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Leading Ideas: What Is Great Leadership?

“The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?” — Max De Pree (1924 – ) Former Chairman, Herman Miller Furniture FC’s current issue on Leadership got me thinking about the definition of the word. In my consulting and coaching I often ask my clients to define great leadership.

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“The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict?”
— Max De Pree (1924 – ) Former Chairman, Herman Miller Furniture

FC’s current issue on Leadership got me thinking about the definition of the word. In my consulting and coaching I often ask my clients to define great leadership. The most common answer I get is a list of traits. It usually includes descriptions such as effective communicator, strategic thinker, visionary, smart, charismatic, and straightforward, among many others. I point out that while these lists are interesting and useful, they don’t actually define great leadership. They merely define possible characteristics of great leaders. What they don’t tell you is how effectively a leader is actually leading.

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Something to consider:

Exhibiting leadership traits” doesn’t make one a great leader. If you really want to know how well someone is leading, look at his/her followers. How are they behaving? What are they producing? How have they grown? While traits are good at predicting leadership success, only followers’ actions can demonstrate it.

Something to try:

1. On a scale of 1-10, rate your leadership abilities based solely on your followers’ actions.
2. Write down where on the scale you’d like to be.
3. If there’s a gap, what can you be doing better?
4. If you’re not sure, check in with some colleagues or staff members.
5. To be a great leader, stay focused on creating an environment in which others can excel.

Questions: How do you define great leadership?