There have been thousands of books and articles written about leadership. There's also a plethora of companies today that teach leadership skills. In my experience, however, these resources are mostly someone's ideas or theories about the specific behaviors that define great leaders. Yet, if you look closely, you'll find that the behavior of inspiring leaders does not fit a specific mold. The wildly different Gandhi and Vince Lombardi were both great leaders, for instance.
So, regardless of behavior, what truly defines leadership? To me, it's the following seven inside-out traits:
1. Great leaders know (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that their feelings come from their thinking, not their circumstances.
What's the main reason that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the finest leaders of all time? He knew that his feelings came from inside of him. In spite of the dysfunctional actions of many, King realized that his perceptions of other people were based on the normal ebbs and flows of his own thinking (and subsequent moods). In short, great leaders look inside of themselves for explanations. This allows them to live in clarity more often -- a necessity if you want to motivate others.
2. Great leaders know that judgment is not helpful.
Here's a simple rule: Judging another person says more about your state of mind than the other person's. When your head is cluttered, you'll be prone to judge. When your head is clear, you won't be. Great leaders know that when their feelings are cluttered, disquiet, or insecure -- they're not capable of making sound assessments. They wait for clarity, peace of mind, or understanding to set in -- and evaluate the actions of others from this perspective.
3. Great leaders act from a feeling of inspiration, not desperation.
This trait might seem obvious. Yet, no matter how hard a person tries, if he or she doesn't understand the purpose of feelings, acting from desperation will occur too often. Great leaders understand that an "off" gut feeling is an intuitive sign that they're not seeing things quite right. So, making decisions from this psychological disposition won't pay dividends. Leadership is about acting only from inspiration -- when a person feels unencumbered, compassionate, and free.
4. Great leaders are genuine.
Following another person's approach to leadership will not work for you. Great leaders do not act like someone else. They're real, spontaneous, and natural -- never scripted. Remember: Genuineness is an offshoot of clarity, which originates from not blaming the outside world for one's feelings. Those who look inside for explanations are wonderfully unique. All leaders are.
5. Great leaders know that their words are less important than the state of mind from which they speak.
Words do not convey truth; feelings do. That's why people can say the same words with opposite connotations. Great leaders know that their words are merely an echo of a feeling -- and positive feelings only originate from positive states of mind.
6. Great leaders keep goal setting in perspective.
Those who appreciate the inside-out nature of life know that the more people focus on an outside "prize," the more they obstruct their awareness, shrink their perceptual field, and limit possibilities. Great leaders understand that achieving goals does not elevate self-worth or happiness. Instead, they relish the journey -- the relationships and experiences -- as the path toward creating what they want turns clear.
7. When in doubt -- great leaders look to love.
Great leaders set guidelines based on one overriding principle: Love for others. They grasp, above all else, that love is the epitome of a clear mind. So, when they're jammed up and not reaching their audience, great leaders look to love. How to help others then becomes obvious.
Thanks for reading. If you have questions, comments, or additions to this list -- please let me know.