How to lead like a legend: Traits & skills of top leaders

It’s no secret we’ve experienced more change in the past decade than any other time in recent history. The pandemic catalyzed rapid change across several industries like healthcare, e-commerce, technology and global supply chains. Today, advances in artificial intelligence are not only changing the way we work, but also the way we live. 

Amidst this change, there is a growing demand for truly exceptional leaders — leaders who step up to challenges and make an impact by influencing the world through their actions. Ultimately, leadership is embodied in the actions we take and the impact we create, moving people to be a force for good.

All of us are called upon to become a leader at some point in our lives. Whether you’re called to lead your family, your community, your colleagues, or even an entire organization, the world needs people to step up and lead others to create lasting change. 

But what is leadership? Is it something you’re born with, or can it be cultivated?

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The Foundation of Leadership Is Influence

At its core, extraordinary leadership is about influence — influencing the thoughts, emotions, and actions of others for the greater good. 

To influence others, you have to know what already influences them. You must know your audience and speak to them in a way that moves them. Extraordinary leaders connect with people’s emotions, values, and dreams — aligning communication with what truly fulfills people: growth and contribution. Moving people to action requires understanding what they think, want, fear and desire most.

in order to influence someone, you already have to know what influences them

But it’s not only about influencing others. Great leaders must also influence themselves. Mastering your own psychology first is the only way to effectively influence others. You, as the leader, must be the FIRST to find the gift or opportunity in a challenging situation. Without you leading by example, how can you possibly expect others to follow your lead?

"Changing an organization a company, a country - or a world - begins with the simple step of changing yourself." — Tony Robbins

People who master the art of influence can move people emotionally, significantly impacting how others contribute beyond themselves — all in the service of a greater vision for humanity. 

Leading as a Force for Good

Regardless of their different styles, all great leaders use influence to serve the greater good. They influence themselves and others to envision a future story of possibility, success, and forward change. They acknowledge the reality of where they are and have absolute certainty in making their vision real.

But it’s not just any vision. Great leaders move toward a vision that goes far beyond themselves. Their vision serves many people — customers, communities, countries — and solves a problem that makes their lives better. In short, they influence others to get behind a vision that speaks to the minds and hearts of the group they’re serving. 

In the 1940s, Walt Disney visited several amusement parks and began to envision a new, theme-based type of park. He wanted to create a place for families to enter the magical worlds of the big screen. So, he first influenced a small group of artists and designers to get behind the idea, and in 1955, they opened Disneyland in California. Afterward, Walt secretly began buying large plots of land in Florida for another theme park until he passed away in 1965. 

But even after his death, his influence lived on. When EPCOT opened at Walt Disney World, a reporter told Walt’s brother, Roy Disney, “It must be bittersweet knowing Walt never got to see this.” 

Remembering Walt’s long-term influence, Roy replied, “You’re mistaken…Walt saw this. That’s why you’re seeing it now.”

Today, Disney remains one of the most recognizable and profitable brands in the world. Walt Disney’s story demonstrates how extraordinary leadership can leave a lasting legacy.

Leadership in Difficult Times

In the face of adversity, a true leader remains calm, composed and courageous. They instill confidence, providing certainty during uncertain times by first finding it in themselves.

Consider Winston Churchill — the prime minister of United Kingdom during World War II. Churchill’s ability to find certainty amid Britain’s greatest uncertainty was truly extraordinary. 

British and Allied troops were trapped by German forces on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Surrounded with enemy forces advancing and the sea behind them, their survival seemed impossible. 

Churchill, however, found certainty and conviction in this crisis, initiating Operation Dynamo to rescue the stranded soldiers. His words influenced hundreds of civilian boats to join the effort, turning a desperate situation into one of hope and resilience. This unprecedented mission saved over 300,000 soldiers, literally turning the tides of the war.

How to Cultivate the Traits of Unmatched Leadership

At this point, you might be wondering: How can I develop these skills of influence and leadership to actually achieve my vision?

The first step is to understand that leadership skills and traits can be learned by anyone — very few great leaders were born with them. The truth is that leadership is like working out a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. You can build this muscle by embracing challenges, by standing up for what you know is right, or even by finding an empowering meaning amid a world full of discord. It might feel uncomfortable at first. But with enough repetition and a strong enough reason, you’ll see progress. Over time, you might even enjoy the process of honing your leadership skills because you realize the true impact you can create in the lives of others. 

Aside from cultivating the traits above, all great leaders also became more than they ever thought possible with one thing: an extraordinary hunger.

Unleash Hunger and Drive

Hunger is what separates being a “good” leader from a truly exceptional leader. Hunger is the insatiable drive to do more, to be more, to give more – and ultimately become more. This hunger is how you do more for others than anyone else is currently doing. 

Hunger forces you to raise your standards, which cultivates real growth and helps you unleash your passion and maximize your innate gifts. 

Insatiable hunger will drive you to achieve your biggest dreams and compel you to find the right tools and strategies to bring those dreams to life. Hunger is the ultimate driver that moves you to model success and find the strategies that bring you to where you want to go. 

So, where does this hunger come from?

Sometimes, the most successful leaders get their hunger from a pain they experienced in life, fueling a passion that reaches beyond themselves. This insatiable hunger often comes from something that was missing – such as a father figure, an education or experiencing food insecurity. And they found a way to transform it into the greatest hunger of all: to serve something greater than yourself. 

Adapt to Leadership Setbacks

Inevitably, you will face setbacks and need to adapt. Even the best leaders experience setbacks. That’s why it’s crucial to be flexible in your approach but committed to your vision. Being flexible lets you navigate adversity with grace and resilience. Challenges become opportunities for growth and your flexibility lets you pivot when the unpredictable happens. 

This does not mean sacrificing your compelling vision. Instead, being flexible means adjusting your approach or tweaking a few details from your vision when things don’t work. By focusing on solutions (rather than problems), you can lead by example with perseverance and redirect your path to success.

Understand What Drives You

If you’re ready to start taking your leadership skills to the next level and train your leadership muscles, you’ll also need a profound understanding of yourself, your current leadership ability, and the powerful forces that shape your own emotions, behaviors and actions. 

Comprehending these forces is absolutely crucial for you to uncover new patterns that propel you toward your long-term goals. Afterall, you can’t close the gap between where you are and where you want to be without knowing your current leadership abilities.

This level of self-awareness not only enables you to influence yourself, but also equips you with the ability to truly understand and guide others. It grants you an unparalleled clarity that goes beyond surface-level interactions because the wisdom you gain will contain universal truths that unite all humans, allowing you to serve others more effectively.

In short, this greater capacity for compassion and connection strengthens your influence — the foundation of leadership. Whether you’re a parent, a professional, a partner, a friend or a leader, this deep understanding of your own nature will empower you to navigate relationships and move others like never before.

By cultivating awareness of your current leadership abilities, you will have a powerful toolkit that ignites your extraordinary hunger, while also enabling you to adapt and flex with the changing tides. As a master of your inner world, you’ll be ready to overcome any obstacle that comes your way – and lead others along the journey as well.

Discover Your Leadership Ability

Tap into your leadership skills when you discover your leadership ability. No matter where you are on your growth path, the results from this quiz will help you transform your leadership skills to the next level.