With all the attention and emphasis given to leadership, I have a few questions for you: Why is it that so many people refer to themselves as leaders, but truly great leaders are so few in number? How do you measure great leadership? And finally, is there a common thread that distinguishes those viewed as great leaders from the masses of those who hold leadership positions? While you can measure many things when assessing a leader, great leaders stand apart from the masses based on the impact of the sum of their accomplishments. It’s not a leader’s traits or characteristics that make them great, it’s how they apply them that matters. Here’s the thing – nobody really cares if you have all the right tools if you don’t know how and when to use them…

Oddly enough, and while there are certainly exceptions to every rule, most great leaders don’t consider themselves as such. I don’t want to burst any bubbles here, okay, yes I do – It is not self-assessments that define great leadership. Here’s the cold, hard truth – if you consider yourself a great leader, yet have never led anyone or anything of significance, you may want to reevaluate your thinking. It’s not what you think that matters. What matters is how those impacted by your leadership think and feel about you. Insignificant leaders, hated leaders, and failed leaders all have one thing in common – they view leadership as a quest for personal glory. Great leaders, on the other hand, have a purpose beyond self – they tend to view leadership as means of accomplishing something of significance for the benefit of others.

Reflecting back on my experience with leaders I find one thing tends to shine a spot-light on great leadership more than any other – time. How a leader stands the test of time is the only definitive validation of ability and accomplishment. The reality is great leaders are rarely one hit wonders. Anyone can get lucky (I’ve certainly benefited from dumb luck on occasion), but luck alone won’t lead to long-term success. Just as good luck won’t make you  a great leader, a bit of bad luck won’t keep a great leader down. Luck, good or bad, is little more than an occurrence that needs to be managed – it is not something that defines you as a leader. In fact, if you examine the proverbial “overnight success” you’ll find their journey was anything but overnight. In most cases you’ll find the hype reflects a meteoric rise, but the truth reveals an intentional, focused, sustained effort.

Great accomplishments rarely happen quickly – they require the character and discipline necessary to expend the effort, focus, attention to detail, vigilence, and tenacity required to get the job done. Great leaders show consistency, demonstrate endurance, and stay the course  – they never quit. Great leaders may change course by altering strategies, tactics, or methodologies, but they don’t quit. If you want to succeed as a leader, it’s easier than you might think…just don’t quit. Strip away the excuses, rationalizations, and justifications, and the only thing standing between you and the attainment of your objectives is what you see staring back at you when you look in the mirror each morning.

So what separates those leaders who never quit from those that do? It comes down to possessing a state of mind that refuses to lose – think will over skill. Great leaders have a never say die mentality that places the cause ahead of self-interest, passion ahead of pride, humility ahead hubris, and people ahead of process. I’m a big fan of the Die Hard movies, and the one thing you have to admire about the main character, detective John McClain (played by Bruce Willis), is that regardless of the obstacles he encounters, he just won’t quit. Granted, the aforementioned example of determination against all odds comes from a fictional character, but the fact of the matter is that successful leaders play to win. They don’t indulge themselves in half-hearted attempts destined for failure, rather they choose to focus all their efforts and energies on accomplishing their mission.

Much more inspiring than the fictional example above, is the recent accomplishment by U.S. Spec Ops in bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. This wasn’t the result of a fast, easy fix, but rather the culmination of efforts which spanned three presidents, 10 years, and the sacrifice of many. The commitment and resolve displayed by U.S. leadership, intelligence agencies, and particularly by our military, is a case study in mission focus and endurance. Great outcomes require great efforts, great resolve, great courage, and a great desire to finish what was started.

The real purpose of today’s post is to point out that anyone can become a great leader, but the reality is that most people don’t. They choose to accept defeat, they don’t play to win, they aren’t willing to do what it takes to be successful – they quit. Quitting is a temptation that all of us are consistently confronted with. The reason that so many people become a casualty of giving up, is because they can. Put simply, quitting is one of the easiest things to do in life. If you take your eye off the ball, even if only momentarily, that’s all it takes for most people to throw in the towel is a tinge of anger, humiliation, panic, rejection, stress, frustration, hurt, pain, jealousy, sorrow or anguish. Look back on your live, or the lives of others, and you’ll find numerous instances of people who took the easy way out and just quit.

I could certainly paint a more complex picture of what it takes to be successful by citing esoteric management theories, but the truth of the matter is that successful leaders don’t quit until the job is done. They don’t spend time complaining about the challenges and obstacles, rather they spend their time solving problems and creating solutions. If the objective is to get to the other side of the wall, they don’t really care whether they go over the wall, under the wall, around the wall or through the wall…they just care about getting to the other side. While they might spend a bit of time evaluating the most efficient strategy for getting to the other side of said wall, it will ultimately be their focus and resolve on conquering the challenge that will determine their success. Do you have what it takes to stay the course?

Thoughts?


Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt

Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Boards of Directors. Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership. He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership (Wiley) and Leadership Matters… (OP), a Forbes leadership columnist, and is the Founder and Chairman at N2Growth.

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