The Traits That Make Great Leaders (And How You Can Develop Them, Too)

This article was originally published in Forbes.

What does the term “great leader” mean? What sets the truly great apart from the rest of the leadership pack?

I was reminded of these tough questions recently while reading a book by fellow entrepreneur and leadership author Gregg Thompson. (Full disclosure: Gregg is a friend and will be doing an event for our company this summer.) In it, Gregg offers up a bold opinion: that great leaders don’t really exist. He explains that any great leaders in business or in life are simply deeply committed men and women who strive each and every day to become better than they were the day prior who are committed to the development of their colleagues, success of their organization and strength of their relationships.

As a CEO and business coach myself, I have a lot of experience working with different types of leaders and I agree that the title of “great leader” isn’t some end goal or box you can check off at the end of a long, hard journey. That being said, I believe that great leaders do, in fact, exist because I’ve seen them in action.

And the traits that all great leaders share? They’re specific. These leaders recognize that ideas like “strive for success” and “stay committed” are strong motivators in business but are often too general to inspire real progress. They live completely in specific day-to-day actions, timely priorities and measurable goals. They also have relentless focus on the road ahead, paying no mind to what’s happening in the periphery or the rearview mirror.

Ready to embark on your own path to great leadership? Below are three steps to change your thinking, stay focused and achieve greatness.

1. Prepare with a fresh look at humility and self-awareness.

Great leaders tend to be humble, meaning they know they don’t always have the right answers, and they accept honest feedback. Those leaders also focus on both their strengths and their areas which need improvement. This combination of humility and self-awareness enables leaders to move past their fears and weaknesses and ensure they are effective.

Tip: If you’re a blossoming leader striving to become one of the greats, the first thing you must do is to check your humility and self-awareness. Set aside time to get honest with yourself and map out your strengths and your weaknesses. Then establish ways to correct course.

2. Set a plan to minimize distractions on your road.

Leaders shouldn’t rest on their laurels in times of success. In fact, the greats don’t even consider resting a remote possibility — they stay committed to the path and continue on. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy ride. Common hazards of the workplace — like endless meetings, disagreements, petty office politics and unimportant time-sucking tasks — can be difficult to navigate.

Tip: You might find these distractions are direct results of having a hands-on role within the organization. If that’s the case and you’re finding yourself losing focus on the tasks that lie ahead because of all the day-to-day minutia, you need to redefine your role. Share high-level responsibility and ownership with other team members that you trust. It will free up your schedule and foster confidence in colleagues.

3. Maintain a steady pace of self-improvement.

Once you have made your assessment and have a set plan in action, the only thing left to do is maintain steady progress. That may sound simple, but it’s not. It requires commitment and an accountability partner.

Tip: Continue to ask yourself tough questions, such as “Is there anything I could be doing better?” or “Who can take these execution tasks off my plate, so I can focus on the big picture?” By continually making adjustments and checking improvement, you’ll not only pay attention to the road ahead but form a habit of honing your abilities to become a great leader.

Don’t get sidetracked because of distractions or fear of the unknown. Defy the odds and become a truly great leader by planning ahead and tracking your progress along the way. One day, you’ll be a source of inspiration for another leader heading out on the journey.