This realization might prompt you to ask: Are great leaders born or made?

It’s a question that’s been deliberated for decades. In fact, when the Center for Creative Leadership posed this question to C-level executives who had emigrated from 53 different countries, the answer proved to be a mixed bag. Of the respondents, 19 percent said they believe that leaders are born, 52 percent said they believe leaders are made, and 28 percent said they believe leaders are about equally born and made.

As a business leader in today’s dynamic and competitive market, it’s increasingly important to reflect on your leadership style and abilities. Do you possess the traits of a strong leader? In which areas can you improve?

Liz Keever

Liz Keever

“There’s an old adage that says a lot in my world: ’The manager is a person that you must follow. The leader is the person that you choose to follow,’” said Liz Keever, a leadership coach and owner of Sound Leadership in Steilacoom. “And there’s a lot of truth to that.”

Keever, who has been in the business of training, talent development, and coaching for 30 years, works with managers from such companies as IBM, Goldman Sachs, and Chevron.

According to Keever, with the unemployment rate very low, and the ability for talented people to change jobs quite easily, managers need to ask, “Am I being the kind of leader that makes people stay with me or my company?”

Devin Craig

Devin Craig

Devin Craig, CEO and principal of Craig Consulting Group, a Tacoma-based leadership consulting company, agreed with Keever.

“(Employees) don’t follow (good leaders) because of title, position, power, fear, or anything along those lines,” Craig said, citing an observation by leadership expert and TED speaker Simon Sinek. “Really, they follow because they know that person has their best interest at heart and is going to make them better and take them to a better future.”

Many leadership experts note a handful of key traits are common among great leaders.

Deneen Grant

Deneen Grant. Photo by Jeff Hobson.


Don’t underestimate the power of strong communication skills. Great leaders have mastered the art of clarity in communications. “(Leaders) have to provide clarity for the people that follow them,” said Deneen Grant, managing partner and leadership strategist for Progressive Leadership Group in Tacoma. “That’s clarity in terms of what they expect from people for their performance and their behaviors. They have to have clarity of priorities for the organization. So, goals, priorities, expectations, and really clearly (being) able to provide that and communicate that. So, clarity and communication kind of bundle up for me.”


A leader who is fixated on power and status, and who lacks humility, is at risk of losing talented associates — and perhaps even customers. “When you think you’ve arrived, you’re ready for a fall, and that comes with humility,” said Christine Rose, a leadership coach and consultant based in University Place.

“My opinion is that the most important personal characteristic or quality that a leader needs to develop first in themselves is humility,” added Craig. “They have this responsibility — this opportunity — and obligation to really help others … be better and to achieve an organizational purpose, mission, or something like that, a goal. In order to do that, they need to realize that it’s not about them.”


“Probably No. 1 on the list is empathy,” said Keever. “All that means is the ability to put yourself into another person’s position and to imagine, ‘What is it like for them?’ And (the) most important question is, ‘What do they need from me?’ That’s the one I find myself coming to a lot as an executive coach.”


As a leader, what drives you? If it’s simply to achieve double-digit gains in revenues, then you may need to rethink your mission and purpose. “That is the key — that they are driven by something that they passionately believe in,” said Grant. “They believe that their organization is doing something purposeful. Even if it’s a for-profit organization, you have to find your ‘why’ inside of that. So, that’s the first thing, because if you have that, then you can inspire other people to get behind that and follow that strong ‘why.’”

Imperfection looms, for sure. Despite how great of a leader you may think you are, surely there are areas you could improve upon. Maintaining an open mind, staying humble, nurturing self-awareness, and embracing feedback from others are critical to helping you become a stronger leader. It also is important not to overthink.

“I think they overcomplicate it and think they have to throw a lot of different initiatives and objectives at people,” said Grant. “I see myself, a lot of times, winding through initiative overload. I think the misconception is that you have to have all of these different leadership tools and leadership solutions, when it is really as simple as figuring out what you’re driven by, what your ‘why’ is, clarify expectations, and help everybody else see how they fit into the big picture.”


Leadership Tips from Readers via Social Media:

Laurie Miller

Laurie Miller (Facebook)
Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. Life needs to be balanced in order to be more fulfilling.


Martina Ngo

Martina Ngo (Facebook)
Have fun. Things don’t always have to be so serious. Take your team out and do something that has nothing to do with work. I try to take our team out on what we call “charme dates,” and we invite everyone, including our clients. They’re a part of our #charmesquad as well! Many have become great friends and we just have lots of fun, outside the salon with the team too.


Michelle Strom

Michelle Russo Strom (Facebook)
Every dream, every goal is achievable if you work smart and stay true to your priorities. Listen to your mentors, and learn something new each day.


Kevin MullinKevin Mullin (Facebook)
Be supportive, while encouraging them to reach a little farther than they think they are capable of. The best mentors for me were those that believed in me sometimes more than I believed in myself.


Kelly Salstrom Garofalo

Kelly Salstrom Garofalo (Facebook)
None of us can do it all, but if we all do a little, we can accomplish a lot!


Jason Whalen

Jason Whalen (Instagram)
Hire good people, give them what they need to do a good job, and get out of their way.