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7 Habits of a Successful Leader

By May 21, 2015Leadership

I’m a student of leadership. I am consistently talking to, interviewing, and learning from leaders I believe have been successful — regardless of their vocational field. If they have honorable intentions (which I believe is necessary to be considered successful anyway), then I can learn from them.

I’ve observed a few common habits that successful leaders have that may, in my opinion, separate them from less successful leaders. I’m not sure you can eliminate any of them completely. Just a theory — I don’t know if I know any leaders I’d consider successful — or who I’d want to learn from — who would have at least 5 or more, of these habits.

Here are 7 habits of successful leaders:

Prioritizing each day – Everyday we are flooded with opportunities. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are best. You often won’t know until you try on some of them, but successful leaders strive everyday to identify and do that which is the best use of their time. That means they learn to say “no” often.

Yielding to experience – Successful leaders know they must seek the input from others for continued success. There will always be someone with more experience in a subject. Many times that person will be someone the leader is supposed to be leading. Successful leaders surround themselves with people smarter they they are — especially in areas of their weaknesses. They are never afraid to ask, “Can you help me?” Pretending to have all the answers can destroy a leader. When a leader is willing to humble him or herself and solicit input, the team feels validated and the best answer is discovered.

Networking – Iron sharpens iron. The most successful leaders I know have a network of other successful leaders around them. They glean from each other, share war stories and help each other when needed. The sheltered leader will seldom reach his or her full potential. I’ve observed the best leaders I know having people they trust to whom they can call quickly and seek input.

Continuous learning – Successful leaders are sponges for new information. They are continually reading, taking notes, and exploring different ways of doing things. They aren’t afraid to take a risk on something new.

Maintaining health – Successful leaders learn to balance the demands on them by remaining healthy physically, mentally, spiritually and relationally — as much as it depends on them. No one can escape sudden tragedy or the trials of life, but successful leaders weather those storms by being as prepared as possible before they arrive. That requires discipline. To eat — at least — moderately well. To exercise. To rest. To pray.

Willing to make hard decisions – Successful leaders don’t allow fear, intimidation or friendship to keep them from making the right decisions for the organization they lead. Leading doesn’t always make a person popular, but successful leaders care more about the greater purpose than their personal advancement. They have courage.

Commitment to a higher purpose – Successful leaders are striving for something bigger than themselves — bigger than the reality of today. For me personally, this is my passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but successful leaders are willing to endure the loneliness of leadership, the stress of leading, and the pressure to perform at higher levels, because they believe in something worth the fight.

Those are my observations.

What would you add?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • Duncan M. says:

    I would also add that a successful leader needs to be optimistic. You can only change behaviors if you know how to make others feel confident in their strength and follow you. This also implies being a good speaker, and focus on a powerful message.

  • John Armstrong says:

    As always, a great post. Each one of the items could easily be a post of it's own or a chapter….

  • Nelia Norris says:

    I wanted to impose the importance of time management. These are the must-suggested servant leader  relationship program for everyone.

  • — Celebrating diversity and at the same time promoting unity (not uniformity)
    — Thinking globally and at the same time, act inglocally
    — Being creative and innovative in his approach
    — Expressing gratitude at all times
    — Staying grounded during a crisis

  • Joe Wickman

    Great post. To my experience, each of the 7 are essential.

    The only essential I didn’t see listed was something I’ve found incredibly valuable. That is the friendship of a peer outside of your organization. There are often conversations that are best kept between you and someone outside of your chain of command. The ability to reflect on the direction of your organization, raise questions freely, or simply to share personal struggles is invaluable. Much of this can be achieved in-house if you work in a safe, open environment. However, there are also times that you just need a friend who doesn’t report to you, or who can’t fire you. I’ve found that person to be a great listener and trusted source of encouragement. If you don’t have a friend like that, get one. I did.

  • Kmac4him

    I like the continuous learning one, no matter how long you have served, you still can learn. I like learning and growing, I really like having fresh revelation that I get as the Holy Spirit leads me to read and study and learn from others, that is too cool!
    I probably would add that successful leaders “habitually” keep the word servant in front of leadership; they are habitually “servant leaders”. I don’t mean servants 1st to people, I mean they serve God 1st before their ministry; they are called to God 1st and enjoy a vibrant, passionate, worshiping relationship with AWE-GOD, so their passion for serving God comes from internal relationship with God, not external peer pressure. Their leadership is aligned and realigned in a holy alignment with God 1st. They serve HIM and He matters more than anything, and that way they don’t have a tight, tight grip on ministry, but on Jesus! A Servant Leader Simply Significantly Serves God 1st And The Fruit Of That Is Seen In JOY! Jesus – Others – You!

  • HI Ron, I would suggest two additions.

    1. Act on the small picture – (some what similar to prioritize the day) It is often said that Leaders need to focus on the big picture (where we are going). The big picture is important but what needs to happen today? Lead to the future but also lead today.

    2. Delegate responsibility. Don't just give people tasks to do, but give them responsibility. Give them the freedom to get the job done their way. It may not be perfect, but it takes a burden off you, and it also helps raise up new leaders.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I like both of these. Great!

    • Kmac4him

      That is good! Because we do forget to lead today when we are too focused on tomorrow! Sometimes too, that makes people who serve with us feel “invisible” because we need to “be where we are”!

      I like what you said about it may not be perfect… true and the reason I like it is because my perception of “perfect” my not be their “perfect” but still qualifies as “perfect”….

  • Bryankr

    This is a good post. I have a hard time adding to it, and an even harder time actually doing all of them! A lot of them I was taught to do at an earlier stage, so they aren’t that diffcult, but I am still striving for learning to better prioritizing. Not always easy to say “NO” to some things.

  • Bruce says:

    Most leaders are also narcissistic in the extreme,vicious tempers, arrogant, mostly divorced, believe that they live by a different rule book, check Steve Jobs , most televangelists, most Mega Church Past, but then look at Jesus??? lets stop looking at supposed achievements and look at character instead, the paths of most leaders are covered with the bodies of there co-workers 🙁

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. You've obviously been hurt by this style leadership. Praying for you

    • Kmac4him

      Wow… You have such a different perspective of leadership. I guess perspective is sometimes shaped by experiences you have encountered in life. I have had some negative experiences with leaders too. But my perspective is a bit different from yours and it started when I decided to live what Psalm 62:5 said: To put all my hope and expectation in Jesus. Human beings will let us down but God does not. When I have been hurt by a leader, I have to decide to either let it make be bitter or better. I could blame a specific leader who hurt me and say he held me back, I could spend my time being lame or I could fully face my God and let my relationship perspectives come out of that vertical relationship with God. You will not find me relating to people in a horizontal way from me to them, unless I have 1st a unbreakable vertical relationship with God. Seeing things through God’s eyes, understanding how Jesus, the King of Heaven was willing to “abase” himself so we could have life, it really helps your perspective when you deal with a leader who disappoints you. I pray you begin to see things through God’s eyes and continue to walk in a vertical relationship with God 1st before you engage in horizontal relationship with people. It is a really enlightening way to deal with the failures of others, so that they don’t derail the mission God has for you. The human condition always aggravates us on our way, but GOD is our peace, He promised that and He told us to do everything we could to make peace with others and then move forward with HIM!