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10 Traits of Great Leaders (and Their Followers)

Without great followers, no leader would achieve greatness. See here if you have what it takes to be both.

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Much is written and taught about becoming a great leader. Many strive for leadership and many actually become great. As Shakespeare said in Twelfth Night: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them."

Whether acquired by birth or circumstance, certainly the traits of great leadership are to be admired. And often they are a prerequisite to manage a high performing team or to take a start-up from humble beginnings to roaring success. But the healthy relationship between leadership and followership is critical. Standing alone, a leader achieves nothing but mediocrity. Below are 10 traits shared by great leaders and great followers alike. Together, they work in concert.

1. Ambition

Great leaders boldly drive forward, passionately rising to new heights, clearing a path for those who follow.

Great followers boldly move down the path, making the most of the opportunities afforded them by the leaders.

2. Patience

Great leaders use the wheels of time to their advantage, knowing that fast and first are rarely the attributes of long-term success.

Great followers are methodical and deliberate, trusting that a steady pace will deliver better product than a hasty approach.

3. Humility

Great leaders are energized not by being right, but rather by the glory that comes from the entire team reaching the pinnacle of success.

Great followers are focused on executing the best ideas regardless of who provided them or who gets credit.

4. Humor

Great leaders never take anything too seriously, especially themselves, knowing full well that people need a congenial environment to succeed.

Great followers find the joy and humor in any situation so they can build camaraderie and elevate the human spirit of their colleagues.

5. Vision

Great leaders are able to see a future and can articulate, in crystal clear language, a strategic plan to get everyone there.

Great followers are able to harness disparate resources to interpret a vision and build a path to success.

6. Compliance

Great leaders know how to play by the rules since even a rebel has to build respect and order for sustainability.

Great followers stick to the path while being creative within the lines so they can extract every value from each opportunity.

7. Tolerance

Great leaders accept that people are individuals who thrive best when allowed to choose their own approach to risk and happiness.

Great followers accept that leaders are human, and allow them imperfection and failure without chastisement.

8. Courage

Great leaders blaze a trail in the dark and shed their own light, despite knowing that terror lurks around corners.

Great followers will follow into the unknown, and yet, will stand up and speak when they know a dead end is ahead or when values are compromised.

9. Accountability

Great leaders take full accountability when their team fails regardless of where mistakes were made or whose performance was substandard.

Great followers take full ownership of their purview and support their colleagues, knowing full well the team can is only as successful as its poorest performer.

10. Gratitude

Great leaders demonstrate appreciation loudly and often to those who give of themselves to support the group's success.

Great followers show appreciation for those who take the risks, drive the team and charge to a benevolent success.

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Jul 16, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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