For the last five and a half years, I have had the privilege of leading some amazing people that have volunteered their time, talent and treasure to the nonprofit that I co-founded. Over the life of my career, I have reported to a diverse mix of leaders and I have taken away many lessons from each of them. Although ‘success’ is subjective, I have noticed some commonalities among the leaders that, in my opinion, have been successful in their roles. As I aspire to be one, here are my observations on the makings of a great leader:

They trust their gut.

Although there are other aspects that go into decision making, great leaders understand that at the end of the day the decision has to feel right. They have developed an intuition that allows them to take all factors and varied opinions into account in order to make sound decisions. They may not always get it right, but they always make decisions that come from the right place.

They are great communicators.

There is something to be said about being able to communicate well verbally and in writing, but there is much more to be said about leaders who can communicate without over thinking. These types of leaders are able to reach people where they are, empathize and provide feedback in a manner that is completely appropriate for the situation. Whether is it a disgruntled customer or employee, great leaders can diffuse the situation without leaving anyone feeling uncared for or unheard.

They are people centered.

No matter what their business makes or creates, leaders understand that their true business is the people they serve and the people they employ. Nothing matters more than how those people feel about them, their business and services. Chances are that if any of those people threw a penny they could hit three other companies or employers that provide the same products or services, but what makes them choose you is how you make them feel.

They know that good is the enemy of great.

Successful leaders understand when good just isn’t enough. They hold higher standards and challenge their teams to rise to them. There is an innate understanding that good gets you a $100 contract when you could have had one for $200. A good leader gets a team that will do the work, but a great leader gets a team that will go to battle.

They have gratitude and show appreciation.

Great leaders are grateful for all that they have personally and professionally. It isn’t something that they have to say, but something that anyone around them can see. These types of leaders show appreciation for their employees and in the nonprofit world their volunteers and donors. The people around them feel valued.

They are authentic.

They do not pretend to know answers if they don’t, they know their strengths and weaknesses and they are unapologetically themselves in all situations. They do not alter themselves or their behavior based on who they are talking to or who is in attendance at a meeting. Great leaders understand that it is important to show what they bring to the table because it is valuable.

As I continue to grow into the leader that I want to be, I hope that I exude most, if not all, of these traits. What are traits that you admire in a great leader?


Yolanda Jenkins is a wife, mother of 2, and an introverted leader. She can sometimes be found sharing the good, the bad and the ugly on IG @thislibralife.