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Monday, 01 June 2015

7 Characteristics of Great Leaders

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Every great leader is defined by the characteristics they demonstrate. Each learned characteristic can be improved as you further your development. The following characteristics can assist your improvement and ongoing development on the path to becoming a great leader.  As you begin this journey, don’t be too critical if you struggle with some or most of these. Growth…any growth takes time. This is part of an ongoing series with the end goal of developing you into a great leader. Once you start practicing these leadership traits you’ll be impressed with the results from your team….and yourself!

The 7 Characteristics:

1.      Great Communicator

2.      Visionary

3.      Self-awareness

4.      Passionate and ability to motivate others

5.      Developer of people

6.      Leads by example

7.      Holds team and themselves accountable

Characteristic #1: Great Communicator


I am starting with this one because how crucial communication is in any area of business. Most “issues” within a company exist because of poor communication. Explaining the what, when, how, why and follow-up, are fundamental elements of great communication. It is crucial to clearly and succinctly explain to your team everything from organizational goals to specific tasks. Mastering all forms of communication, including one-on-one’s, departmental/staff conversations, as well as phone communication is vital for your entire team.

A key part of communication involves listening. Therefore establishing a steady flow of communication between you and your team, either through an “open-door policy” or regular conversations is a huge first step. Leaders make themselves regularly available to discuss issues and concerns with employees. They need to know that there is someone they can talk to who will actually listen to them. Being able to effectively communicate is a character trait of every great leader.

A.      Clear and concise direction-

1.      Spell out your objectives clearly – Don’t just state the objectives, explain in plain terms what the objectives are and how they were developed. Most importantly, what effect these objectives will have on the team. Example: “I need you to change this end cap from product X to product Y because product Y is our hot seller right now and it has the highest margin. Giving it end cap exposure will maximize our sales and your team bonus!”

2.      Give clear directions and don’t assume that they know what you mean- After giving a direction ask them “What questions do you have?” After answering any questions have them repeat the direction back to you to ensure their understanding.  This eliminates miscommunication and/or a misunderstanding.

3.      Be direct and concise even when having uncomfortable conversations. Example: If you have a underperforming associate that has not met their goal in several months, don’t try to soften the conversation or give a mixed message. State exactly what is causing their performance issues and work with them to develop an action plan to correct. Even “tough” conversations can convey that you are there to help.   

B.      Give examples and time frames to support your message-

1.       People learn from examples as much as they do words. They are powerful ways to create a visual image. Example: “I would like you to observe Jim for the rest of the week and perform 3 role plays daily as I just did with you.  This will help Jim achieve his sales goal and get him more comfortable with our new products. On Friday, the 3 of us will meet at 4pm to update Jim’s performance and offer feedback based on your observations and role plays.”

2.      Ask open ended questions to verify the communication was understood. Example: “Tell me how you are going to help Jim achieve his goals this week?”

3.      Have the key points of the communication repeated back to you.

4.      Use Non-Verbal cues (head nods, eye contact, smile) to show them you are listening to their confirmation.

C.      Regular state of the business updates-

1.      Where do we stand in reaching our goals – Show charts, goal sheets, create a specific visual to the goal along with taking the opportunity to recognize good performances.

2.      Daily, Weekly and Monthly business updates and communication on changing trends and direction.

3.      Share information with employees as soon as possible, whether the news is good or bad. It is best to be forthright, honest and timely so everyone understands where the company stands and the action going forward.

D.     Communicate how change affects everyone and it’s importance-

1.      How change is communicated is the key to getting everyone’s buy in.  

2.      Explain in detail what’s in it for the customer, the company and more importantly the employee.

3.      Address the negative aspects of this change (If any) along with the positives.

4.      Gather all information, solicit perspectives, and adapt the right approach to communicate change for your organization.

E.      Use anecdotes and stories to paint a verbal picture-

1.      Use stories to give examples of the vision and proven successes when communicating change.

2.      Communicate the behavioral changes you expect from the change initiative for the goals you are trying to achieve. Example: “In order for our company to exceed every customers shopping expectation, every associate must greet the customer when they enter the department.”

3.      Give people multiple opportunities to share concerns, ask questions, and offer ideas – Always practice an “open door policy” and remember, the company’s success is dependent on the execution from everyone.

4.      Make follow up with updates and answers a top priority – Write down the time and date of the follow-up. The important thing is to KEEP YOUR COMMITMENT. If not, the importance of what you are following up on is watered down and the people start to think “why bother?” Following up creates accountability and shows that you really care about their success.

Good communication can help you achieve your goals while poor communication can cause dissention and confusion inside your organization. An example of great communication is when President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 delivered his historic two-minute Gettysburg Address. While the Civil War raged on, he stood where many soldiers died so he could honor their final resting place and to urge all Americans to continue the fight for democracy: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” In a few brief moments he spoke clearly to the nation about its dark condition and the bright future that lay before the nation.

While it’s true that most leaders do not have the natural communication skills of Abraham Lincoln, it is also true that there are wonderful resources for those leaders looking to improve their skills. Seminars, webcasts, books and professional coaches are a few that are available. Are you ready to take the next step to becoming a great leader?


Next Month: Visionary

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Randy Asbell

Randy Asbell is Vice President of Sales for Stuart & Associates, a retail consulting firm specializing in Sales and Margin Growth Programs and Returns Reduction Programs.

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