Three Lessons for Lasting Leadership

by Tom Zender


Too much. Tired of reading long lists about how to be a leader? A better leader? An effective leader? But, think about the few, core characteristics that create lasting leaders. Not the job jumpers, but leaders who stay and create sustainable success. Who are they?

Simple searches will provide the lists of attributes associated with lasting leaders. You have read these lists — ad nauseam. The top ten articles in an Internet search produced more than two-dozen traits of successful leaders.

But the three most frequent characteristics of lifetime leaders are Honesty, Communications and Positivity.

The best policy

Honesty: This leadership quality is at the top of the list for real reasons:

  • It breeds openness, trust, and human bonding.
  • Honesty is at the root of good ethics.
  • Telling the truth opens up two-way communications.
  • Others will be honest, too.
  • Customers will become more appreciative and loyal.
  • Vendors will be better partners.
  • Honesty means doing the right thing, no matter what.

Yet honesty does not mean that the leader has to tell everyone everything — that can create a new set of problems. Just tell the truth in all open communications.

Dishonesty breaks people, organizations and businesses. Don’t risk it. Ever.

Let’s get together

Communications: Leaders who cannot communicate, cannot lead. And the forms and forums of communications are many:

  • Effective communications is two-way.
  • The form can be in person, telephone, email, text and videoconference.
  • Good listening is a superior form of communications.
  • Body language, tone of voice and facial expression are communications.
  • Let everyone involved know what is happening — avoid doubt and distrust.
  • Share bad news before it happens, and good news as it happens.
  • Communicating well means soliciting and receiving inputs.

And good leaders are sensitive to what is being communicated, to whom, why, where, when and how. These set the critical context for communicating.

Obviously, honesty reigns in all communications. That is the truth. Always.

On the high road

Positivity: No leader can get away with being downbeat, depressed, anxious and withdrawn. Not for long. But an upbeat leader can work miracles:

  • Employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders become positive.
  • Appropriately added humor helps build a more fluid and fun culture.
  • Positivity helps overcome periodic disappointments with resiliency.
  • Heavy workloads become less of an issue and more of a “can do” outlook.
  • Teamwork is greatly accelerated; politics are diminished.
  • Growth of the business is accelerated.
  • Best employees are retained and new employees are attracted.

Positivity does not mean never being serious. Strong leaders must be appropriately serious while remaining positive overall.

But they are not Pollyannas pretending that nothing is ever wrong. Never.

More … 

The top ten lists of great leader characteristics also include: delegation, confident, commitment, creative, intuitive, inspiring, empathy, consistency, flexible, conviction, respectful, resourceful, rewarding, knowledgeable, open to change, receptive, organized, initiative, responsible, accountable, courage, tenacity, patience, humility, presence, visionary, ethical, values, culture, visible, authentic, and many more.


Point. The three must-have qualities are honesty, communications and positivity. Period.

A recent revelation

“As we look ahead, leaders will be those who empower others.” —Bill Gates

The bottom lines

Three traits. These are the ones that build lifetime leaders. Yes, there are many more characteristics of strong leaders. But three that are most often listed are honesty, communications and positivity. Master these three first. Then lead on.

Tom Zender is an experienced CEO mentor, Amazon bestselling business author, a guest writer for the Phoenix Business Journal and a professional speaker. He held leadership roles at General Electric and Honeywell, was the CEO of a global nonprofit and a senior VP in NYSE- and NASDAQ-listed corporations. Tom has been a leader in startups, small and midsize companies. He mentors students at ASU’s SkySong startup business incubator and is on the advisory board of Paradise Valley Community College. He just published his third book, The Bottom Lines 2016: 52 Unforgettable Lessons in Leadership.

Attend Tom’s workshop “Step into Legacy Leadership” at the 12th Annual Women Entrepreneurs’ Small Business Boot Camp on May 7.

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