What makes for great leadership?

Gandhi on Indian rupee noteThere is so much rhetoric in leadership but from time to time we get to see and experience what great leadership is.

These are moments, events and time in our lives when we feel touched, moved and inspired because we see and experience great leadership.

What have been such moments for you?  Can you recall some examples from your own life?

Perhaps it was a parent figure, a family member or a particular manager who embodied confidence in you and your abilities and made you feel like you could tackle and take on anything.  And that is exactly what you did and nine times out of ten, you proved them right!

On the global stage, like many, I was incredibly moved by the historical event when Barack Obama became the United States of America’s first African American President.

Then there are other awe inspiring history making stories as per Nelson Mandela,   The Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa.

In my own neighbourhood there is  the mature, migrant woman who runs a family business. She started with minimal experience and a dream and now has a  roaring trade based on the quality of food she makes as she keeps the neighborhood fed and happy and  at such reasonable prices!

Her business continues to grow from strength to strength but her leadership has not veered from the core values that made her successful.

There are many qualities, principles and actions which make for great leadership.

I have chosen the following seven for this blog:

1) Great leadership embodies A SPIRITED VISION.

This power of the vision transcends any   current circumstances and is able to instill a legacy of hope, be a guiding light and give its followers something to aspire towards. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King’s heartfelt speech, “I have a dream….” A dream, which many, many years later came to be realized.

2) Great leadership is able to CONNECT WITH PEOPLE.

It’s able to touch the hearts, minds and spirit of everyday people.  It inspires and motivates.  Going back to the first Obama campaign – it began at the grassroots level with little funds but his followers willingly dug into their pockets, got the ball rolling and did what they could. People were so inspired; they also turned out in record numbers to vote.

In our organizational context, a good question to ask is, “what else can we be doing to connect, inspire and motivate our people so we give and get the best of their head, heart and hands?  (or thoughts, emotions and actions).

What are some win-win strategies we may be overlooking for our various stakeholders – employees, customers and suppliers?

3) Great leadership HOLDS A PROMISE.

This is a promise that followers resonate with.  Typically, this is a promise of change that people feel deep inside of them.  When there is an overriding and genuine consciousness of “we can’t carry on in the same vein as we have, that things have to be different” than followers are moved to action.

Leadership promise is more than rhetoric. It’s real and people “get it.”

And as with brands, if you have to work hard at explaining it, then you can be sure that people do not get it!

4) Great leadership is BASED ON SOLID VALUES.

People like to know what their leaders stand for.  Clearly articulated values that are authentic and meaningful for the leader and his or her people are vital in communicating what matters to the leader and what they will be a values champion for.  Integrity is at the core of leadership and responsibility, accountability, honesty, self awareness are values which support this.

These values have to be lived and there has to be an alignment between words, deeds and action.

5) Great leadership is about SERVICE.

It focuses outwards as it unites people to a common goal and a bigger purpose.  It is based on solid values which embrace, contribute and enrich the lives of others.  It’s not just about me.  Again think of the greats – Nelson Mandela or Gandhi and their massive contribution to their people and the world.

In my leadership coaching work, the CEOs often reflect, that for their GMs to be truly effective, they have to be developing leaders in the tiers below and also be thinking about the business as a whole beyond their “siloed division.”

 “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”
– Robert Greenleaf


One thing we are not is perfect! We can count on ourselves to make mistakes.  Leaders get judged not just when they are riding the wave of success but also how they deal with challenges and defeat.

The point is not that these mistakes occur but more how we deal with it. Are we quick to take responsibility or is the finger pointing somewhere else?  Are we able to hold ourselves and others to account?  Can we apologies easily and be humble enough to try and understand with an open heart, mind and spirit as to what went wrong and what the learning might be?

If you haven’t already seen this, check out this great Ted Talk by Brene Browne – “The power of vulnerability.’

7)  Great leaders DO THEIR INNER WORK.

They deepen their self awareness and shun the roadblocks of denial, excuses and blame.  Leadership is a constant work in progress. How you get there is just as important as achieving those results.  Being human we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

Doing our inner work means we are more self aware and mindful of what drives us, what our fears and motivators are, and the strengths we bring to the table as well as our limitations.  Socrates was on to it centuries back with “know thyself.”   Knowing ourselves enables us to manage ourselves, our team and family life more effectively making us more resilient and compassionate at the same time.

“We all have the capacity to inspire and empower others. But we must first be willing to devote ourselves to our personal growth and development as leaders.”
-Bill George et al – HBR 2007 – in “Discovering your authentic Leadership.”


Jasbindar is passionate about inside-out AUTHENTIC leadership and develops this with  individuals, teams and organisations via coaching, speaking and writing.
Her expertise is in the areas of leadership development.  She is the co-author of No Body’s Perfect and author of Get Your Groove Back.


You can contact her at jasbindar@jasbindarsingh.com or +64 27 280 3335 or connect with her on LinkedIn.

You can also subscribe to her free monthly newsletter on leadership and coaching

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