What Makes a Great Leader

What Makes a Great Leader?

Recently I was in a conversation about what qualities define a great leader.  After contributing my thoughts to the conversation, I thought they were worth sharing with you too.  Here are some of the qualities I believe define a great leader.

Ability to Stay the Course

We are living in an environment of constant change. Between technological advancements, environmental concerns, economic challenges, and political change, our external environments are changing all the time.  Inside organizations, as we respond to these changes, there are other changes happening all the time.  Whether it’s a new project, new business strategy, new business goal, teams forming or disbanding, gaining or losing a big client, or hundreds of other things, what’s happening inside our businesses is constantly changing too. Rarely is there time to pause and assess the effectiveness of the most recent change before something else is changing and we’re focusing on what comes next.

A great leader is consistently working on their own internal capacity to navigate all of this change. From this strength and capability, they are able to stay the course. They hold steady in the vision of what the organization has set out to accomplish and work with those internal and external changes rather than fighting against them.

Fostering a Life Nurturing Culture

Perhaps more than ever before, employees have a growing expectation of feeling valued and being treated well in the workplace. This goes beyond being free from harassment, working reasonable hours, or having adequate time off when ill or going on vacation. Employees want to understand that their work is contributing to something greater, that their wisdom and creativity are not just welcome but encouraged contributions, and feel supported in being efficient and effective in doing their work.

Great leaders support employees by focusing on developing and regenerating a life-nurturing culture in the workplace. They do this by practicing good leadership qualities like listening, seeking to understand, trusting employees to get the job done, and clarifying activities and expectations. A life nurturing environment is fostered when leaders focus on process rather than outcome – do employees have what they need to be able to get the job done, rather than focusing on just that the job gets done.

Strategy Focused

Organizations have goals to accomplish. In order to achieve these goals, strategies are chosen for how those goals will be accomplished. An astonishing number of these strategic plans fail to be executed (somewhere between 60% and 90% depending on the source). Organizations get sidetracked for a variety of reasons, most of which are rooted in the choices of the organization’s leaders.

A great leader doesn’t just stay focused on strategy but takes action to ensure the organization is strategy focused every day. This means leadership is regularly talking about the strategies of the organization, how they are being accomplished, and what adjustments are necessary to stay on course with achieving them. It means ensuring employee work is aligned with these strategies. And it means that capacity is built and barriers removed so that the organization has what it takes to be successful.

Staying True to What has Heart and Meaning

The last quality on my list of what it takes to make a great leader might feel a bit surprising. It’s to stay true to what has heart and meaning. Every organization was founded for a purpose. As the organization grows and starts to achieve success, it can be easy to start chasing after good ideas…even if they aren’t good ideas for this purpose of this organization.

Great leaders hold steady and stay true to what has heart and meaning for *this* organization. That means being courageous enough to make choices to let go of opportunities that don’t fit the organization’s purpose. As they navigate change, they keep that purpose in mind. In fostering a life nurturing culture, it’s with a mind of creating a culture that supports the organization in achieving its purpose. While developing and staying focused on business strategies, it’s working towards goals that will support the organization in achieving its purpose. In essence, a great leader uses this organizational purpose as the True North on their compass to ensure that the organization is always headed in a direction that is aligned with what has heart and meaning.

Your Turn: What Makes a Great Leader

These are 4 of my most important qualities in a great leader.  What would you add to the list?


Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash


  • Rachel Bolton

    Rachel Bolton is the Director of the Genuine Contact Program and Organization. She is also a Senior Consultant at Dalar International Consultancy. Rachel specializes in supporting small business, team and project start-up with a focus on building solid foundations for long-term success. Visit her website to learn more.

  1. Elisabeth Tepper
    | Reply

    Dear Rachel…
    So professional and in alignment with who you are.
    I can just add that these all apply to personal life leadership as well.
    Thank you,

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