How Do You Know a Great Leader When You See One?

As a speaker who talks on the subject of leadership to large groups and all kinds of different audiences, I am often asked if it’s possible to spot a great leader when you see one. And my answer is always the same: yes, it is.

A truly great leader will stand out from a crowd—not because they have authority, and not because they have a title, but because of the quality of their character.

For some reason, many of us have lost sight of character. It’s rarely an area of focus in books and classes on the subject of leadership. It’s often treated as an old-fashioned concept, maybe because we are surrounded by so many examples of poor character.

But character will always be the central element of leadership, one that cannot be ignored or dismissed. It’s the foundation of greatness, because character is how we engage, how we choose, how we act, how we decide.

Here are five important ways that character reveals itself in leadership:

Integrity. A leader stands out from the rest when they lead with integrity, because integrity means they are honest and have a strong moral inner compass. It means that every word, every promise is backed by accountability.

Humanity. Humanity reminds us that people are at the heart of leadership. It means leading with empathy and fairness, and it makes all the difference in building sustainable success for leaders and teams.

Courage. A courageous leader—one who’s unafraid to challenge the status quo, who’s willing to take on discomfort and risk on behalf of their team—is able to lead people confidently into new territory and heights of success.

Humility. Someone who leads with humility sees their role as allowing others to shine. Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less, and it’s the hallmark of the very best leaders.

Transcendence. When a leader is equipped with transcendence they lead with optimism and purpose, which encourages others to see the bigger picture, to think in new and imaginative ways and produce excellence.

If you aren’t consistently working to keep your character at the center of your leadership and your life, you risk losing a foundational element of genuine success. Guard your character always.

Lead from within: Without character running through your veins as the source of your leadership, and without integrity as the internal GPS for navigating your life, you cut yourself off from the possibility of greatness.


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The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Jeremy Peterson

    24. Jun, 2019

    Hi Lolly, this was spot on. I’ve had the misfortune of working for leaders lacking these important character traits. Integrity is a big one, nothing kills a team faster than broken promises with no accountability. I also see a lot of leaders who lack courage. They are afraid to “rock the boat”, in fear of losing their own job. This was a great reminder for me of how important displaying all five traits is.

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    • lollydaskal

      02. Jul, 2019

      You have been misfortune and so have so many others, finding a great leader is hard, but once you find that person, admire them, and emulate them, create the ripple effect we need to see in this world.

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  2. Nelson Mandela Emma

    12. Dec, 2019

    Hi Daskal,
    Its an honor to my mind more winder to understanding and becoming a leader through the above traits. Me at my workplace I see all our staff waits to be told of what to do Than to proactive, then I imagine whats the meaning of employing them but this is a great piece of knowledge that I have to share for us to understand who are we are from within ourselves

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