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The Key Characteristics of a Great Leader

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

"Whether or not we realize it each of us has within us the ability to set some kind of example for people. Knowing this, would you rather be the one known for being the one who encouraged others, or the one who inadvertently discouraged those around you?" --Josh Hinds, syndicated columnist and author

Leadership has little or nothing to do with your title or your position. But it has everything to do with your ability to influence and bring out the best in others.

And it doesn't matter if you're an executive, a manager, a supervisor, a team leader, a committee member, or even a parent. Your effectiveness in any of those roles will be dependent on your leadership savvy and your use of "The Payoff Principle."

As a leader at any level, when you tap into your driving Purpose, share your contagious Passion, and engage the right Process, you generate an enormous Payoff: You trigger the other person's motivation and cooperation. It's the subject of my newest program and an upcoming book. Let's examine some of those elements today.

1. The PURPOSE of leadership.
After reading 3300 studies on leadership, researcher Brian Tracy concluded that they all agreed on one thing ... that effective leaders have a clear sense of vision. They can see a bigger, better, and brighter future. And they believe that better future is entirely possible; so they organize everything they do around the achievement of their vision.

Of course, you may have more than one vision. You may have a vision for yourself as a person, as a professional, as a parent, spouse, or customer service provider. You have the opportunity to be excellent, to be the best, to be a "leader" in all those areas.

But let me suggest, even though you may have several "visions," there is only one worthwhile "purpose" behind all those "visions" ... and that is ... your burning desire to help people. And it doesn't matter if you're an individual or a business. If your purpose is focused on helping others, instead of merely helping yourself, everybody benefits. Some people join your quest ... which is one of the ultimate goals of leadership ... while other people are encouraged.

Such was the case with the sack-lunch story ... which may or may not be entirely true ... but it makes an excellent point, nonetheless. As Denny Kukich said, after boarding his plane, stowing his carry-on luggage, and taking his seat, he thought he would relax with a good book and a short nap. Just then he saw a line of soldiers come down the aisle and fill all the vacant seats around him. So he asked a nearby soldier, "Where are you headed?" The soldier replied, "Chicago - to the Great Lakes Base. We'll be there for two weeks for special training, and then we're being deployed to Iraq."

After flying for about an hour, an announcement was made that sack lunches were available for five dollars. It would be several hours before they reached Chicago, so Kukich decided a lunch would help him pass the time. As he reached for his wallet, he overheard a soldier ask his buddy if he planned to buy lunch. "No, that seems like a lot of money for just a sack lunch. Probably wouldn't be worth five bucks. I'll wait till we get to Chicago," his friend replied. They both agreed.

It was then that Kukich noted none of the soldiers were buying lunch. So he walked to the back of the plane, handed the flight attendant a fifty dollar bill, and told her to take a lunch to all of the soldiers. She grabbed his arms and squeezed tightly. With her eyes wet with tears, she thanked him and said, "My son was a soldier in Iraq; it's almost like you are doing it for him."

Picking up ten sacks, she headed up the aisle to where the soldiers were seated. She stopped at the author's seat and asked, "Which do you like best - beef or chicken?" "Chicken," he replied, wondering why she asked. She turned and went to the front of plane, returning a minute later with a dinner plate from first class. "This is your thanks."

After they all finished eating, Kukich headed for the rest room at the back of the plane. Another man stopped him and said, "I saw what you did. I want to be part of it. Here, take this." He handed him twenty-five dollars.

Soon after he returned to his seat, the Flight Captain came down the aisle, found Kukich, smiled, held out his hand, and said, "I want to shake your hand." The captain continued in a booming voice, "I was a soldier and I was a military pilot. Once, someone bought me a lunch. It was an act of kindness I never forgot." Soon the whole plane broke into applause.

Still later in the flight, as Kukich walked to the front of the plane to stretch his legs, another man reached out his hand, wanting to shake his, and put another twenty-five dollars in his palm.

When they landed in Chicago and started to deplane, somebody else stopped Kukich and stuffed something into his shirt pocket and walked away without saying a word. Another twenty-five dollars!

Upon entering the terminal, Kukich saw the soldiers gathering for their trip to the base. He walked over to them and gave them seventy-five dollars, saying "It will take you some time to reach the base. It will be about time for a sandwich. God Bless You."

That's what happens when you have a vision of a bigger, better, and brighter future. And that's what happens when you have a purpose or a burning desire to help others. Some people get caught up in your vision, and other people are encouraged. Ten young men left that flight feeling the love and respect of their fellow travelers.

It's the PURPOSE of leadership. The second factor is ...

2. The PASSION of leadership.
And highly effective leaders are passionate. They have the courage ... the boldness ... to keep on pursuing their purpose even when problems arise. As Orison Swett Marden, the founder of "Success Magazine," wrote, "Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them."

Unfortunately, most people have too much fear and too little courage. As psychologist Abraham Maslow noted, the story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short. They prevent themselves from becoming leaders because they think of all the reasons they can't do something. And instead of having the passionate courage they need for leadership, they're saddled with the crippling fear that slows or stops the steps they should be taking.

In fact, author Philip Van Hooser, says "failing to act when necessary ... may be one of the more common stumbling blocks of effective leadership." He says most people dread conflict and confrontation, so they avoid it as long as possible, hoping the problem will simply go away. Of course it doesn't. The problem just grows and festers while the ineffective leader is stuck in procrastination.

Effective leaders are characterized by passion. By courage. By their refusal to give in to fear. They know that fear always has been and always will be their biggest enemy, but they do what they know needs to be done despite the fear.

And notice, I said "despite the fear." Great leaders may not be fearless. But they are courageous. Somehow or other they have mastered the wisdom of the ages that moves them beyond the fear. They follow Aristotle's advice, who said, if you don't have courage, simply behave as though you are courageous, and you will eventually master the virtue.

About 2000 years later, American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson took the courage concept a step further. When he was 12 years old and walking down the street in Concord, Massachusetts, a piece of paper blew against his leg. He picked it up and read, "If you would be happy and successful in life, make a habit of doing the things you fear." It changed his life forever after. He knew one of the secrets of leadership was doing what ordinary people were too afraid to do.

And 100 years after that, Maslow said the leader's battle against fear wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime battle. He said, "One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again."

So effective leaders are guided by their PURPOSE, driven by their PASSION, and follow...

3. The PROCESS of leadership.
Of course, effective leaders follow a number of processes, but one of the key ones is the process of accountability. They don't make excuses. They don't blame other people and they don't blame their circumstances for where they are. They take responsibility for who they are and where they're at.

In other words, they're always willing to look inside themselves to see what needs changing. As the old hymn goes, "It ain't my brother. It ain't my sister. It's me oh me Lord, standing in the need of prayer." Effective leaders know "if it is to be, it is up to me."

It's the difference between a superior person and an average person. The superior person asks, "What needs to change inside of me?" They ask their friends, "How can I improve?" They know they're not perfect. They're a "work in progress." So they're always looking for new and better ways to reach their goals or realize their vision.

By contrast, average people spend their time wondering "if" change is possible or explaining "why" something doesn't work. And rather than focus on solutions, they focus on problems.

Leaders take responsibility for what's happening now, and leaders take responsibility for making things better in the future. But once they get to that better place, they share the credit with everyone who helped along the way.

Define your purpose. How exactly do you want to make a difference in the lives of other people?

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.

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