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?

Leaders: Five Transitions Great Ones MakeThe most successful business people recognize that leadership ability is the sum of experience and perspective. So what sets successful leaders apart from the average?

In a Forbes post from 2013, contributor and leadership advisor Mike Myatt outlines five transitional phases that all great leaders move through to go from good to great.

Leaders Find Purpose

The best business leaders recognize the importance of common purpose and shared values to the success of their organizations. Purpose is a defining characteristic that shapes passion, and helps dictate a strong work ethic.

Myatt points out that those driven by profit may find themselves successful for a short time, but “great leaders make the transition from profit to purpose.”

He notes that a lesson many average business people miss is the role of profit in a company’s success. While all businesses exist to make money, great leaders recognize that purpose at the personal and organizational level is the key to prolonged success.

People First

For Myatt, the role of a leader is inspiring change and helping others recognize value in themselves, and the organization.

“Average leaders spend time scaling processes, systems, and models — great leaders focus on scaling leadership.”

Being a great leader involves some level of introspection and humility, and recognizing that trust, loyalty, and respect from your employees are earned through the way that you lead.

Develop Awareness

“Great leaders are self aware, organizationally aware, contextually aware, and emotionally aware.”

They embrace an open leadership style focused on learning and listening from everyone in their organization, and aren’t threatened when their decisions and positions are challenged.

Leaders who are unwilling to change their minds when challenged by their employees won’t grow and develop as leaders.

Shun Complexity

Great innovators are continually looking for ways to simplify the way they do business, for the benefit of their customers and their employees.

Myatt argues that complexity in the organization stifles innovation and negatively impacts culture. Think about the way that your organization delivers value to clients, partners, and employees.

If a process can be streamlined for efficiency without sacrificing quality, simplify.

Get Personal

“Great leaders understand nothing is more personal than leadership, and they engage accordingly. The best leaders understand a failure to engage is a failure to lead,” says Myatt.

Businesses are human-powered enterprises, and truly effective and mature leaders demonstrate empathy and compassion at every turn. They listen carefully to those around them, coach employees through complex problems, and always look for opportunities to learn from their teams.

Performance is achieved by helping others become successful.

Eight Hallmarks of Great LeadershipJamie Dimon is chairman, president, and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, and Time has named him one of the world’s most influential people on four separate occasions, particularly because of his great leadership.

In a LinkedIn article, Dimon shares his thoughts on what goes into great leadership.

“Good people want to work for good leaders,” Dimon says. “Bad leaders can drive out almost anyone who’s good because they are corrosive to an organization.”

Here he shares some of the essential hallmarks of great leadership.

Jamie  Dimon on the Hallmarks of Great Leadership


Great leadership means the person in charge must constantly strive for improvement. This means holding scheduled business reviews, talent reviews, and team meetings.

“Leadership is like exercise; it has to be sustained for it to do any good.”

High Standards

Standards of integrity and high performance are not intrinsically embedded in an organization. It’s up to the leader to set those standards—“at a detailed level and with a real sense of urgency.”

Perhaps the most important standard is to treat customers and employees the way we want to be treated ourselves.

Face Facts

Self-delusion has no place in the leader’s make-up. They must seek and fix “the negatives” whenever possible (while, of course, celebrating key successes), and guide efforts toward problem resolution.


“The best leaders kill bureaucracy—it can cripple an organization—and watch for signs of politics, such as sidebar meetings after the real meeting because people wouldn’t speak their minds at the right time.”

The right people and the right structure. Effective leaders ensure the right people are in the room, throughout the organization. Setting up the right structure also minimizes the need for “political” decisions—a recipe for failure, not success.

Building Morale

Employee morale is boosted when workers see problems get fixed and issues are dealt with directly and honestly.


Dimon advocates loyalty to the institution, not to an individual (“frequently another form of cronyism”). Because leaders demand so much from employees, they should be loyal in return—by “building a healthy, vibrant company; telling them the truth; and giving them meaningful work, training and opportunities.”

Fair Treatment

Everyone within the organization deserves to be treated properly and respectfully, “because everyone’s collective purpose is to serve customers.”

In Dimon’s view, great leadership means they are always working to build something both they and their employees can take pride in.

These leaders “set high standards because as long as leaders are going to do something, they are going to do the best they can.”

What traits do you see for great leadership?


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