What Great Leaders Know And Do

Being a great leader requires many skills – most of which are soft skills not taught at school. So, what leadership skills do we need to know and how do we develop leadership skills?

There are four ways we develop leadership skills:

  • Nature – our personality, our natural preference.
  • Nurture – our upbringing and the values, experiences we learned growing up
  • Experiences – what we’ve learned from people who’ve been our leaders, mentors and role models
  • Training – active, formal training and coaching

I’ve had many great professional leaders, mentors and role models. I’ve also had my share of terrible. For example – one of my last bosses was never open to sharing clearly defined goals and working with the team to define and agree on clearly defined tactics. It was so bad that if ‘the team’ thought we did grasp a project vision, we were not surprised when (not if), he came into work with whole new approach… and had rewritten the previously crafted materials and strategy to fit with his new vision.What Great Leaders Know And Do

Leadership side-note… there are many articles written about how people don’t leave companies – they leave leaders. I know the last 2 leaders I had were key to me leaving the last 2 companies where I worked. I guess I should thank them.

Historically a persons analytical skills and education has been the key deciding factor when selecting / promoting leaders.  This gives very little (if any), consideration to their soft skills or emotional intelligence (fathered by Daniel Goleman) .

I could go on and on about how what not to do, but I’d rather discuss positive things great leaders know and do. So, here we go.

20 Things Great Leaders Know And Do:

  1. They are clear with objectives (theirs, the projects, the departments, the companies etc)
  2. They give others access to everything they need to succeed
  3. They believe in collaboration = team successes
  4. They don’t solve every challenge – they leave room for others to step in
  5. They realize that not every decision has to be their way. When a collaborative team makes a decision – as long as it meets the goals it should be accepted – even if it isn’t the way the leader would do it.
  6. They encourage others to provide options
  7. They provide professional development / career training opportunities
  8. They’re not afraid others will know more than they do (in fact they expect it if they hired well)
  9. Great leaders hire people who will stretch the creativity of the team and the business… and who will also be stretched by the work and experiences.
  10. They give everyone their respect
  11. They control their judgement and validate information when they feel the yard making assumptions (2 of my favourites)
  12. They manage everyone’s expectations (including their own)
  13. They are both firm and fair with their expectations and holding people accountable.
  14. They admit to their mistakes – and they call others on theirs. They see mistakes as learning opportunities – which likely includes coming up with options on how to recover from them.
  15. They forgive not-to-frequent mistakes and stay focused on long-term success
  16. They give credit where credit is due acknowledging other people’s success openly and proudly as well as the team’s success. Note: They do not take credit for others work or overstate their own successes.
  17. Their word and their integrity is critically important to them.
  18. They listen to everyone – because everyone has value and a unique perspective.
  19. They have a positive outlook. Rather than having to meet with a client – they believe they get the opportunity to listen to their client needs.
  20. They are empathetic and compassionate – they understand that sometimes rules need to be bent to support the individual… be it client or coworker.
  21. They appreciate hard work as much as smart work – because hard work builds dedication and loyalty.
  22. They are smart and confident. They have knowledge and expertise and they are comfortable sharing it with their people if / when it benefits the greater good. They never use it to grandstand.

There are a lot of moving parts to being a leader… and many of them are soft skills – behaviours that require leaders to be confident and secure in their own abilities – and to feel really comfortable giving up power and helping to build others abilities / experience.

So what we see is that a great leaders technical skill has little to do with the things great leaders know and do. Great leadership is about the values and soft skills / emotional intelligence we learn from our family, friends, teachers and even media. Great leadership is also about the values and soft skills / emotional intelligence we learn from our mentors.

The way I see it, by giving up power a great leader earns power and respect. Employees who work for micro-managers become stale, unimaginative and ultimately bored (which leads to them quitting and the organization losing everything they’ve invested in that person).

We also see that in many cases, being a mindful leader is about being mindful at work, knowing your triggers and practicing empathy and compassion. Being a great leader is something we can all ‘do’. And we are going to make a mistake – but as stated above leaders acknowledge their mistakes… just like they acknowledge and forgive not-to-frequent mistakes of their employees.

Great leaders are focused on the people and team – as well as the results. The work of Jack Zenger who examined great leaders identified the following interesting finding:

  • If a leader was ‘results’ focused, the chance of them being seen as a great leader was only 14%
  • If a leader was strong on ‘social skills’—such as empathy, the chance of them being seen as a great leader only 12%
  • If a leader was seen as being strong on both results and social skills, the chance of them being seen as a great leader rose to 72%.

* Source Psychology Today: Why Leaders Need To Be Likeable Rather Than Dominating


Personable, respectable leadership skills are crucial to your professional success. This doesn’t mean you have to be soft; absolutely not, you do have to hold people to account. Knowing how to have difficult conversations is part of being a great leader – just like being a great mentor. People will respect when you are fair – and they will respect when you hold them to task – what they wont respect is a dictator who drives a moving target or who doesn’t respect their staffs work / time / career.

Emotional intelligence and soft skills are key to a leaders’ success.

For a leader to development co-workers or clients, the ability to communicate is a key to success.

Happy communicating, learning and leading.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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