5 Things Great Leaders Don’t Do


Over the years, I’ve been privileged to work with some incredible leaders, including CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, world-class educators, and senior leaders of growing and dynamic churches. As an Executive Search Consultant, I get to peak behind the curtains of organizations and see what makes them tick, learn about their culture, and evaluate the overall health and leadership of the organization. 

There are a few things that the very best leaders have in common, and it's more often about what they DON'T do rather than what they do. Here are 5 things great leaders don't do.

1. They don’t demand loyalty – they inspire it.

Whenever I discuss with senior leaders the desired character qualities of potential job candidates, in every conversation, “loyalty” generally ranks among the top 2-3 desired traits. Without a doubt, having people who are loyal to the leadership, to the team, and to the vision helps create the kind of environment that enables long term growth and stability. 

However, the best leaders understand that loyalty cannot be demanded, it must be inspired. Great leaders cast a compelling vision that captures the heart and passions of their team. They allow their teams to own that vision and find their place and purpose within it. They are honest, open, and real with the team about the great things that are happening as well as the challenges that they face. They are even more loyal and committed to the team than they expect the team to be to them. Loyalty cannot simply be demanded, it must be inspired!

2. They don’t use people – they develop them.

The best leaders understand that the people they work with are not just replaceable tools to be used to accomplish a vision, they are people with potential to accomplish far more that that leader could even imagine with the right training, support, and opportunities. We typically ask our clients about their goals for the person and position we are helping them fill: "What would make this hire a homerun two years from now?”  One client recently told me, amidst the organizational goals, “This person will have grown as a leader, and a pastor, as a spouse, and as a child of God because they’ve spent two years with us.”  That’s the mark of a great leader who values his team.

3. They don’t settle – they improve.

The most effective leaders I’ve seen are the ones who realize that they haven’t arrived yet. Even when there is rapid and healthy growth,  great leaders are always trying to get better – better in their communication, in the leadership gifts, in their strategic planning, and in the personal growth. They read books and articles that challenge their thinking. They seek out personal and professional coaching. They ask for feedback regularly from their team and from mentors in an effort to get better at what they do. Not only does this help them grow as individuals and as leaders, it models the value of constant improvement to their team.

4. They don’t stifle conflict – they embrace it.

Conflict is inevitable in any situation where people are involved. Sometimes it comes from competing visions, styles of leadership, ideas of what might work best in a different situation. Sometimes its good old fashioned dysfunction that happens when broken people end up in the same room together. Either way,  when conflict happens, the best leaders don’t try to shut it down or bury it, the embrace it as an opportunity for growth and change. They embrace alternative ideas and being challenged in their thinking. They encourage their teams to fight (in healthy ways) for their vision believing that in the end, the best ideas should win. Even when the conflict is the result of dysfunctional people or even a dysfunctional team, they view it as an opportunity to grow, to provide support, and to make changes to become healthy. Great leaders welcome conflict and learn how to manage it in ways to produce growth.

5. They don’t hold people too tightly – they release them.

The best leaders I’ve worked with, particularly in the ministry arena, are the ones who see that the world is bigger than their organization. They understand that its normal and natural for team members to explore new opportunities outside of the organization. Sadly, I see weak leaders trying to hold on to their people too tightly, threatening to fire them if ever they entertain a conversation with another organization. Great leaders see these conversations as validation of the way they developed their team. They are excited to see their team take on a new challenge. Make no mistake: this “open hand” approach to staff is noticed by the team and rather than encouraging team members to leave, it’s an encouragement for them to stay as long as they can to get the most out of their current opportunity. 

What other things to great leaders not do?

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