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3 transitions that turn good leaders great

5 min read


Every leader had to start somewhere. That’s true about the shift supervisor on the shop floor and the head of a multinational corporation. Rarely is a great leader just born; no one walks into the workplace with all of the skills required to manage a team, inspire people and help grow a business.

Unfortunately, many leaders fail to develop past the point of mere competence. Often, they will skate by on their effective management skills, but either aren’t given the chance or don’t have the drive to achieve more. They’re good leaders, sure — but they’re not great.

Certain transitions have to take place to turn good leaders into great leaders. I’ve seen it a few times in my career, and I’ve noticed there is a pattern. There are changes that take place, things that leaders simply must do better to become more than merely competent.

Here are three of those transitions:

Learning to delegate effectively

This might seem basic. After all, isn’t delegation one of the primary jobs of even entry-level leaders?

Well, it certainly should be. But it’s one of the biggest weaknesses of leaders who are only good, and not truly great.

I’m talking about not just the ability to delegate, but the ability to delegate effectively. Effective delegation involves knowing which tasks you can hand off to your team so your team members are challenged, empowered, and set up for success.

Here’s a question to ask yourself: When you delegate, do you expect “perfection”? And do you define “perfection” as having done something the way you would do it? If so, then you’re not delegating effectively. As Harvey Mackay wrote in Inc., you have to stop believing you’re the only one who can do a job right.

“Delegating doesn’t mean passing off work you dont enjoy, but letting your employees stretch their skills and judgment,” Mackay explained.

Finding their defining purpose

Let’s say your goal is to eventually become the CEO of your company. That’s a lofty goal, to be sure.

Why do you want to achieve that level of success? Is it because you like the title? Is it because of the pay? The social status? If those are your reasons, it’s my contention that you cannot be a truly great leader.

Now, if your purpose is something like, “I want to run a company that gives my employees the opportunity to achieve personal and professional success and helps my segment of the industry become a worldwide leader,” now I’m interested. You sound like a leader to me.

Being able to define your purpose is an exceedingly rare trait, according to Nick Craig and Scott A. Snook’s recent look at the issue in the Harvard Business Review. They suggest that “fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement.”

But if you find and can define your purpose, you will become energized. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. You may even become a great leader, not just good.

Becoming a human-centric leader

Saying that great leaders are human-centric is in no way saying that great leaders aren’t also very aware of business metrics like profit-and-loss, production, revenues, customer acquisition, production costs — and on and on.

Any great business leader is always keen on the numbers, the trends, and what it all means.

But great business leaders also realize the people at their organizations have a huge impact on all of those numbers.

If a leader ever loses sight of his or her team members simply because numbers are getting in the way, there is a major problem.

How is it that leaders lose sight of their people? Sometimes the problem is communication. Leaders get so focused on the desired results and the processes they’ll need to get those results they forget to ask for input from their team, or forget about taking the time to roll out changes thoughtfully and with thorough communication.

Sometimes the problem is forgetting about the relationships between staff and customers. Sometimes the issue is thinking only about the products offered, and forgetting about the human problems the products solve.

Now, you can say there are outliers. Leaders who are all about product and not so much about people. That may be true, but in my view, those are exceedingly rare. The leaders who shine, by and large, are focused on people.

Leaders who know how to delegate effectively, who know what their defining purpose is, and who focus on human-centric leadership are the ones who move from the category of good to great. These are the leaders who take their roles far beyond management. They’re the people who can take the helm at an organization and generate such great performance from their team that the company can’t help but succeed.

Peter Anthony is president and chief executive officer of UGN, Inc., a leader in the production of acoustic, interior trim and thermal management products for the Japanese transplant automotive industry in North America. As a result of Peters vision and success growing UGN, Peter was named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2014. He blogs on leadership, LEAN Management, and the auto aftermarket at