Four Cornerstones that Define Great Leaders Every great leader is different, but most share certain innate qualities. These qualities, as well as adhering to a few concrete principles, elevate their leadership to the highest level, and ensure they leave a lasting, positive effect on the people around them.

“Great leadership doesn't happen overnight,” says Brian Moran, contributor to Open Forum. “Great leadership is built brick by brick over many years with each decision and every mistake you make.” This experience (and the wisdom that comes with it) serves as the “rock solid foundation” of great leadership.

That foundation itself is built on four corners—four words that both “describe the type of leader you are today”, as well as the leader you hope to become tomorrow. Below are the cornerstones Moran chose for himself.

Four Cornerstones of Great Leaders


“Character” refers to an individual’s mental and moral qualities. We all know what a “person of character” looks and acts like, and why it’s a description worth aspiring to.


Someone with credibility is someone you can trust. For a small business owner, there may be no more valuable quality—particularly, Moran says, if you’re “dealing with larger companies who may hesitate in doing business with a smaller company whose leader doesn’t possess the utmost credibility.”

People don’t want to do business with someone they can’t trust.


We all encounter times in our business lives where there’s profit to be gained from conducting yourself in ways of questionable honesty. “In essence, it’s nothing more than a cornerstone test,” Moran says. Think of the parade of disgraced leaders we’ve seen in just the past decade alone. A lack of integrity is “the result of a poorly built foundation.”


A leader with vision sees what others can’t see—a vital leadership trait “in times of crisis when there is no clear path.”

These are Moran’s four cornerstones. Yours may differ.

In any case, the next step is to fill in the foundation with 15 to 20 more words that best define your leadership skills—words like honest, assertive, inspirational, etc. “Lay these words across your foundation,” Moran says, “let them settle in and stay committed to them.”

Great leaders also avoid negative words, which unfortunately have come to define many so-called business and world leaders—words like deceitful, unscrupulous, tyrannical. “You not only want to avoid them yourself, but you want to steer clear of other people who embody these words.”

The old adage ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ springs to mind. Associating with people who embody these negative traits can keep you from achieving greatness on your own. And their reputation just might rub off on yours.

What Words Would Others Choose About You?

It’s always helpful to match up your self-perception with what others think about you. Would their words match your own cornerstone or foundation words? Invite friends and colleagues to describe you in three or four words—both as a person, and as a leader. Are there any surprises? Is there such a gap between your words and theirs that it may be time for a change?

Great leaders possess apparently inexhaustible passion and energy. Every other quality is up to you to define for yourself.

What are your cornerstone words?