You may think of leadership as being all about the leader, but the best leaders know it’s all about, well, everyone else. Consultant Chris Pollinger shares the five leadership qualities the best leaders possess — and the ways that you can develop them for yourself.

What does good leadership look like in 2022? How can you put your best foot forward where you work, whether you’re managing a team or an entire company? In March, we’ll plumb the topic through Q&As from top-tier industry leaders, contributions from Inman columnists (the leaders in their field) and more. Then we’ll keep the leadership conversation going in person at Inman Disconnect in late March in Palm Springs, California.

This article was last updated March 18, 2022. 

Extraordinary leadership is an art. The portrait it paints is composed of inherent disposition, developed skills and passion for the people they serve.

In truth, there are very few things that all great leaders have in common. The true GOATs (Greatest of All Time) come in a variety of styles and personalities. They have been born out of every background, nationality, sex, orientation and creed. However, through years of research, we have found a thread of common skills that all great team leaders develop.

1. They put people before profits.

Great leaders take the blame when things go wrong. They also give all the credit to the team when things go right. Weak leaders do the opposite. Profit is the goal in any business. It’s the scorecard. It is also a trailing indicator.

The best leaders focus on the people who make the profit happen. Each person is an investment, not just an expense. Great leaders tend to hire slowly and release back to the marketplace those who aren’t a good fit quickly. They’ve learned when you put people first, the profit follows.

2. They select the right person for the right role.

Traditional wisdom tells us to hire based on experience, intelligence and determination alone. Those are important. However, great leaders look past those and look for true untapped talent.

Interviewing for this is an art. Few people even know what their true talents are. To start, develop clear, defined roles for each person and role on the team. These will help with screening out the merely qualified candidates in order to identify the truly exceptional ones.

In the minds of great leaders, every role on the team performed well deserves respect. Each person has different roles, but they all are essential and have the same inherent value. If the team could function the same without a role or without the person in it, then they shouldn’t be on the team. Remember, excellence is impossible to achieve without natural talent.

3. They have high expectations for each person.

Every person on the team needs to know what is expected and how that will be measured. Great leaders define outcomes each person needs to achieve. Average leaders only identify processes each person needs to complete. Below average, micro-managers, will try and do both. By doing so, they rarely achieve either.

Each person should all know the goals of the overall team. They also need to know how they contribute to that goal as individuals. Everyone should know why and how they get paid. What they get paid must be in alignment with what is best for your customer, your team and the individual.

4. They develop each person to their highest potential.

Each person has a unique set of skills, background experiences and interests. Great team leaders take the time to discover the potential of each team member. Then they invest the time and resources to coach and develop.

Each person needs to find their highest and best fit within the team. Exceptional team leaders create heroes who achieve. Each person is recognized and celebrated for their unique contribution.

There isn’t competition between members in this space. The leader helps put each person on their own, hand-crafted pedestal. This takes a dedicated amount of consistent feedback, coaching and mentoring.

5. They take ownership for motivating each person on the team.

Think inspiration, not control. The best leaders focus on their team member’s individual strengths. They let them be more of who they already are.

Great leaders have learned the art of managing around weaknesses. They choose to build on strengths. They help each person discover their inherent strengths. At the end of the day remember, everyone can be exceptional at something.

Leading isn’t easy. It takes an entirely separate skill set than being a solo operator. Great leaders know they must dig for talent to select the right person for the right role. They are good at setting expectations for each person based on the outcomes that are best for the customer, the organization and each member.

Brilliant leaders motivate through highlighting and celebrating each person’s strengths. Most importantly, they have a passion to inspire each person on the team to be the very best versions of themselves.

Chris Pollinger, partner, Berman & Pollinger, LLC is a senior sales and operational executive skilled in strategic leadership, culture building, business planning, sales, marketing, acquisitions, operations, recruiting, and team building. 

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