15 things all great leaders have in common

Caesar, Napoleon, Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi…

All names that have gone down in history. Each one a great leader in their own right. They are just a few of the men that shaped the world in which we live.

And while their situations were quite different, they had a lot in common.

So I did a little digging and came up a list of 15 things that great leaders have in common.


We’ve all heard the expression, “lead by example” and for good reason. A leader is under intense scrutiny. People are always looking to their leaders for guidance and support, but they will only do that if they can trust the person leading them. True leaders earn the respect of the people beneath them by having integrity and being honest. They are entrusted with authority because people know they are in good hands.

And it’s not enough to simply be good, a great leader must continually raise the bar higher for both themselves and the people who work for them.


The most powerful skill any leader can have is the ability to inspire. This is more than simply an ability to communicate, but going further and choosing just the right words to evoke the emotions they desire.

Probably the leader with the greatest oratory skills was that of Hitler himself. Sadly, he chose to use his power for evil, but his ability to inspire his countrymen has never been equaled.

Great leaders must be able to clearly and succinctly describe their ideas to their team to ensure that people are on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Every business, team, army, school is made up of people; each with their own insecurities and weaknesses. A great leader must be able to meld this varied group of people into a well-oiled machine with a purpose. And this can only be done through words. A leader’s level of communication will determine their level of success.


No one wants to follow an idiot into battle. We must have faith that the person in charge knows what they are doing and leading us into safety, not into an ambush. A great leader knows not to panic. They also understand that setbacks do happen and when they do, they must put out the fires, keep morale high and moving forward.

A team will take cues from its leader, so it is critical that they exude a level of calm. It takes a strong mind to remain calm in times of great danger. They may not always be right, but when proven wrong, they take responsibility and act quickly. People respect leaders who take action.

Positive Attitude

Our attitude determines how well we do our jobs. It’s one thing, knowing what to do and another, actually putting 100% effort into doing it.

Ability to Delegate

A leader’s job is to lead so delegating tasks to the appropriate departments is one of the most important skills to develop. Trusting your team and giving them the freedom to work is a sign of strength, not weakness. In order to ensure that work is done effectively, a leader must identify the strengths of their team, and capitalize on them.

A leader must also know what each team member enjoys doing. By assigning people to tasks they find more enjoyable, it’s likely that they will put more thought and effort into them. Having people working on the right tasks will free up your time to focus on the higher level tasks, that should not be delegated.


Leaders must make tough decisions. It comes with the territory. They also understand that in certain situations, difficult and timely decisions must be made in the best interests of the entire organization, decisions that require a firmness, authority, and finality that will not please everyone. Great leaders don’t hesitate in such situations.


A great leader is committed to excellence. They expect their team to work hard and produce quality results, because that’s precisely what they’re going to do. The great leader maintains high standards, and continually raises the bar in order to achieve excellence in all areas.

They show their commitment not only to the work at hand, but also to their promises. People want to do business with people they trust, so a great leader must always keep their word. A commitment to excellence and always keeping their word will not go unnoticed. It will earn them major brownie points with their team.

Sense of Humor

Bad things happen. It’s just the way it is. A great leader knows that part of their job description is inspiring people to work harder. Laughter helps create a positive work environment which will have people looking forward to working in it, rather than dreading it. Cracking jokes from time to time also shows you’re human.


Very rarely are things clear-cut. There will be times when leaders are forced to deviate from their set course and make a decision on the fly. This is when a leader’s creativity will be tested. People will be looking for guidance and many times a leader will be asked to think fast on their feet. A great leader will also be required to think outside of the box.

Too many people choose the fastest, easiest solution. A great leader knows that sometimes, despite demands for speedy solutions that certain issues require some serious thought, because any misstep could prove even more costly.

By utilizing all possible options before making a rash decision, you can typically reach the end conclusion you were aiming for.


There will be times when you must lead a team through uncharted waters. Uncertainty causes fear. Great leaders know to trust their gut.

They draw on past experience and aren’t afraid to reach out to your mentors for support. In the end, they will be faced with tough decisions, and they won’t all be right. Great leaders must learn to trust their team, but before they can do that, they must first trust themselves.


Speaking of making mistakes, great leaders take responsibility for their team’s performance, knowing that in the end, the buck stops with them. Either a team wins together, or it fails together. There is no “I” in team. A team is a single unit made up of many moving parts.

A leader will bask in the glory of success when things go right, so it’s only natural to accept responsibility when things go wrong as well.

Great leaders make it a habit to check that every part of their business is working well because they know their success depends on the work of their team.


Leaders must keep their eyes firmly on the goal at hand. Managers, on the other hand, are tasked with making sure things get taken care of.


Great leaders understand that while everyone might be different and must be approached differently, fairness is paramount. Nothing pisses people off more than knowing a leader chooses favorites and punishes people who might not agree with their opinions, and is a sure-fire way to lose their team’s trust.


The very best leaders are sources of positive energy. They communicate easily. They are intrinsically helpful and genuinely concerned for other people’s welfare. They always seem to have a solution and always know what to say to inspire and reassure. They avoid personal criticism and pessimistic thinking, and look for ways to gain consensus and get people to work together efficiently and effectively as a team.

Don’t accept failure

Failure is not an option. For great leaders anyway. They go into every battle supremely confident. And should they fail, they dust themselves off and get right back up. People know the failure is inevitable, but they want to leader to be someone that believes they cannot and will not fail.

There you have it, 15 characteristics that separates great leaders.

And here’s the good news, each of these characteristics can be developed and strengthened. A great leader, whether they naturally possess these qualities or not, will consistently work on developing and strengthening them in their leadership role.

Adrian Shepherd

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