What is a “Great Leader?”

Who is on the top of your list of great leaders?
What great leaders have had a personal impact on your life? Think of great leaders from history. Now think of great leaders who you’ve personally known. What made them great in your eyes?

This blog is for those of us who want to make an impact as great leaders.

Before we begin our discussion of great leaders, we should agree on a definition.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s just say a leader is someone who gets things done by influencing others.

So what makes a leader “great?” The big point I want to make is that greatness is not the same as success, so a great leader is not the same as a successful leader.

I’m not saying that greatness and success are opposites, or that they’re even mutually exclusive. If they were, there would be no leaders who were both great and successful. But it’s important to note that there are great leaders who we would not think of as successful. Likewise, there are successful leaders who we would not consider great.

Here’s the big difference. We consider a leader successful because of high achievement. We measure them based on their accomplishments. And that’s a good and important thing.

But we consider a leader great because of the positive influence they’ve had on the lives of others. We measure them based on their character and care for others.

In Alaska, we’re accustomed to seeing icebergs from time to time, near our many glaciers. Icebergs are majestic and powerful floating structures. They can be the size of buildings! What some people don’t know is, 83 per cent of a floating iceberg is unseen, below the surface of the water. But what’s below the surface buoy’s up and supports the 17 per cent that is seen. iceberg

The life of a leader is much like the iceberg. Business and operational successes are easily seen, and get most of our attention as a result. But 83 per cent of great leadership is largely overlooked, because it is not readily seen without going deeper.

Like the iceberg, it’s the 83 per cent of the life of a leader that’s unseen which allows the 17 per cent that is seen to either “sink or swim.” Focusing on the 17 per cent above the surface can help you achieve success, which is important in any organization. But getting below the surface, focusing on the 83 per cent is how a leader begins the journey to greatness.

The world is in desperate need of great leaders of character; leaders who give more to their world than they take; leaders who care about investing in the next generation of leaders.

There are plenty of people offering advice on how to become more successful. Every five minutes there’s a new tweet in my Twitter feed telling me what successful people do. (Many of the articles contradict each other.) I read and apply some of them because I want to be more successful, as every leader should.

But I want to go beyond just being successful. I want to be a great leader. I hope you do too. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Going for greatness requires thinking differently than striving for success. That’s the conversation I want to create with the Great Leaders Blog- a conversation about what’s below the surface.

Until next time, here’s a paradigm to chew on. If we set our minds on being successful, we may or may not ever become great leaders. But if we set our minds on becoming great leaders, our definition of success may change, and we may find ourselves being more successful at what really matters than we ever dreamed.

For discussion:

  1. Think of a great leader who impacted your life. Tell someone about that impact, and why it makes that person great in your eyes.

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Published by Jay

Jay Pullins has been leading and developing leaders in a variety of settings for over 25 years. He has a diverse background as a military officer, an appointed public official, and executive leader of Alaska’s largest church. Jay is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. A 1989 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Jay led U.S. and multi-national teams for the U.S. Air Force, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), NORAD, and the Alaska National Guard. He led combat crews as an Air Battle Manager in Operation DESERT STORM, the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, and counter-drug operations in Central and South America. Jay retired as an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel in 2011. Jay served as Chief of Staff to the Lieutenant Governor, then Special Assistant to the Governor of Alaska. He also served as Executive Pastor of ChangePoint church for five years. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the US Air Force Academy, and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education from the University of Oklahoma. He serves as a consultant and coach to church leaders for 3dMovements, and serves on the Board of Directors for Beyond Borders and the Conflict Resolution Center. Jay and his wife, Sonia, live in Anchorage, Alaska, and have two grown sons.

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