With the general elections a few months away, I’ve been thinking a lot about the influence of leadership on the well-being of individuals, communities, the environment, and the planet.
Leaders — whether the CEO of a large company or president of a country — can play a critical role in uniting people around causes that contribute to a healthier, more productive world. But what makes a leader? What makes a great leader? And how are the challenges faced by great leaders of today different from those of the past?
In my view, there are four nonnegotiable characteristics of a leader:
Vision: Leaders must have a vision for why, how, what, and where. They see opportunity, ideals, reasons, and a clear path to a destination that others can’t yet envision.
Courage: They have the guts to talk about or share their vision, and to face challenges and criticism. They continue on despite fear of failure, and are willing to break through obstacles, admit mistakes, and start again.
Clear communication skills: A leader can articulate her vision. She can explain the why, create a picture of the what, and describe the how so others can feel good about following.
Thrust: Leaders have the personal power to make things happen with whatever is available to them in any circumstance. They often think innately about how they can rather than why they can’t.
Although a leader possesses these four qualities, that doesn’t necessarily make him or her a good leader. There are definitely those out there who are selfish, self-centered, or hateful, or have bad agendas or intentions.
So what traits make a great leader?
Benevolence: Great leaders are selfless. They put the well-being of others before their own, and they view their position as one of responsibility rather than privilege.
Empathy: They are genuinely caring and consider how others might feel when faced with challenging situations; they strive to eliminate pain for others.
Integrity: They say what they do, and do what they say, even when no one is watching. When things go off course, they can admit something went wrong and choose a new course. They are trustworthy.
Passion: They are passionate about and focused on their vision. They are motivated for the right reasons, rather than by money or fame.
Love: They are propelled by their love for our planet and our people. They bring people together with their positive energy and enthusiasm, and embrace everyone, without prejudice.
Regardless of their place in history, all great leaders carry some semblance of these qualities. The challenges that past leaders faced, however, were radically different than those our present leaders are encountering.
Over the past century, our planet has become a much smaller, more populated place. Many facets of our daily lives — our health, economy, social relationships, spiritual beliefs — are comingling in real-time around the globe.
We’re interconnected, and today’s great leaders understand that it’s not OK to build walls around countries, or to stereotype entire groups based on the detrimental actions of a small fraction of a population.
Instead, great leaders embrace, celebrate, and cherish good people of all races, religions, nationalities, and genders. They strive to bring people together and create alignment, rather than pitting them against each other. They love and embrace, rather than condemn and judge.
They understand that there is no place for prejudice or exclusion. Think about how ridiculous it now seems that people commonly accepted racial prejudices just a few decades ago, or that in the early 1970s, it was taboo for a woman to run the Boston Marathon. In 50 years, we’ll look back on many of the hang-ups of today and think they’re just as absurd.
Great leaders know this and are intent on bringing harmony and peace to citizens of communities, nations, and the planet.
I hope this inspires you to invest some time reflecting on your own definition of leadership. Collectively, our choices truly do make a difference in the world.
For the past 15 years, you’ve witnessed an example of a great leader in Experience Life’s founding editor Pilar Gerasimo. I’m grateful for her unwavering dedication to healthy living, and for the guidance she has given her team. As she moves on to her next endeavor, I have no doubt she will continue to advocate for the vision she has embodied for so long and do great things.