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Five Traits of Great Leaders

Is your dealership successful or is it wildly successful? Are you a good leader or a great leader? And if you are merely “good,” but desire to be “great,” what does it take to make that transition?


I have been revisiting the best-selling business book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins. In Chapter 1, he posits that good is the enemy of great. Meaning that if you are good, it is often difficult to become great because it’s so easy to settle for good. After all, who complains when “things are good!”


Yet even if the desire to be great exists, some leaders simply don’t have the traits necessary to build their dealership or other company to the next level. After years of research, Collins found in his empirical data – not through ideological goals – that great leaders consistently display very particular traits, compared with merely good leaders. The good news is that these can be learned by anyone (who is willing to learn, that is):




Great leaders tend to be modest, humble, shy and/or reserved. But don’t mistake these qualities for weakness.  Because they are also fearless, unafraid to take great risks, and have tremendous will that they apply towards their goals.


The quintessential great leader is President Abraham Lincoln, who was know for being very modest and reserved, but who was never weak and applied extraordinary will towards achieving his goals. Colman Mockler, CEO of Gillette for sixteen years, was also known for being extremely shy, but successfully fought off three hostile takeover bids and, during his tenure, grew Gillette’s value to outperform the general stock market by more than six times.


On the flip side, leaders of companies that did not achieve greatness were also examined. Most of the bold, overly confident CEOs who made brash claims about how they would lead their companies to greatness, actually never did.




Both good leaders and great leaders have egos and enormous ambition. The difference is, good leaders tend to have ambition for themselves. Their goals are related more to their own personal achievements. Great leaders channel all that ambition and ego into building a great company that can outlast their own tenure. They take pride not in their own personal success, but in their company’s current and future success.




Great leaders have fierce resolve and stoic determination to do whatever it takes to get things done and to produce results. In the early 1970s, the new CEO of Kimberly Clark made the gutsy decision to sell its paper mills. The new leader of Walgreen’s made the—then risky—decision to close its restaurants (remember Walgreen’s malt shops?) and focus strictly on building a chain of the “most convenient” pharmacies in the nation.




Collins had strict criteria for companies to be classified as a “great” company. Only eleven companies out of more than 5,000 companies in the initial group for consideration made the cut. Out of those eleven, ten of the CEOs were promoted from within.  Merely “good” companies hired new CEOs from the outside six times more frequently than great companies.


Who knows your company better than someone who is already working there?




When a great company experiences success, its leaders look out the window and attribute that success to factors other than themselves. They credit their team, the economy and often claim they got “lucky.” Yet when things go poorly they look in the mirror and take the blame. In transcripts, they also use the term “we” and “our team” a lot.


Leaders of mediocre or merely “good” companies do the opposite. They often attribute their failures to “bad luck,” looking out the window to blame factors other than themselves. But when times are good, they are the first to look into the mirror and take credit. In transcripts, they tend to use the term “I” and “my company” more than great leaders do.


Do you agree with these attributes of great leaders? Do you know any great leaders and what are the attributes that contribute towards their success?

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