27 Oct 2012  |  Reply

Mr. Seidman,

Thank you for your comments, insights and knowledge. I like your point on delegation. I agree that it only works if the leader has built a strong sense of direction and trust in the organization. I think it has to be built into the culture of the organization. If you don’t have people with the skills and competencies that you trust, it is difficult, or bogus, as you put it. But, I do think a leader needs to be a great delegator to maximize what gets done and grow the business.

I also like your point about developing and implementing leadership programs in the messy real world condition of uncertainty, limited information, conflicting agendas, insufficient resources and other challenges. Because, that is where it really happens on the front lines.

I’m not familiar with your leadership programs and the 4 “positives” you’ve listed but I’ll check them out on your website. The concepts seem familiar, just worded different. I like the positive images thought. It seems that is another way of saying what the “why” of the organization is.

Thanks again for the information and knowledge. I learned something by reading your comments and that’s important to me. I’ll be sure to look at your website. Continue your work developing leaders and organizations.

Thanks – John

William Seidman  |  28 Oct 2012  | 

Wow!!! A great follow-up from the author — that is awesome.

You raised the question about the “why.” I think that two things have changed recently. First, there is Dan Pink’s work on Motivation 3.0, particularly the section on Purpose. In my experience, this sense of purpose (the why) drives everything, but it isn’t a lame mission statement but a powerful statement of the social good the organization is trying to create. Second, when purpose gets combined with the newest neuroscience on positive images, completely new opportunies for leadership emerge. Leaders who understand these two factors (and a few related ones), are likely to be better leaders sooner.

I would be happy to show you some of our work if you are interested and would love to learn more about your work. Just contact me through my email or http://www.cerebyte.com.

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