3 Qualities You Need to Be a Great Leader

On October 11, the BBC aired an hour-long documentary, Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success. The Scotsman is one of soccer’s most successful personalities. Ferguson’s 26-year reign as manager of British giants Manchester United FC was the club’s most successful era; amassing numerous trophies and implementing a relentless style of play.

Through anecdotes and accounts from the likes of David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and former British PM, Tony Blair, the documentary showed a rare insight into the leadership qualities that made Ferguson such a success.

If there was an exact science to becoming a great leader, there would never be a bad one. Like Ferguson, the few elite leaders, entrepreneurs and geniuses, who seemed to be blessed with greatness and destined for success from an early age, fall into the category of exceptional.  But for the rest of us mortals, becoming massively successful and leading a small company to greatness is not an improbable task. In fact, it’s very possible.

It all begins with great leadership.

It all begins with you.

To be a great leader, you must possess and emphasize the following three traits:

1. Have a Clear Vision

Before we even begin talking about the finer details of leadership, your vision for your company needs to be clear and compelling.

And not only do you need to have an endearing vision, you also need to alter your mindset. If you’re half-heartedly undertaking a business venture, then you’re already a half-hearted leader.

In fact, there are two types of business mindsets:
(A) Employee mindset
(B) Entrepreneur mindset

If you fall into group A, then you’re the type of person that happily takes orders to complete set tasks and get paid each month. And then you repeat the process. There’s comfort in that. That’s fine if you’re content with such a life. You may have some ambition for starting your own company one day, but because you’re half-heartedly passionate about it, and the fear of the unknown might rock your “9-5” boat, you’re content with your present situation.

If you fall into group B, you’re never satisfied with your current situation (even if relatively successful) because you possess a unique ambition to succeed. With an entrepreneurial mindset, you possess a strong leadership trait because you want to take charge and go full-throttle at realizing your business idea.

You’re not a control “freak.” You’re in control of your destiny. You’ll create a tunnel vision for your business ideas and meticulously plan how to get there. Those in Group B don’t row through a river of mediocrity. They steer speedboats through a sea of certainty.

It’s okay if you fail to class yourself in either category. Just know that you need to have a vision as compelling as the entrepreneurial mindset in order to become a good leader. And if you’re starting out, you need to practice and condition your psyche into becoming a B-type.

Having a clear vision is the basis upon which your business will grow. For example, if you call a meeting tomorrow with your employees, can you succinctly explain what your vision is? If you can’t, there’s little chance that your employees will follow your commands. There’s nothing for them to follow!

A great leader can explain his or her vision without doubt and without hesitation.

Have a clear vision so you can share it. Once you share it, the rest will follow suit.

2. Evoke Inspiration

This aptly follows on from above. Your goals and ambitions for your company need to inspire the rest of your team. That’s the only way you’ll get an entire group dedicated to a common cause. And if your entire team is rowing in the same direction, the results can be quite extraordinary.

If you have a personal rags-to-riches story, don’t be afraid to share it. An inspirational story can buoy even the most downtrodden spirit in an instant.

Try this: Arrange for an early meeting with employees on a miserable Monday morning. Watch their tired faces as they enter the room. Make it a point to tell them to stay standing; no seats. Keep them on their toes. Let them know that you’re keeping them on their toes with purpose. Then, repeat your own rags-to-riches story of how you endured much hardship to start your own business, and why you won’t stop until it scales to global success. Tell them how badly you want them to be a part of this vision. Inspire them.

Granted, some won’t buy into it, but at the very least you’ll get something productive out of them that morning. Maybe they’ll go back to their desk and close a sale with a little more conviction, or maybe they’ll finish that report because now they know it matters. That’s the sign of a good leader; getting results at each step of the way.

Use whatever it takes to be an inspirational leader: motivational plaques around the office; weekly motivational email shot; setting an example of hard work.

Keep in mind, when great leaders inspire workers, inspired workers aspire to be great.

3. Be Decisive

It’s not just a cliché business saying; time really is money, so don’t dwell on decisions. Make them! You haven’t got the time to ponder.

But “being decisive” is a quality that needs to be practiced with great care. The key is to make good decisions, no matter what those around you might think, and to do so in a timely manner.

More importantly, it’s not just about “making decisions”; it’s about making the big decisions. Great leaders make the big calls without hesitation. However, there is a fine line between taking command and having an ego. When making a big decision, be sure to do it for the betterment of your business; and not just to gain popularity or to strike an air of intimidation.

Beckham and Beyond

During Ferguson’s time as Manchester United manager, he made some massive calls that made for some massive headlines. One such decision concerned a “star” player at the time: David Beckham.

Beckham attracted an unprecedented amount of media attention, especially for his off-the-field antics. His relationship with a Spice Girl (Victoria Beckham), coupled with his ever-changing and influential hairstyles, only added to his “celebrity” lifestyle.

However, Ferguson’s leadership was built on “old school” professionalism; meaning no exuberant personalities and attitudes were allowed. Ferguson believed that no one player should be bigger than the club.

“The big problem for me–and I’m a football man really–he fell in love with Victoria and that changed everything,” said Ferguson, who brought Beckham to Manchester United when he was only 14.

Despite being a fan-favorite and an influential soccer player, a build-up of events and confrontations with Beckham led Ferguson to making a big decision. He wanted Beckham out.

In the summer of 2003, Beckham was sold to Real Madrid for £25m ($38,285,000). In his auto-biography, Ferguson revealed that “Beckham thought he was bigger than me,” and in a sense, thought he was bigger than the club.

This wasn’t the only instance where Ferguson felt players’ actions were disrespectful to the club’s ethos. When Roy Keane, an integral central midfielder to the Manchester United team and club captain, released a video on the club’s channel which Ferguson deemed disrespectful, he showed no hesitation in telling the club’s other players that they’re about to lose their captain. Keane was swiftly axed from the club.

The point of the above examples is that Ferguson made some massive decisions during his Manchester United tenure. However, the team continued to be successful despite what seemed to be “risky” calls. For Ferguson, no one player was ever bigger than his vision: to make Manchester United a collectively successful team.

When you have a vision for your business and you’re leading a team to achieve that vision, you literally can’t afford to hold on to people or things that will slow the process. Be ruthless in your quest for success and if you have to let go of the dead weight, do it. You’ll set a fine example for the rest of the team to follow.

But remember, you must make the right big calls. Not just any big call!

The Extras

You can scour the web and find an abundance of articles listing many traits you’ll need to possess in order to be a great leader. But most of them fall under the umbrella of the three points above.

You can make a whole list of traits that all good leaders should possess: communication, transparency, motivation, and accountability. These require little explanation.  In fact, I’ve seen articles where the writer lists “understanding” and “humility” as leadership requisites; those are not necessarily incorrect traits, but they’re obvious ones that every worker should have, let alone a leader.

The Balance

Let’s end this with the man we began with; Sir Alex Ferguson. In the documentary they showed a management class at Harvard, with students examining the importance of “love” and “fear” in leadership.

The spectrum looked like this:


Ferguson believed that either extreme would be detrimental to becoming a good leader.

If you have too much love, then you’re not doing your job correctly and could never make an objective decision. And if you instill too much fear, then you’ll fail to get results.

If you can get the balance right and aim for the center of that spectrum, this is what you’ll get:


If you can gain respect as a leader, then you’re on the right path. When you have a vision for your business, an urge to inspire your team and a talent for making those big decisions, then respect will gradually develop.

You won’t be a good leader. You’ll be a great leader.

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