5 Common Traits of Greatness

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Guest Post by Charles Lee
At a recent speaking engagement for a private company, I had the privilege of listening to innovative leaders like Phil Jackson (former NBA player & coach), Tony Blair (former Prime Minister of Great Britain), Elon Musk (Founder of SpaceX; Co-Founder of PayPal & Tesla Motors), Whurley (Chaotic Moon), Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), Salman Khan (Khan Academy), and many others.
All of the presenters are thought leaders in their respective spaces and took time to share their latest thoughts on the future. While listening to them, I started to note some of the characteristics or traits that all of them shared in the way they approached life and work. Here’s a brief synopsis of what I saw in each of their lives that have allowed them to become great at what they do:
Passion & Purpose Before Profit – The biggest drive for these individuals was their passion and the “why” (or purpose) behind what they were pursuing. While I’m sure that financial profitability through their endeavors does spur them on further, it’s not the main motivator. They are idea people who think they have something to offer the world.
Self-Awareness – All of them possessed a keen sense of self-awareness. They knew who they were and what they did and did not know. They were quick to point out their need for others in working towards their goals. They are smart enough to know that they didn’t have a monopoly on knowledge. All of them also appear to be avid learners and consumers of good thinking and teamwork.
Focused on a Few Things – Becoming the best in the world in something is incredibly difficult. All of these leaders directly or indirectly communicated the hard work required to stay focused on their endeavors. Many of them intentionally resisted the distractions that came along with their success. They all appear to have no problem saying no to opportunities that don’t resonate with their core.
Work is Not Something to Complain About – Hard work is inevitable for implementing any great idea. While it’s become common practice for many in our day to express displeasure in one’s “job”, all of these leaders embraced a contrary attitude. Working on their passions took away most of their need to complain. They love what they do and appear to thorough enough the process even when it’s difficult.
Invest in Culture & People – These leaders emphasized the need to build culture and people around ideas. While strategy is important, people ultimately determine the success of an idea. Developing a great culture for people to work in is essential to long-term growth and creation of something that actually matters. Spend time developing people as much as you’re developing your ideas as a leader.

I hope to unpack some of these thoughts a little bit further in the upcoming months. I’m still processing how these traits can be practically integrated into the life of any company or organization. Yes, still in progress…

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