It’s the small things that make a leader great


How unfortunate that our popular ideas of what a good leader should be are so often grandiose. Through current media, television, and movies, we expect perfection; a leader is strong, fearless and flawless. If we believe that myth, they should be superheroes, royalty and saviors all rolled into one.

So we become disappointed when our leaders are only human after all. Could it be that we expect too much? If you consider some recent examples of leaders who’ve fallen from grace, you might find that they made very human mistakes; the kind we all make. That isn’t an excuse for bad behaviors; it’s simply a reality that nobody is perfect.

In the end, the best leaders are very human. Like most of us, they don’t see themselves in some grandiose, bigger than life way. They know that it’s the little things that will make a difference in their leadership, and they work on getting better at them every day.

The little things might, at first glance, seem simple, but they aren’t easy. A few that come to mind:

Putting others first: Servant leadership – serving others – isn’t a new idea, but it is something whose time has come and the best leaders strive for. When tough decisions need to be made, the best leaders always consider the impact on others before thinking of themselves. When temptation calls, good leaders, like good human beings, call on their internal strengths and ask themselves what the impact of following their whims might be on others, and then they decide their impulse isn’t worth it.

Saying thank you: “Thank you” is a very small phrase, but when said with sincerity it can mean a lot. Surprisingly, it’s a big motivator for people, too, as it acknowledges a job well done, implicitly asking the recipient to continue on course. There can never be enough heartfelt thank you’s in our organizations, and the best leaders know that, striving to make sure it’s part of their everyday conversations.

Appreciating people: It’s all too easy to get caught up in what someone is doing wrong, or what they could do more of. The best leaders are always aware of what people do well, and are present to what they are capable of, while seeing the potential they have within them to do more in the future.

Taking the high road: When silly disagreements arise or when gossip abounds, the best leaders take the high road and choose to go their own way without getting caught up in the seduction of joining in. Although they may be displeased with a particular stance their organization is taking on something, they don’t complain or broadcast their displeasure. Instead, they quietly find a way to deal with it.

Being kind: People have all kinds of things going on in their lives. They have bad things happen, and there is emotional pain that can play itself out in ways that aren’t pretty. Truly strong leaders find a way to be kind even when others aren’t. They don’t fall into the trap of treating others poorly because they are experiencing poor treatment; they know a kind word is their best defense.

Staying calm: Our organizations are pressure cookers of stress. The best leaders stay calm despite what’s going on around them. When it becomes easy to yell, scream, or demand, they can put the stressful situation into perspective and see that going ballistic isn’t worth it. They know they are models of the kind of demeanor they want to see in their organizations. They model calm demeanor for all to follow.

Listening: Listening is a small thing with big impact. When a leader puts down their cell phone and turns to look the person they’re speaking to in the eye without distractions, they’ve created a powerful connection that’s all too rare in our fast paced world. These powerful connections are what make leadership possible.

Brave, courageous, bigger than life leaders are fascinating. But it’s the small every day acts that make a leader great.


Reprinted with permission from SmartBlog on Leadership

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

One comment on “It’s the small things that make a leader great

  1. That is so true. Employees are more willing to give their 110% when they feel that they are appreciated, listened to, and know that their leader is willing to show the way.

Comments are closed.