8 Skills that Make Good Leaders Great

Woman in Gray Blazer Holding Red Book

Leadership can be learned; it is not innate. Some may have natural leadership ability, but—with high-level willingness and desire to do the work of continuous improvement—anyone can learn to be a great leader. Having coached C-suite individuals for over a decade, I’ve uncovered 8 skills that, when honed, can transform a good leader into a great leader.

1. Self-awareness

This is by far the #1 characteristic of a great leader. Being aware of one’s self is how an individual consciously knows and understands their own character, feelings, motives, and desires. Taking it one step further, at Velocity Leadership Consulting we help leaders become aware of their personal behavioral patterns. This is critical because these underpin your character, feelings, motives and desires. With awareness, you are able to inspect and improve your behavioral patterns and, therefore, your contribution to outcomes.

2. Being able to look past yourself

Often, leaders get caught up in a cycle that says: when I do x, it will mean y, and z will happen. In coaching senior leaders, we’ve found the key to helping them become great leaders is teaching them to look out further than immediate outcomes. Become practiced in seeing how your decisions and actions will play out in 2 quarters, at end of the year, at the end of the next year or even 3 years from now.

3. The ability to be humble

Realize you are not the only one with great ideas or the best solution. This literally means leaders must take an honest view of their own importance, and it often requires an outside perspective to actually achieve it.

4. Keeping a beneficial schedule

A beneficial schedule enables leaders to do their best thinking on a consistent basis. It requires the right amount of rest and time not working or thinking about work. It also means incorporating whatever is needed for a healthy body, mind, and spirit, because they all work in tandem. Forget one, and you aren’t firing on all cylinders. You wouldn’t drive a car on less than all cylinders, would you?

Two benefits gained from keeping a beneficial schedule:

  • Foster strategic and creative thinking. You can’t lead an organization if you don’t look ahead at different time horizons and think strategically about them. This is also where creative thinking happens. So many leaders get caught up in the day-to-day, they cannot see beyond the latest crisis – and the results reflect it.
  • Bring balance and everyone’s best self to the organization. Keeping a beneficial schedule is a great example to model for everyone in the organization. Most people look to the boss for how long they will work each day, when to begin work, what response time should be, etc. We have worked with many Presidential-level leaders who literally watch the boss and take their direction from their schedule. If you respond to emails over the weekend, or when on vacation, everyone else will think they have to also. Then everyone works all the time which compromises everyone’s ability to think at their highest level. The brain has to have time to rest and rejuvenate and it can’t do this when you work, or are thinking about work, all the time.

5. Impulse control

This skill is paramount to being able to stop yourself from simply reacting in the moment. The result of a purely emotional response is typically a closed mind. The ability to hit the pause button on emotion-driven impulses allows you to truly hear and digest what is being communicated by another person or within a group, respond with reason and intention, and logically document shared thoughts for further analysis. Finding the best solution is what being the top leader is all about. This skill enables you to think more rationally and deeply and to consider all ideas – or combinations of them – and to devise the optimal plan for achieving the desired outcome.

6. The ability to meet people where they are

Learning to listen and seeking to understand is a trait of great leaders. The trick is leaving your own filters so you can stop making assumptions based on your perspective. A good coach can help you do this and provide tools to hone inquiry skills so you can ask great questions at the right times to bring others along.

7. The ability to speak kind truths and hear them

Kind truths are one of the building blocks of trust in relationships; and strong working relationships at work are essential to being a great leader. You can’t do everything yourself and be a great leader. Therefore, you must achieve through others by collaboration and influence. How do you influence? By building trust.

Examples of kind truths:

  • Calling out the elephant in the room.
  • Giving direct feedback in a kind way – referring to the action, not the person and avoiding shame language. Shame language is when the word “you” is used along with “should” in past tense: “you should have known better” or “I am really disappointed in you.” Shame implies that the person is bad, rather than they did something bad.
  • Speaking clearly. Often, we are not good at giving direct feedback, so we try to soften it, not wanting to hurt the other person, but this becomes muddled and unclear. Kind truths are clear.
  • Building a culture of inviting and receiving direct feedback. Most people are afraid to tell the boss where they are lacking – it’s just natural. Ask them, “what I hear you not saying is…do you feel like this is true?” Say it in a non-confrontational, neutral, inquisitive way and I guarantee you will be shocked when they say, “yes, wow, that’s right.” Then the key is to do something about it. You can’t do nothing and make no changes from feedback you are given. When someone gives you feedback, mirror it back, essentially asking what change they’d like to see. It is at this point you can speak about the plausibility of it and shape it a bit to what does need to change or improve. Then, give commitment to doing it, with a date by which you will check back with them on the changes they have seen. (This is the same thing you do with direct reports, by the way.) Then, set up whatever system works for you to make this behavioral change rapidly and permanently. (At Velocity, we have the Power Pathways™ Portal that our leaders use to track their actions and keep themselves accountable to changing behaviors.)

8. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. This makes my list because you can’t be a truly great leader if you do not give to others for their benefit. They are giving to you all the time, especially the higher your role. Give to them; give to everyone. Look at all the great and successful leaders of our time – they got there not because they took every beneficial thing that was given them, rather, they gave at least as much, if not more than they took.

About Velocity Leadership Consulting

Velocity Leadership Consulting focuses on helping executive leaders become extraordinary by uncovering their blind spots by learning skills and specific actions they can put into play. Using our unique science-based Power Pathways™ approach, we bring leadership teams to new levels with rapid results, transforming culture and the bottom line.