The 5 Characteristics of Great Leaders

While planning this month’s virtual sales leadership conference, my interaction with a highly impressive selection of sales leaders made me reflect on what qualities actually make them so good at what they do.

I’ve hired some really good leaders and fired some really bad ones. In addition, I’ve been lucky enough to be mentored by some of the best leaders across this nation. In all my interactions and through a lot of self-learning, I’ve come up with a list of five characteristics that great leaders possess.

I’ve never met a leader who has mastered all five characteristics. I find some leaders have breadth, meaning they have a balance of 3-4 of the characteristics, others develop only one or two with great depth. Both approaches can work depending on the style you wish to develop.

Great leaders who develop depth over breadth typically go deep on two of these characteristics. Alternatively, the best leaders who develop breadth develop four of the characteristics. This list is not intended to replace standard management skills, but is a broader definition of what a leader needs to succeed.

Domain Expertise

  • Be an expert in your field – a leader, by definition, leads the way. You can’t do that if you are not an expert
  • Write and speak internally and externally on your industry – blogs, articles, podcasts, events, networking, etc.
  • Lead from the front – work on the details and show your team how it’s done
  • Align your personal brand and expertise with the company objectives – don’t be an island

Hiring and Recruiting

  • Define your culture and explicitly hire to it
  • If your culture is broken in needs improvement, change your cast – quickly remove bad fit and bring in new talent
  • Always be recruiting and building a pipeline of candidates, even if you don’t have currently available positions
  • Understand and develop the company and your vision – sell it – This requires you to be visionary and a sales person
  • Hire fresh talent – hire for capacity and potential, not for current skill – build a farm league of talent and always be mentoring your people
  • Hire at a 70:30 ratio – 70% inexperienced talent, 30% experienced talent

Building and Mentoring

  • Grow your team – use the farm league approach to mentor high potential team members
  • Maintain roughly 70:30 ratio of inexperienced talent vs experienced talent – use experienced talent to build and mentor inexperienced talent
  • Define your strategies and empower your team to make suggestions – don’t committee create, it will bog down your planning
  • Monthly 1:1s – Make sure you plan your meetings and discuss regularly with your team about career aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, positive or negative feedback they may have
  • Create a culture of growth, fun and drive – define your team culture as a subset of the company defined culture

Running the Numbers

  • Know and track success and failure metrics – understand what numbers mean real success
  • Know and track leading indicators
  • Have regular cadence of reports of your data – meet regularly with your team to review the progress of both leading and success indicators
  • Inspect the data and numbers – know your data and the detail behind it better than your team
  • Drive and incentivize your team based on this data – they will focus on what they are paid on

Executive Relationships / Sponsorships

  • Purposely develop and build relationships with peers within your company and external to your company
  • Develop a network of people that you can ‘benchmark’ against
  • Use breakfast, lunches and dinners to develop more meaningful relationships with your network – make a goal to connect with someone 1-2x per week
  • Manage a list of contact information for the people you are maintaining relationships with – if you can text with them, you have developed relationship
  • Create a cadence of regular communication across different media – touch base at least once per quarter

This is a strong list of characteristics that has been proven to work in my life over and over again. The key is to use these principles to measure your own development and that of your teams; mentor against these same characteristics and skills.

I would suggest you score each characteristic from 1-10 (10 being highest – 5 is moderate) and you’ll find that some of these will come more naturally for you, while others you’ll need to really focus on. Lastly, don’t forget there is no such thing as a well-rounded leader (someone who is amazing at all of them).

Great leaders know what they are good at and where they are weak and they find ways to manage around their weaknesses.

If you want to see great leadership in action, catch our Sales Leadership Conference. We’ve lined up more than 30 industry experts and sales leaders to talk about what’s working NOW to grow your business.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.


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