The 20 Best Leadership Qualities That Have Stood the Test of Time

Take a break right now.

What I’d like you to do is sit down and think about your business life. How have these qualities served you over the last five, 10, 20, 40 or more years in business?

These are not my own.  But I subscribe to every one of them. They are presented by James Curtiss (original article contact link below) whose grandfather who compiled them was the late Don Davis, distinguished Professor of MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations program for 22 years AFTER Professor Davis’ retirement from a very distinguished business career.

You will see this QSBJ article does vary from James’ post. (I could not simply stand to see some of these gems just sit there without comment could I?)

 1) Leaders don’t choose their followers. Followers choose their leaders..

One cannot simply choose to lead a group of people. You may be a leader in title, but you’re not a legitimate leader if your followers do not believe in you and your vision. Real leadership can only come from the heart.

2) Followers choose leaders they trust, respect, and feel comfortable with.

If you don’t have the trust and respect of your followers, how are you supposed to make the connection necessary to inspire them to achieve great things?

3) Be yourself. The number of leadership styles is limitless.

There is no scientific formula for what makes a good leader, only a belief in your own ability as well as the ability of your followers to be successful. We all can have models, but true fulfillments comes most when we are true to ourselves.

4) Leaders need a base of power and authority — but the more they use it, the less there is left.

Needless to say, effective leadership requires a certain amount of authority. Like most forms of capital, that power is finite. Use it sparingly and only when necessary. Remember the story of people meeting Abraham Lincoln on a one on one basis. People were reported saying, “I felt like I was talking to an old friend…”

5) The best leadership is based on persuasion.

Anyone can have a vision. Leaders have the ability to persuade others to believe in their vision. Sure it takes selling a vision. People need to have buy-in so that all who are being led are singing out of the same hymn book.

6) Leaders set the ethical standards and tone of their organizations by their behavior.

As a leader, you set the example. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want printed on the cover of the New York Times. Your followers are avid readers. This is much more than ‘My word is my bond.’ This is your ongoing search for integrity and truth in every circumstance.

7) Integrity is the bedrock of effective leadership. Only you can lose your integrity.

Unethical behavior is a slippery slope. Avoid the slope at all costs because everyone slips. We see once-powerful and popular leaders in both sports and business lose their followers when the leaders insist on binding themselves to an untruth because they have become lackadaisical in striving for their personal excellence.

8) “Selfship” is the enemy of leadership.

A true leader cares more about the success of his/her followers than their own success. If you see a leader who is more comfortable in front of a crowd or TV cameras than leading a meeting of his or her executives, that leader’s career is on the downslope to powerlessness.

9) Be quick to praise, but slow to admonish. Praise in public, but admonish in private.

If you’re going to praise someone, do it big. If you’re going to reprimand, make sure it is warranted and do so in a respectful manner. Also learn as many of the personal names of those who look at you as a leader–especially if you are just starting out. Never be full of yourself. Reflect praise. Build up others.

10) One of a leader’s key responsibilities is stamping out self-serving politics when they emerge.

As a leader, your job is to inspire the entire group. No single person is bigger than the group, not even the leader. If you achieve followers and leadership recognition, there will be people who will want to ride your coattails. This is a good thing if you ask them to ride; if they look at you as a mentor.

11) Be sure to know as much as possible about the people you are leading.

How can you inspire someone if you don’t know what motivates them? Getting into the personal lives of those being led is not prying. It’s searching for that internal motivation they can see will help them by helping you fulfill your vision.

12) One manages things, but people lead people.

It may be a bit cliché, but at the end of the day, followers are human beings. Don’t lose sight of that reality. This can mean asking for their advice and counsel. People follow true humility.

13) Diversity in an organization is not only legally required and socially desired — it’s also effective.

Every problem, obstacle, or issue has a different solution. Different perspectives make it much easier to identify the right solution. However, diversity for the sake of diversity without insisting on the equality of competence in people merely delivers empty results and bridges to nowhere.

14) Leadership should be viewed as stewardship.

Leader and teacher are synonyms, even if the Thesaurus tool in Microsoft Word doesn’t agree. Remember that a good steward is a good steward of their money, time and talents that builds others who want to build up still others.

15) Don’t make tough decisions until you need to. Most will solve themselves with time.

Procrastination isn’t always a negative tendency. Don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes you just have to give the problem time to work itself out. The amazing thing is that amazing solutions often also come from both other people and circumstances who have nothing to do with your problem.

16) When making decisions about people, listen to your gut.

Believe in your ability to identify the right talent. It’s your vision, so you should be able to recognize when a person embodies that vision. It is the embodiment of the ‘be true to yourself’ mantra above; then you will be congruent with the goals of the organizations and people you wish to lead.

17) People can see through manipulation and game-playing. Everyone can spot a phony.

This goes back to the mutual respect and trust that must exist between a leader and follower. Don’t undermine that mutual respect via manipulation. You’ll lose followers. The one thing a phony does–in business, politics, whatever–is never saying ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong’ personally or professionally. Yet that humility is often what is at the core of leading edge companies and individuals.

18) Learn to say, out loud, “I was wrong” and “I don’t know.”

You may be a leader, but you’re not omniscient. Don’t pretend to be. This continues with the above. The point is that it is OK to ‘never let ’em see you sweat’ in all your coolness as a leader. The takeaway here is to always strive to be vulnerable and approachable with those you lead.

19) If you know a plan or decision is wrong, don’t implement it. Instead, keep talking.

Don’t try to jam a square peg in a circular hole. Work with your team to figure out a way to round the edges of the peg so it fits properly. The precious commodity of time is often squandered by those in leadership positions who march to a clock or deadline rather than having the courage to wait and doing a thing correctly for the long term.

20) Each of us has potential to lead, follow or be an individual contributor.

The wonderful God-given gift you have can be a blessing to so many people. While it is true that true leadership that embodies all the above principles cannot be taught with 100% marketplace effectiveness, we all need to find our place. And our place is to confidently know if we can lead or follow. That’s it.


For the original article go to:

About Steve Lanning

Steve Lanning is a nationally recognized entrepreneur who has been creating his own paycheck since 1975 and loves to help others do likewise. As the founder of both the National Association of Business Coaches (sold in 2002) and the Consultants National Resource Center (for all marketers of professional services), he and his family have lived in three of the four states in our Quad State region. His passion is to see individuals and small businesses, start-ups to mature, discover and promote their strengths in building revenue streams individually, that, collectively, make for a strong region as reported on and celebrated by the Quad State Business Journal. He can be contacted at

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