Are you a strong leader? This is a really important question if you’ve got your eye on the C-Suite.


But with so many different possible definitions of “strong leader,” how can you tell for sure?


Personally, when faced with a big, important question like this, I turn to great books!


I’m always reading. Always looking for how I can increase my knowledge and learn from people who specialize in different areas of business and success.


In this post, I want to share some of the amazing wisdom of Mark Miller, from his inspiring book Win the Heart: How to Create a Culture of Full Engagement (The High Performance Series).


Check out his 5 traits of being a strong leader and begin to ask yourself how you measure up on each of them.


1.  Thinking of Others First


Being a strong leader means you’re someone others want to follow.


In his book, Miller outlines a concept called servant leadership. It sounds counter-intuitive. How can you lead if you’re serving?


But the key thing to remember is that your role as a leader is to get your team to move in the direction of the larger goal. Doing that involves helping them get what they need in order to make progress. And that’s where service comes in.


Here are two of Miller’s key tactics for servant leadership that you can employ starting today:


  1. Leave your agenda at the door when you attend meetings. Listen and get a feel for which way the wind is blowing. Look for places where people are trying to accomplish something and need your help. Your job as a leader is to see where people are getting stuck and need your guidance. And to figure that out, you have to really be present and observant.
  2. Look to add value to every person you encounter. This might be something you do to save them time or get them access to a helpful resource. But it can also be more personal. A smile, a genuine compliment, a “thank you,” an email check-in, or even just listening with 100% of your attention.


Thinking of others first turns you into a servant leader others want to follow.


2. Hunger for Wisdom

When you’re hungry for wisdom, you’re keeping an open mind. This makes you a strong leader because you’re staying curious and humble. You don’t assume you already know all the answers.


When you’re constantly learning, you’re also setting the pace for your team. Growth and change are happening so rapidly nowadays that it’s essential to keep up.


Want to grow your business 20% a year?  Then you need to grow yourself 20% a year.  


What does that look like? Learning is a huge part of it, but it’s not the end of the story.


Mark Miller defines wisdom as “the application of knowledge.” That means it’s not enough to read books or blogs or listen to podcasts. You have to apply what you’ve learned.


Here are Miller’s two tactics for gaining wisdom:

  1. Seek feedback. Ask your team about past situations and apply what you learn to future situations.
  2. Seek counsel. Learn from those who’ve been down your path and borrow their wisdom.

Your capacity to grow determines your capacity to lead.

3. Spirit of Optimism

This is one of my favorite traits and it’s often overlooked when we think about being a strong leader.


As a leader, you need to expect the best and believe the best about outcomes.  No one wants to follow a pessimistic leader. If you’re pessimistic as a leader, you’re asking people to follow you to an awful place.


If that’s your nature or you’re wired that way, you have to work on thinking differently.


Let me be clear: Optimism doesn’t mean you disregard the facts or deny the challenges.


It simply means you look for solutions. Your positivity turns into problem solving and you figure out how to make something work.  You get back up after you get knocked down and you use setbacks as an opportunity to ask what went wrong and why so you can learn from the situation.


4. Being 100% Responsible

Strong leaders accept responsibility.


That means they don’t blame people. They’re willing to accept responsibility for the team as a whole and for the outcomes of what the team does.


They don’t throw team members under the bus. This looks like saying, “We messed up.” Not, “Steve messed up.”


Accepting responsibility for the whole team isn’t the same as ignoring issues that arise. By all means, give feedback and guidance to your team to address knowledge gaps, misunderstandings, shortcomings, etc. But when you own the team’s outcomes, you become a leader others trust. They know that you’ll stick with them and guide them even when things don’t turn out as planned.


When you realize you’re responsible for the growth of your department and success of its projects, you’re empowered to lead and your team feels good about following you.




5. Courage

As a strong leader, you need to respond with courage, no matter the situation. Whether it’s little things or big things, your team is looking to you to boldly set the course.


From decisions about strategy to decisions about people, strong leaders lead with heart. Courage helps you ditch timidity and passivity. Courage is the willingness to take action and make decisions.


If you’re going to be an effective leader, you need to lead in a defined direction. That means making bold choices and giving your team a clear path forward. It takes courage to forge the path and blaze the trail.


Serve to Lead


When you realize leadership isn’t about being in the spotlight or at the top of the heap, but that it’s an opportunity to serve, that’s when you truly become a strong leader. You step into the role with ease and grace.


Leaders can come from all walks of life.  [Growing the Leaders of Tomorrow]  But I agree with Mark Miller that strong leaders all possess these five traits of thinking of others first; the hunger for wisdom; the spirit of optimism; being 100% responsible; and courage.


Where do you rank with these five traits? Do you excel in each one, or could you use some help honing your skills? If so, don’t hold back. Truly great leaders are aware of their weaknesses and work to fill their knowledge or skill gaps.


If you’re ready to work on one of these five traits or a different habit you want to strengthen in order to become a great leader, let’s talk! Sign up for a free Strategy Session today and start on the path to being a better leader.