5 Overlooked Habits of


5 Overlooked Habits of Great Leaders

Most leaders want to be great at what they do, but far too many fall short. Why is that? What do great leaders have that the not-so-great ones don’t?

There are many ingredients that go into the leadership mix: organizational skills, effective communication, and character traits like courage, confidence, and clarity. But while each of these ingredients is important for great leadership, none are the starting point. For leaders to be truly great, they must start with personal habits—because the right habits act like a mixing bowl for enhancing skills and character traits.

Here are five personal habits that can greatly enhance the flavor of your leadership. What makes this list different than others is that many of these habits are often overlooked:

1. Great leaders lead themselves first

This leadership habit is stated so often it’s almost a cliché, but have you considered the reason why it creates greatness? It’s not what you might think.

The accepted wisdom is that the best leaders lead themselves first because their team will never go beyond where the leader herself goes, but this reason is secondary for great leaders. The primary reason great leaders lead themselves first is their unwavering commitment to being the best version of themselves. Their passion to be great in every situation and at all times comes long before they gain recognition, titles, or positions. They cannot fathom living any other way, and this habit is what brings about greatness in their leadership. Rather than leading themselves to force a result, they lead themselves out of a deep conviction that being great in every situation is its own reward, and this conviction spreads throughout their organization.

2. Great leaders are brutally honest with themselves

The key word here is “brutal.” Not brutal as in self-loathing, but brutal as in gut-level candor. They refuse to run away from honest evaluation. In fact, they do the exact opposite—they run hard after feedback. Because they know and embrace their brutal truth, both flaws and flowers, they experience freedom to pursue their best selves and best work.

3. Great leaders take failure personally… sort of

You’ve probably heard failure is an unavoidable part of the learning process. Therefore, we need to accept it and not take failure so personally. With that said, one habit that separates great leaders from average leaders is great leaders DO take failure personally. Yes, they realize failure is part of their learning process, but they still hate it. And because they hate failing so much, they recognize their failures more quickly.

Even more, the lessons great leaders learn from failure get seared deeply into their souls. They learn quickly and then leave failure in the rearview mirror. While they never let failure define them, they are better than most at letting it redefine them.

4. Great leaders always build up and never tear down

OK, now we’re in la-la land. This is impossible for leaders, right? They are the ones who get stuck with the dirty work of firing people, critiquing less-than-stellar performances, and dealing with conflict. How can leaders always build up if they sometimes have to get down in the mud? Simple. They build others up by giving the greatest gift a leader can give: the gift of gracious honesty.

For instance, if a team member isn’t performing well because he is not a good fit for the job or organization, what’s the best way a leader can empower this person? By being honest about the situation. The key, however, is to be graciously honest, not ruthlessly honest. Gracious honesty means a leader avoids thinking more highly of himself than he ought to think, while at the same time speaks candidly with the team member about the situation and helps the team member strategize his next best steps. Although gracious honesty isn’t always received well, this doesn’t tarnish the value of the gift. It’s still the greatest gift a leader can give because it allows the leader to gently speak truth into the life of the individual while simultaneously empowering that person to look for the best solutions.

5. Great leaders practice Positive Labeling

Great leaders are talent scouts who seek to activate each team member. They don’t just see who a team member is—they also see who that team member can be and make it a point to tell that person. Every interaction with a team member is an opportunity to help that person unleash her greatest talents and gifts.

How do great leaders do this? By practicing Positive Labeling. Positive Labeling goes a step beyond the always-build-up habit mentioned above because it is proactive in nature. Instead of just reacting to circumstances in a positive manner, great leaders proactively speak into the life of a team member about the potential they see. They frequently use the phrase, “I see you as the type of person who _________________” and fills in the blank with a “label” that helps the individual see the best version of herself. Positive Labeling is more than positivity; it’s empowering.   

Wrapping It Up

Are you a leader? Do you want to move from average impact to great impact? Start with your habits. Develop solid personal habits, especially these five overlooked habits, and the rest of the ingredients for leadership greatness will have the right mixing bowl for a richer flavor.


This column was originally published on Success.com on February 3, 2016

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