8 Traits All Great Leaders Have In Common

Paweł Huryn
5 min readFeb 22, 2022

Working with the worst manager I have come across was challenging. He regularly accused developers of the slightest mistakes, pointed with his finger at the tools and methods we should use to solve problems, end even took away our mouses and keyboards to correct our code. He spent hours analyzing data from gates to catch fraud in the work time reports. One day, he decided to "strengthen his authority" and "get more respect" by requiring others to call him "Mister."

Our motivation and engagement scrubbed the bottom.

Fortunately, I also had the opportunity to work with many exceptional, inspiring leaders, whom I still think about with enormous respect.

Here are eight traits they all had in common.

#8 Great leaders are humble

Great leaders don't need to prove what they are worth to others. They acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and are aware that they, too, have limitations.

They feel good about not being the smartest person in the room, and listen "actively" with awareness, processing what's being said rather than who's saying it.

Outstanding leaders do not claim the merits of others. On the contrary, they shine a spotlight on those who deserve it, stepping back into the shadows.

“Greatness is to stay humble when the whole world calls you great!” — Mehmet Murat Ildan

#7 Great leaders are authentic

Being authentic is an essential part of developing meaningful relationships. When people expose their vulnerabilities, they can genuinely connect with and feel close to others.

Remarkable leaders don't pretend to be someone they are not. They don't lower their voice to impress others or waste time telling false stories about their achievements.

It’s amazing to hear your boss say words like: "I forgot," "I'm old," "I didn't know that," "I'm sorry."

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” — Brené Brown

#6 Great leaders are respectful

Excellent leaders respect everyone regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, weight, or skin color. They judge everyone by their results and decide based on what's right, not whom they like.

They are thoughtful of others' feelings, address mistakes with kindness (hey, everyone makes them!), and treat everybody as equal (including the cleaner).

“Respect comes in two unchangeable steps: giving it and receiving it. “— Edmond Mbiaka

#5 Great leaders lead without authority

Not all leaders are visionaries. However, every leader should learn how to communicate goals to others.

What's key is that instead of giving precise instructions, you should set objectives and let your team find the right path. It is not about wielding authority but empowering people around.

“Leaders don’t sit back and point fingers. Leaders lead with the authority of leadership . . . or without it. The authority is largely irrelevant — if you are a leader, you will lead when you are needed.” — Clay Scroggins

#4 Great leaders are decisive

People make decisions throughout their day, most of which don't require much thought. However, when situations are more complex and have longer-term impacts, it's easy to feel unsure or hesitant.

Although some decisions require more time, great leaders never delay them longer than necessary.

They don't try to please everyone. They are open and transparent, use data and evidence rather than "gut feeling," but don't hesitate to make the final decisions and take full responsibility for their actions.

“Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but it is deeply corrosive to morale.“— Robert Iger

#3 Great leaders are open-minded

Extraordinary leaders are widely open to testing new ideas. They welcome arguments and information that do not match what they already know.

Open-minded people are curious to hear what others think and don't get angry when they are wrong or when others challenge their beliefs.

Acting like this can be uneasy, as new ideas and experiences can lead to confusion and cognitive dissonance. Yet, being open-minded is essential to working on new problems that you have never encountered before.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw

#2 Great leaders keep calm

Calmness is a state of mind and heart in which you are entirely at peace. Though emotions call for immediate actions, only by not letting them take control you can act rationally and thus make better decisions.

Superb leaders stay peaceful, no matter the circumstances. In crises, they use data and operate on facts. It's as if they can "stop time," see the bigger picture and then make the next move.

“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you” — Dan Millman

#1 Great leaders are like gardeners

The leaders that are worth remembering are like gardeners. I love this quote from Sooner Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns for Business Agility by Jonathan Smart:

“Gardeners don’t try to command plants to grow with a detailed Work Breakdown Structure in a Gantt chart and milestones. With care, they tend to the garden, planting seeds, watering them, and when done, producing a varied and flourishing garden. In a leader-nurturing culture, people can build psychological safety, the single most important ingredient of a high-performing team. When a “gardener” leader is willing to risk a daisy growing where he thought a rose should grow, team members will feel safe enough to share their vulnerabilities.”

Summary

People with these eight traits are true leaders, acting according to their nature. They don't care if we call them "great," "outstanding," "excellent," "remarkable," "extraordinary," or "superb."

Special thanks to all the true, authentic leaders I've met in my career!

Do you like this post? Follow me for stories about product management, growth, and leadership: Paweł Huryn

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