How Great Leaders CommunicateDo you ever think about taking all the great leaders you’ve had the pleasure of working for or with and putting them in one room for a day?

What if you took all the traits that made each of them who they are and combined them into one person, creating a sort of all-star team of leadership traits?

Gretchen Rosswurm's article Leaders Communicate and Communicators Lead inspired this idea.

She looked at the many executives she’s worked with over the years and drew some common denominators.

Five Ways Great Leaders Communicate

What would you add? What great leaders inspire you?

Thanks to Eyetalk for the image.

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?

The Six Warning Signs of Leadership FailureWhy do leaders fail? What are the reasons behind a successful CEO’s spectacular rise and equally spectacular collapse?

Leadership and change management expert Mark Sanborn offers six reasons why leaders fail, in an article for

Take a look at the warning signs he outlines and see if any resonate for you.

#1 A Shift in Focus

Leaders can lose sight of what’s important, Sanborn says.

The laser-like focus that catapulted them to the top disappears, and they become distracted by the trappings of leadership, such as wealth and notoriety.

When this happens, instead of “thinking big” as all great leaders must, “they suddenly start thinking small.”

This translates into micromanaging and becoming consumed by “the trivial and unimportant.”

What is your primary focus right now?

“If you can’t write it on the back of your business card, then it’s a sure bet that your leadership is suffering from a lack of clarity.”

#2 Poor Communication

When leaders lose their grasp on what’s important, Sanborn says, “they often hide their confusion and uncertainty in ambiguous communication.”

Alternatively, they fall into “the clairvoyance trap”—believing that the people who follow them “automatically sense their goals and know what they want without being told.”

When those followers are unable to decipher the subtext of the leader’s communications, he or she blames them for a lack of effort, “rather than their own communication negligence.”

#3 Risk Aversion

Past successes often breed a fear of failure in leaders. “Can I continue to operate at this high level of performance?” they wonder.

Paradoxically, Sanborn says, “the longer a leader is successful, the higher his or her perceived cost of failure.”

A fear of failure breeds aversion to taking risks—even reasonable ones. It’s safer for such leaders only to do what’s been done before.

“Attempts at innovation—typically a key to their initial success—diminish and eventually disappear.”

#4 Ethics Slip

“The highest principle of leadership is integrity,” Sanborn says.

When a leader’s ethics are compromised or reasoned away as being necessary for the greater good, “that is the moment when a leader steps onto the slippery slope of failure.”

Leaders whose integrity has lapsed lose the power of empathy. Instead of being “people perceivers,” they become “people pleasers.” They use popularity “to ease the guilt of lapsed integrity.”

#5 Poor Self-Management

Leadership is both invigorating and extremely demanding. “Leaders who fail to take care of their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs are headed for disaster.”

#6 Lost Love

One last warning sign of a leader’s impending failure is moving away from “the dream that compelled them to accept the responsibility of leadership” in the first place. Leaders find themselves working towards objectives that have little personal meaning for them.

To avoid this trap, “leaders “must stick to what they love, what motivated them at the first, to maintain the fulfillment of leadership.”

Don't Fall into Leadership Failure

As Sanborn writes, “the warning signs in life—from stoplights to prescription labels—are there for our good.”

He encourages readers to take an honest look at themselves, and see if any of these leadership failure warning signs ring true. If so, now is the time to act.

Are you in danger of leadership failure?


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