The greatest leaders have a lot in common. That’s something we’ve noticed after years of walking into various companies around the world to conduct interviews, give presentations, or consult. The commonality of great habits is actually unmistakable. It’s instantly noticeable. Great leaders command a room as soon as they stand to speak. They aren’t afraid to crack a joke—but they know when to get down to business. Their door is open to everyone, regardless of rank or position. People are eager to learn from them, and are mobilized by their missions. And great leaders make the impossible happen every day, igniting passion and innovation throughout an organization.
But, truly great leaders—as we also know—are few and far between. In fact, research from the Society of Human Resource Management states that the ability to lead, which is the most crucial aspect of business success is largely lacking in employees and job seekers today—an unfortunate truth, given the influence of a fantastic leader. So to combat this trend, we’ve compiled a list of the common habits of the most successful leaders.
Passion, initiative, determination: Call it what you will, but there’s no mistaking it. The best leaders have an unstoppable forward momentum. They know where they’re going, and they move mountains to get there. What elevates their leadership is their ability to inspire others to share in their drive as well. The combination of passion and inspiration characterizes many great leaders such as Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela and Elon Musk, who has said, “If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it.” It’s no coincidence that the cofounder of PayPal and leader of SpaceX and Tesla is so driven—his determination has been instrumental to his successes.
Knowledge is power, and leaders who inspire confidence know what they’re talking about. They’ve done their research, and they come armed to meetings and conversations with facts, nuances, and the possibilities at hand. Teams respond to their knowledge with trust. That’s why Howard Schulz, the CEO of Starbucks, has spoken publicly about the importance of hiring really smart people—even people smarter than himself—in order to learn from them. A great leader is never done learning about their organization, field or industry. They’re always looking to improve.
Following a detailed plan is often key to successful projects, teams, and companies. But more often than not, even simple plans go astray due to unforeseeable circumstances or delays. The best leaders take these changes in stride, knowing that remaining calm and leading with a strong direction can save the day. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the most influential business book of the decade has written, “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” That brand of flexible thinking—knowing that there are many paths to success—is characteristic of fantastic leaders.
Whether with time, charity, or praise—and often with all three—the greatest leaders are often also the most generous. Bill Gates is a great example of the power of generosity. Not only is he respected around the globe, but his foundation, the largest transparent charity in the world, works to eradicate poverty and improve education. If you suspect his fantastic reputation and his generosity are linked, you’re right. Now consider the leaders in your life whose generosity in mentoring or coaching you has made an incredible difference for your professional path—haven’t they been some of the most committed and impressive leaders you’ve known? Also reflect on the leaders who share credit with their teams and recognize a job well done, appreciating accomplishments big and small. These are the people who put teams at ease, inspire trust even in uncharted territory and command loyalty. They are some of the greatest leaders because of their willingness to share time, knowledge, and credit with their teams.