Recently, I’ve asked a couple of friends to describe their version of a great leader. Scribbling down some notes for myself, I figured it would make a nice post. Here is what I think makes a great leader.

It starts with leading yourself

A leader without followers makes a lone nut, but I’m guessing you have more people following you than you think. It’s easy not to see who you influence on a daily basis. However, it all starts with yourself. Do you do what you say? Are you able to commit yourself to things? Are you able to make great and small decisions? Do you have difficult conversations with yourself? You cannot lead others if you’re not able to lead yourself.

Be committed to grow

One of the things that keep coming back is that in order to be a great leader, you need to be growing yourself continuously. I won’t say it is impossible to be a great leader without being an avid reader, but lots of famous leaders of the past committed huge amounts of time on studying and reading. Winston Churchill at some time realized all the stuff he didn’t knew and had his mother send him countless tracts on politics, ethics, society, science, evolution and government. Benjamin Franklin was an inspiring reader as well, he basically invented the subscription based library.

Don’t have the time to dive into reading? Listen to audiobooks while commuting or subscribe to interesting podcasts.

“If you cannot read all your books…fondle them–peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.” – Winston S. Churchill

Communicate clearly

Great leaders don’t use lots of words, but are able to communicate plans in a clear and structured manner. If you haven’t, you should watch HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers. Here’s a short clip which really sums this up: leaders have to decide and communicate quickly and clearly. Also (of course the interaction it not 100% accurate, still interesting), notice the way Winters is focussed on his guys and finds a way to deal with the situation while not getting into a discussion with Colonel Sink.

Facilitate and make decisions

A great leader motivates people to grow. In order to grow, big and small decisions need to be made. To be able to make good decisions, you need to have a plan. Great leaders create an environment where hard decisions, which can also be wrong, are preferred over putting things off and keeping peace. Note: not taking action can also be a decision, as long as it has been taken intently.

There’s a lot more to say about this, but this gives me more then enough to work on for now. What do you think is the essence of leadership? Which areas are you going to work on?