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The four signs of great leadership


Tony Schwartz uses his blog on HBR.org to highlight the attributes that every great leader needs – and few actually possess.

He reflects: "Over the last dozen years, I've worked with scores of CEOs and senior executives to help them build more engaged, high performance cultures by energising their employees. Along the way, I've landed on four key capacities that show up, to one degree or another, in the most inspiring leaders I've met."

Schwartz says the first of these is the capacity of great leaders to recognise strengths in us that we don't always fully see ourselves.

The author believes there is a "Pygmalion effect" at work here, where expectations become self-fulfilling.

He points out that "both positive and negative emotions feed on themselves" and that a leader's confidence can inspire people to achieve excellence. This, in turn, feeds their own confidence and satisfaction, as they show a willingness to keep pushing themselves.

Schwartz says the second sign of greatness in a leader is that, rather than simply trying to get more out of us, they seek to understand and meet our needs.

He explains: "Great leaders understand that how they make people feel, day in and day out, has a profound influence on how they perform.

"We each have a range of core needs – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Great leaders focus on helping their employees meet each of these needs, recognising that it helps them to perform better and more sustainably."

The third attribute of a great leader is taking the time to clearly define what success looks like, then empowering and trusting us to find the best way to achieve it.

Schwartz points out that being micromanaged is one of the most "demoralising and infantilising" experiences of work.

Therefore, leaders must give employees space to get their work done and accept that, while they might make wrong turns along the way, they will learn and grow as a result.


Finally, great leaders have the capacity to embrace their own opposites, "most notably vulnerability alongside strength, and confidence balanced by humility".

Schwartz insists: "Great leaders don't feel the need to be right, or to be perfect, because they've learned to value themselves in spite of shortcomings they freely acknowledge. In turn, they bring this generous spirit to those they lead."

He adds: "The more leaders make us feel valued, in spite of our imperfections, the less energy we will spend asserting, defending and restoring our value, and the more energy we have available to create value."

The Four Capacities Every Great Leader Needs (And Very Few Have)
Tony Schwartz