What makes a great leader?

Author Julia Tang Peters offered a simple but powerful definition on Quartz recently: "A leader continually works on improving how things are done in large and small ways, seeking different perspectives, and bringing people along a purposeful mission."

Sounds straightforward enough, but as Tang Peters points out (and most experienced leaders will tell you), over time it’s simple to let complacency creep in and sink into simply following familiar patterns rather than striving for continual improvement. It’s easy, in other words, to lose your edge. "Our study found that, over time, most people tend to move toward the status quo-with increasingly unsuccessful results," reports Tang Peters.

Of course no one wakes up one day and says: 'I am going to let my success erode by doing too little, dreaming too small and thinking too conservatively!' So how do well meaning leaders lose their edge? Tang Peters offers three common mechanisms that sap their vitality as well as suggestions for how those looking to stay sharp can fight back.


"It’s simply easier not to rock the boat," writes Tang Peters. "New ideas take work and face too many skeptics. Insular thinking sets in, making ideas more safe than imaginative and solutions more recycled than on target." The solution? Regularly schedule time where you can think ahead and brainstorm ways to meet the future -- rather than present -- needs of your team.


Little explanation is needed of this one -- most of us have experienced the innovation sucking power of a jam packed schedule. In order to break out of the daily grind and think bigger picture Tang Peters advises leaders to "to have lunch once a week with someone other than daily contacts to have conversations that explore new ideas and options."

Playing It Safe

If you’re more concerned with simply meeting your objectives than improving things for the business, you’ve fallen into this trap, explains Tang Peters. The great danger here isn’t just few fresh ideas, but failing to motivate your team with a larger vision for where you’re headed. Avoid this trap by taking time reach out to contributors, listen to and help solve their problems, and rally support for the larger mission of your business.

Intrigued by Tange Peters’ insights? Besides the Quartz article she also recently spoke to Forbes about her book Pivot Points.