Secrets of Great Leaders

Gerwig 2015-01-23

Are you taken in by books with titles such as, “The 8 Steps to Wealth” or “The Mysteries of Ancient Healing Practices?” I admit that I am. Why? Perhaps it’s because I want to be in on a secret, to get a jumpstart on others, to take a short-cut or get to the destination more efficiently. Why should I take 10 steps to wealth when I can get there in 8, right? Who doesn’t want to save 2 steps AND be wealthy! Be honest.

This week’s article has its origin in hundreds (if not thousands) of discussions I’ve had over the last 30 years with others about leaders and what it takes to be successful. Clearly, there aren’t 8 secrets to wealth or 7 steps to success as a leader. And not all great leaders become successful following the same path. We have different strengths, talents, experiences and gifts. How could we possibly get “there” (however we define the “there” of leadership success) the same way?

But there are a few key Do’s and Don’ts that are generally true, if not always. And please note that my list today is by no means exhaustive. You’ll see that quickly enough. I’ll likely give some thought to a Part 2 or Part 3 down the road, but for today, I’ll going with a few that I come back to over and over again when I’m helping grow and develop other leaders. … Here we go.


1. Treat Others Well
Ever hear of the “Golden Rule?” Well, there’s a reason it’s golden. Its wisdom has stood the test of time. Do to others as you’d like them to do to you. Seems simple enough, right? In practice, it can be difficult, but great leaders who stand the test of time treat others well. They treat others with dignity and respect, regardless of the other person’s status, position, station in life, skin color, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, etc. Simply stated, great leaders treat others well.

2. Add Value
Being “nice” isn’t enough. Agreed? Great leaders add value. They hit their metrics. They improve processes. They develop people. They work hard. They set visions and develop strategies. They do their jobs well and they help others do their jobs well. Great leaders make everyone around them better. These are the people you want on your team or leading your team.

3. Hone Communication & Decision-Making Skills
Again and again I come back to these two critical themes, communication and decision-making. Great leaders, regardless of their skill-level, work on improving their ability to communicate, connect and inspire with their written and verbal communication (non-verbal too). They also work to improve their decision-making skills. I’ve often said (only partially joking) that if you can master these two, communication and decision-making, you can rule the world.

4. Help Others Be Successful
Great leaders are concerned with the success of others. They know that it’s important for followers to buy into the vision. They know that great leaders serve and help others. They know that their success and that of the overall organization is multiplied to the extent that they help others within the organization be successful by reaching their dreams, goals and potential.


1. Show Poor Manners
Remember that you’re a reflection of your organization. You represent yourself, your family, your country and your organization wherever you go. Great leaders don’t use poor manners, whether eating, visiting another country or shopping at the local book store. Great leaders don’t embarrass themselves or their organization.

2. Step On Others
Great leaders don’t step on others, overlook them, take advantage of them, manipulate them or take credit for their work. It’s okay to have a healthy ambition, but don’t abuse others in your race to the top. Great leaders don’t view themselves as better or more deserving. They don’t discard another when they make a mistake. They don’t view relationships strictly as a means to an end. They recognize the value and joy of the relationship itself.

3. Focus on Yourself
Great leaders don’t stare at their image in the mirror for prolonged periods of time. They don’t allow their ego, pride or selfishness to overtake them. They don’t let power and position ruin their calling to serve and help others. Great leaders don’t focus exclusively on themselves. Yes, self-awareness and introspection can be healthy for one’s development. But great leaders are not self-obsessed or self-focused.

4. Lose Perspective
Great leaders don’t lose perspective when it comes to life, work, and the associated balance. They know that not all actions carry the same significance. They strive for perfection (zero defects) but recognize that processes and people aren’t, in truth, perfect. They accept this. Great leaders don’t forget their family, their wife or husband, their children, their parents, or their friends. They don’t forget their community. They don’t forget that they are replaceable. At work, all of us are replaceable. Great leaders work hard when they need to, play hard when they need to, sleep when they need to, etc. You get the idea. Balance.

How about you? Are you a great leader? What are your “secrets?” Your “keys?” What mysteries about great leadership do you have?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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