The DNA of Great Leadership

The DNA of Great Leadership

The DNA of Great Leadership

By Mark Wager

There are many leaders in the world but only a small percentage of these leaders are worthy of being considered great. Within every field there is an hierarchy of performance. Some are poor, some are average and some are great and leadership is no different. As a Leadership Coach I'm honoured to be a position to have worked with leaders from different industries and with a vast range of abilities. Having delivered numerous coaching sessions and leadership workshops I have the unique privilege to be able to clearly see the key differences between the great leaders and the rest. All the great leaders share similar qualities that are essential to their existence as a leader. It's like the DNA of leadership, a structure of building blocks that will determine if you are destined to be an average leader or a great one. This DNA of leadership has been in existence for centuries but it's just how we look at it that has changed.

Like DNA itself, great leaders have four main building blocks. They have the ability to lead themselves. The ability to lead people, the ability to achieve results and finally the ability to create a legacy. When all these abilities come together you have the DNA of great leadership. Let me explain in more detail.

Lead yourself
"Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power" - Lao Tzu

All leadership starts from within, if you don't know yourself or if you don't understand why you react to different situations, what motivates you, what stresses you, what energises you then there's no way you will be able to know other people and if you don't know about people you can never lead them.

In order to lead yourself you need to have a strong moral code, mental toughness and emotional intelligence. A moral code needs to be at the very centre of your existence. If you are not a good person and you have poor morals then you will never be a good leader. You might end up in a leadership role and you might even achieve some limited success but the time will come and trust me it will as I've seen it happen to many people. The time will come when the decision you should make is not the decision you want to make and you will be paced in a position that you should put the needs of others ahead of your own personal needs and in this moment you will be tested as a leader. If you are not fundamentally a good person you will fail.

Leading people
"To lead people walk behind them" - Lao Tzu

If you have the ability to lead yourself then you are a good person but in order to become a leader you need to be able to lead people. Leaders have the ability to understand people, they know what motivates them and drives them and it's this knowledge that allows them to inspire their teams.

The key to leading people is social intelligence and is the ability to get along with others and create relationships which allow for effective collaboration. Everyone is wonderfully complex and unique and everyone perceives and interacts with the world in different ways and you see examples of this in every workplace. Two people receive the same type of criticism. One person perceives the criticism as feedback and a genuine attempt is made to help them perform better so they interact in a positive way yet the other person perceives the criticism as a negative attack on them as a person and then reacts in a negative way. Two very difference reactions to the same scenario. Leaders know how to deal with people in the way that produces the response they want.

Achieving results
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" - Lao Tzu

The first two parts of the DNA of great leadership creates a good person and then a good leader. A leader is not an effective one unless they can produce results. A leader exists to produce an outcome and if they don't know how to achieve that outcome then they are not helping anyone.

Results occur when there is a plan which enables people to go from where they are now to where they want to be. Like every journey you need a roadmap and this is where effective leaders excel, they know the strategy, the tactics and the specific behaviours that are essential to achieve success. People often get confused between what is a strategy and what is a tactic but it's important to remember they are very different but connected. A leader's strategy is the overall plan to achieve long term success and their tactics are the medium term actions which when implemented make the strategy work. Most important of all are the specific behaviours because the leaders who achieve the best results are the ones who know what are the tiny steps that they and their team have to take every single day that enables the long journey to be possible.

Creating a legacy
"When the best leaders work is done the people say, we did it ourselves" - Lao Tzu

The final part of the DNA of great leaders is their ability to create a legacy. There are many effective leaders in the world who can achieve results but there are few leaders who are able to create a legacy. These leaders understand that it is what happens when they are not around that determines their greatness.

If you want to get a true measure of how great you are as a leader then see what happens when you are not there. If people have the motivation, the skills and the knowledge to continue your work then you are a great leader yet if you find you can't leave the team because your absence will cause too much disturbance or you are constantly being contacted either by email or phone when you are away then you are leading but you are not leading well. Great leaders have the ability to create talent pipelines. This is when people have the skills that you need them to have to do the job in the future as well as now. The ultimate aim of any leader should be to turn their followers into leaders in their own right.

Image courtesy of Geerati at

Posted: Monday 7 November 2016

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