What Qualities Make Great Leaders?

My great friend, Chris Cuomo, journalist and news anchor on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, has some ideas about the qualities that make great leaders and so do I! We recently met and talked about the traits we see most in great leaders and not surprisingly our answers are quite similar. The short excerpt from our interview below reveals our answers to this question. I’d love to hear your answers!

Marshall: Chris, you are, I think, justifiably, considered one of the world’s great interviewers. You’ve had the opportunity to meet leaders in all kinds of different, fascinating fields. I’m going to ask a question about the broad concept of leadership. What are some of the qualities you’ve seen that really stand out to you for people you consider to be great leaders? What would that quality be?

Chris: Something that jumps out, no matter what the genre is, is clarity of thought and being open to being wrong. And that is not easy. The second response is I recently reread Profiles in Courage, the Kennedy book. Many of the people who he calls out for courage lost in their next election, lost during a very tumultuous time. In the book, he quotes Ernest Hemingway as saying, “What is courage? Courage is grace under pressure.” That’s a leader. Somebody who does not capitulate, who does not succumb to the same pressures that the non-leaders do. That’s something I’ve seen in every space whether it’s sports, business, culture. It’s not that they’re the smartest or the best. But they function the best in that situation. And it seems to be a common factor from all of them. They don’t think about things going wrong except in terms of how to make them better.

Marshall: I love that. In my job as a coach, as you know, I don’t get paid if my clients don’t become more effective leaders. More effective is not judged by me or them, it’s judged by everyone around them. Three qualities of great leaders that have hit me, which are totally consistent with what you said. The first one is courage. They have the courage to look in the mirror. And you know that’s not easy. It’s not easy for me, or you, or for any of us. Second is humility. I can’t help someone who’s already perfect. You have to have that humility to admit you can do better. And then the third one is the discipline to do the hard work to get better. So, thank you, Chris!

On June 20th, I was honored to be inducted into the Thinkers 50 Hall of Fame – whose members include the top management thinkers of our time.





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