There are five winning behaviors—and five failing behaviors—that show up consistently in leaders who succeed and those who fail.

Self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management are the biggest differentiators between great leaders and failing leaders.

1. Understand their own emotions and recognize their impact on themselves and others. It all begins with the amount of emotional self-awareness you demonstrate. Great leaders know what pushes their buttons and where their passions lie. They know how to manage themselves and others in times of high stakes emotion, crisis and conflict. Great leaders also pay close attention to their impact, regularly seeking feedback so they may recover gracefully when their impact and intent are not in synch.

2. Know their strengths and limits. The best leaders understand they can never know and do everything and don’t pretend they can. Instead, they recognize what they’re good at and leverage those skills, spending time doing what they do best and continuing to learn in areas where they’re not as accomplished. Great leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter and more experienced in areas of their own personal gaps.

3. Have a good sense of their self-worth and capability. There’s a big divide between confidence and arrogance. Confidence comes from a strong sense of self-worth and self-awareness. Arrogance comes from fear in many cases and a sense of entitlement in others. The best leaders are very confident in what they know and can do from an objective view rather than an assumed view. These leaders continuously test themselves to see what they’re capable of, stretching and growing and learning. At the same time, great leaders tend to be grounded, centered, stable people who are calm during a crisis and rock solid in modeling their core values, particularly under pressure.

4. Think and act with optimism, seeing the “upside.” There are two kinds of attitudes in the world, those who think and act through abundance and those who think and act through scarcity. Attitudes shift throughout our lives for many reasons, and great leaders know the message they’re sending about whatever attitude is current. Great leaders go for solutions, new ideas and silver linings, even in the worst of times. They may change course, but they never give up. The best leaders will tell the truth even if the “sky is falling” and then shine a light on the path to get everyone to a better place.

5. See and seize opportunities for contributing to the greater good. Despite conventional thinking, great leaders have low ego needs because of their solid confidence and self-worth. By not wasting time and energy to shine up their image, this kind of leader frees up energy and time to create something greater than themselves, often building a legacy that contributes to something far more important than their personal agendas. Great leaders have an achievement orientation that is laser focused on the greater good. They proactively look for ways to get the best for the most people involved, even sacrificing their personal agenda to achieve a greater overall solution or result.

1. Discount others’ emotions and perspective. Failing leaders simply don’t pick up on or value other people’s signals. If they do, they don’t care, all demonstrating a fundamental lack of empathy. One cannot be a good leader without empathy, period. People led by such a person generally leave as soon as they can because they don’t feel trusted, heard, understood or respected. This type of leader will have limited influence over time and will not inspire others.

2. Miss key organizational clues, norms, decision networks and politics. These types of leaders are mostly clueless and leading in name only. They somehow landed a leadership title, most likely by accident, circumstance, timing or favoritism. They have very little emotional intelligence in terms of self-awareness and organizational awareness. They simply don’t pick up the clues when their boss is displeased with them, when the tide is changing or when people are talking about them behind their backs. They make decisions that are not theirs to make and don’t make decisions that are theirs to make. They don’t develop a wide network; they simply show up and act more like an individual contributor than a leader, even with their peers.

3. Blame others for outcomes. Great leaders look “in the mirror” when things go wrong and “out the window,” applauding others when things go right. Holding people accountable for their performance is important; blaming them for mistakes or failures is a non-starter. The difference between accountability and blame is the way with which the issue or problem is dealt. Asking questions to understand how or where things went wrong allows the leader to “own” the problem for the team and then have a candid discussion about the situation and the solutions without fear. Failing leaders don’t ask; they tell. They need to make someone wrong to be right.

4. Avoid dealing with and resolving conflicts. Failing leaders avoid dealing with conflict, fail to provide constructive feedback and duck key relationship issues. They often think, “If I ignore it, it will go away.” Sometimes it does, but rarely. More commonly the conflict grows exponentially until it’s a toxic, smelly mess. No team can be functional without the ability to resolve their inevitable and necessary conflicts.

5. Isolate self and/or team from others in the organization. These are the lone wolves who think they, or they and their team, can do the job better than everyone else. These failing leaders may have a tight “in-crowd” of direct reports who believe in them, hear a lot of “yes” from their direct reports and see themselves in an “us vs. them” situation. They work best in “silos,” rarely sharing resources or knowledge across the organization. They believe they’re in it alone, that no one understands them and that, if anyone interferes with them, it will dilute their agenda, work or image. Failing leaders divide and try to conquer. Winning leaders don’t undermine their counterparts as failing leaders do. Instead, they collaborate and synergize, leveraging the brains, talent and time of other leaders in the organization for the good of the whole.

Most leaders can learn, develop and increase their own emotional intelligence. It takes assessment, self-motivation, learning, awareness, practice and feedback. Improving one’s emotional intelligence is a life-long journey — one that great leaders relish.

Roxi Hewertson, president & CEO of the Highland Consulting Group, is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business.


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