The ONE thing that separates a great leader from an ordinary one


Over the years, I have become a student of leadership. I am especially intrigued about what makes some leaders great. Why is it that there are some leaders that you would run through a brick wall to support? What makes some leaders so compelling that individuals will do the impossible for them? What is it about some leaders that make everyone around them better than anyone ever thought possible? Great questions. I’m sure we have all seen these great leaders in action. Today, I would like to express my theory on that missing link… what is that element that makes a difference in great leaders?

I believe there are three key components or reasons individuals follow any particular leader:

RESPECT (or innate compliance)

For almost every individual, there is an innate desire to comply with leaders, rules, and requirements. We are raised to respect authority and do what is expected. One of the first words that children learn is “no.” We teach our children early that there are lines that we cannot cross. Thus, we eventually develop a respect for teachers. Though we may not like our teacher or leader, we follow them because of our respect for their position and our innate desire to be a rule-follower. In the workplace, we have that same innate desire to comply. We may not like our leaders, but we follow simply because it has been embedded into our DNA.

For most individuals, innate compliance is fixed. No matter what capability or capacity to lead might exist in a leader (that is, no matter how good or bad the leader), an individual will perform to meet the expectations of that leader. Innate compliance might vary individual-to-individual, but it is not likely to change much with an individual as leaders change. In short, any leader will get some level of “followship” simply due to the respect or innate compliance embedded in each individual.

REWARDS (or personal incentives or personal risk)

Most individuals can be influenced by personal incentives (e.g., money, titles, power, adoration, trophies, etc.). Others are significantly influenced by the desire to avoid personal risk (e.g., public humiliation, poor performance appraisals, etc.). Thus, there is a level of “followship” tied purely to this desire for rewards or to avoid that personal risk. Leaders typically have some ability to influence rewards for followers. In the workplace, leaders can influence pay, promotions, status, etc. Leaders can also influence future opportunities for team members.

For most individuals, the level of influence for rewards (or risk avoidance) can vary. Depending upon the reward, some may exert exceptional effort. So, leaders can count on some level of support simply because they can influence the personal life of followers.

RELATIONSHIP (or devotion)

Finally, another component of “followship” is a personal relationship or devotion to the leader. This is the component that makes an individual “run through a brick wall” to support. This is the element that makes an individual say, “I care so much for that person that I will do anything in my power to make this effort successful.” Or, “I will do anything to not let my leader down.”


To me, this component of leadership is the missing link. This is the piece that makes an ordinary leader into a great leader. Without a significant level of devotion to a leader, you might achieve success, but you will either have forced compliance or ordinary performance. Devotion is the element that transforms the routine into the fantastic.

How do you achieve this devotion or the relationship with team members needed to drive to exceptional performance? Entire books have been written on this subject. But, here are three quotes that provide a glimpse into this mystery:


“If you want to make a difference and leave your world a better place, let others know how important they are as you put their needs above yours.” – Jaren L. Davis


“You don’t inspire your teammates by showing them how amazing you are. You inspire them by showing them how amazing they are.” – Robyn Benincasa


“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt


Clearly, making a personal connection is critical to achieving devoted followers. Showing others you care, putting the needs of others ahead of your own, and helping others do more than they ever believed possible are elements of devotion. I know leaders today that, simply by their position and ability to provide rewards, attain a significant level of success. However, they are frustrated that they cannot achieve the exceptional results desired. The reason is clear to me that the missing link – the piece of leadership missing – is that lack of personal connection. They fail to put the needs of others first or to nurture any personal relationship. Their followers comply simply because of their innate compliance or the promise of rewards, not because of their significant desire to see that leader succeed. Oh, how I wish that I could help leaders in our companies, our communities, and our nation see this!

“Great leaders get great results, not because they command it, but because they earn it!”  – Eldon Henson

Have a great day! I can feel it… this could be our best day yet… there is still a chance!




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