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The Heart of Leadership: Insights From Mark Miller of Chick-fil-A

10/08/2013 09:44 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

What makes potential leaders different from other employees who are great at their jobs?

Mark Miller, who is a bestselling author with over 600,000 copies of his books in print, tackled this question with the team he assembled when he was assigned as the Executive Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness at Chick-fil-A.

Last week I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Miller (a link to the video is below). We discussed his new book The Heart of Leadership: Becoming A Leader People Want to Follow, which sheds light on the question:

What Makes Leaders Different?

Ten years ago, Chick-fil-A lacked a clear process for identifying potential leaders. Miller and his team were tasked with identifying the key traits of their best leaders.

First, they identified the skills possessed by the top leaders. This was the focus of the book The Secret, which Miller co-authored with Ken Blanchard.

However, in the process of identifying the key traits of the best leaders, Miller and his team discovered something rather interesting.

Leadership Is 10% Skills and 90% Character

So you spot a star employee. They absolutely excel at their job. You promote them to a leadership role. They fail miserably.

Sound familiar?

Most of us in management positions have had this experience. It's fairly universal because of the truth that leadership is 90% character, and only 10% skills.

What are the Character Traits of the Best Leaders?

In the world of leadership development, the topic of character is fairly common. However, Miller points out that the character traits often discussed - things like integrity, loyalty, etc. - are actually not unique to great leaders. These are character traits that we expect from every employee.

In The Heart of Leadership, Miller writes about the five character traits that are common among the best leaders.

In our interview, he discussed two of the five from the book.

Think Others First

When Blake, the main character of the book, meets the first of the five mentors that help him develop the heart of a leader, he is told that leaders think, "Others first."

Leaders who think, "Others first," develop loyal followers who trust the leader and are much more likely to believe that the leader has their best interest in mind when the leader has to make a tough call.

Blake realizes that he doesn't think, "Others first," and is given a simple practice that will help him begin to better serve others and help him develop the heart of a leader.

Blake is instructed to make the effort to consider how he can add value in some way for every person with whom he interacts.

What could you do to ensure that you add value for each person you encounter?

Expect the Best

Blake also learns that, although well grounded in reality, the best leaders are highly optimistic.

Miller stated in our interview that most people think of a person as an optimist if they say that the glass is half full versus half empty. However, the best leaders actually say, "The glass is ALL full! It's half full of air, and half full of water."

If a leader is unable to communicate a compelling vision that is better than the current situation, why would anyone want to follow her or him?

Great leaders work to do develop optimism so that they can inspire greatness in the people around them.

What are some ways you work to develop optimism?

If you'd like to see the video of the interview, you can simply click here. (It's worth the time. Mark Miller is very engaging.)

To receive a free sample chapter of The Heart of Leadership, you can click here.