If you’ve read my best-selling book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, you know that most of us are successful in spite of certain behaviors. For instance, most highly successful people have the bad habit of Winning Too Much.
Winning too much is the #1 challenge for most people, because it underlies nearly every other behavioral problem. If we argue too much, it’s because we want our view to prevail (in other words we want to win). If we put other people down, it’s our way to position them beneath us (again, winning). If we withhold information, it’s to gain an edge over others. If we play favorites, it’s to gain allies so “our side” has an advantage. Our obsession with winning crosses the spectrum of our lives. It’s not just an issue in our professional lives, it works its way into our personal lives as well. It is incredibly difficult for smart, successful people not to constantly win.
Another classic behavioral challenge of smart, successful people is Adding Too Much Value. This bad habit can be defined as the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion. A slight variation on Winning Too Much, Adding Too Much Value is common among leaders who are used to running the show. It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) they already knew it and (b) they know a better way.
These are just a couple of the behaviors that the most successful leaders I know work on to become even better. A lot of leaders choose to forego change, believing that they are “successful enough” and that change therefore isn’t necessary.
What makes the most highly successful leaders different is what makes them some of the greatest leaders in history. I believe there are three characteristics that differentiate good leaders from great leaders.
The first thing successful people do is have Courage. Great leaders have the courage to get feedback and to look at themselves in the mirror, honestly. This isn’t an easy task. To truly look at yourself and to ask for, accept, and act on feedback you receive from others, you have to have courage.
The second thing successful people do is have Humility. If you’re going to get better, then that means you probably don’t think you’re perfect. This is a great place to start. Think about it. It is very hard for perfect people to get better! For someone to change, he or she first has to have the humility to admit there is room for improvement.
The third and final thing that great leaders do is they have Discipline. To be a great leader, you have to have the discipline to follow up and do the hard work to keep getting better.
There you have it: the three must-have characteristics of very great leaders: Courage, Humility, and Discipline. Are you a great leader? Do you know a great leader? How would you describe a great leader? I’d love to hear your thoughts!