What People Look for in Great Leaders

great leadersLeadership is a popular topic of discussion and analysis in business books, and at seminars, and conferences. As a business owner, focusing on improving your leadership style and delivery is important, but it’s helpful to look first at what people are actually looking for in great leaders.

In a recent post on LinkedInToday, Marillyn Hewson, chairman and CEO at Lockheed Martin, does just that, looking at the leadership classroom of the U.S. Military to see what characteristics of leadership they find most important, especially during times of change and uncertainty.

Quoting Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s 2008 book “Strengths Based Leadership,” Hewson calls out four things that individuals expect from great leaders: Stability, trust, compassion, and hope.


Today’s business world is rapidly changing and it is critical for leaders to constantly look toward the future and consider carefully what’s next.  For Hewson, this means leaders should focus on building an agile and responsive organization, one well-equipped to adapt to new market forces.

“These actions sometimes involve making very tough decisions that impact employees and their families.”

Speak openly and honest with your employees about the future of the organization. When they are empowered to welcome change, and the occasional uncertainty that it brings, they are much more engaged.


“Trust is the basis of all positive relationships,” notes Hewson, but great leaders must recognize that employee trust is earned, not received by default.

Leaders are defined by their values, how well they communicate with their staff and others, as well as their dedication to seeing the vision they have for their organizations come to fruition. Employees want to know they are part of an organization that values their contributions, perspectives, and ideas.

There’s no quicker way to erode employee trust than hiding behind bad news. Communication is critical.

“It enables employees to look you in the eyes, ask questions, and walk away with trust in your leadership and an understanding of your priorities and vision for the future.”


Hewson recommends that great leaders should genuinely know their employees at a personal level, listen closely to their frustrations and fears, and — most importantly — understand how they find meaning in their work.

“When you build a culture of compassion, it flows in all directions. Leaders are always thinking about the well-being of those they lead, not themselves.”


This last point is especially true for organizations undergoing a period of rapid change and growth.

Leaders must be able to show everyone in their organization change is moving them towards some specific ends, and aligns with both the organization’s mission and vision. When employees understand what change means — for them and for the organization — they’ll reward you with higher levels of engagement and be more focused on doing what they can to achieve success.

What traits do you look for in other great leaders?