What Makes Leaders Different?

Leaders don’t fail because of skills. Mark Miller, author of The Heart of Leadership, explains that most leadership failures are a matter of heart. I asked Mark for his advice for leaders working to grow other leaders: How do we help aspiring leaders to develop heart-based qualities?

A lot of it comes down to mentoring suggests Mark:

“Listen a lot. Work to understand their goals, aspirations and troubles. Never set the agenda, let it come from them even if it doesn’t feel practical.”

He also shares the most important characteristic is encouraging them to think about others first. “Until they’ve mastered that, none of the other important leadership characteristics can be fully developed.”

The Heart of Leadership is an easy-to-read story of a growing leader, supported by mentors and insights along the way. He explores what makes leaders “different” than other good people with integrity and other strong characteristics. He talks about leaders having HEART.


H – Hunger for Wisdom (leaders are on a constant quest to know more)

E – Expect the Best (leaders are optimistic, and have high expectations of themselves and others)

A – Accept Responsibility (leaders own the result of their team’s actions)

R – Respond with Courage (leaders say, do, and act with integrity, even when it’s difficult)

T – Think Others First (leaders serve others, and put other’s needs first)

“Most men and women who struggle with leadership have issues of the heart.” Help leaders dig deeper and explore those areas.

What Do You Think Makes Leaders Different?

And now for some LGL community fun. Mark has generously given me 20 copies of the Heart of Leadership to share with the LGL Community. I’ll send a free copy to the first 20 commenters who share their perspective.

What Makes Leaders Different?

You can read the first chapter for free by clicking here. You can also find the Heart of Leadership on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Communication and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Hi Karin,
    I love this post, perfect for a Monday as this week springs into action!
    What I think makes leaders different? Leadership experiences along the way good or bad, mentoring conversations, recommended cources and or books to sharpen the saw. I also believe upbringing, deep rooted parental guidance showing and and displaying what leadership looks like. Every day life is lending a leadership lesson, keep your eyes open you will be sure to see it… so more favorable than others, how you dust your self off and learn to forge forward is an additional display of leadership.
    I would love a copy of The Heart of Leadership, it sounds like a terrific read.
    Have a great day!

    • Nancy, beautiful insights. What makes leaders different is growing from all those experiences, love it! I’ve set aside a book for you. Thanks so much for sharing your insights.

  2. I would simply echo ‘Think others first’ and declare it the most powerful and nurturing attribute (in my opinion).

    Upon reading that, I recalled times when two specific leaders walked towards me. One I respected deeply, and caused me to think- I wonder what she’s going to do for me today?

    When the other walked towards me I used to think- I wonder what I’m going to have to stop doing and take care of for him today.

    Karin, keen on a book too,, but I’d be pleased to have it re-allocated to someone in the Americas if that’s easier for you 🙂

  3. I read about HEART earlier, and taped this to my wall. Next to it is this quote:
    “to lead people, walk beside them. As for the Best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The Next best, the people honor and praise. the next, the people fear and next the people hate. When the best leaders work is done, the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’ Lao Tsu

    I think there are 5 components to leadership and I pray for these each morning as I have coffee on my deck:
    Integrity, Skill, Wisdom, Boldness and Humility.
    thanks for this great start to my day.

  4. The best leaders I’ve ever worked for were:

    * Great listeners – their conversations were all about understanding, learning, and making the other person be understood.

    * Vulnerable – they understood they didn’t have all the answers. They looked outside for innovative ways to improve: team, partners, competitors, the environment.

  5. Great way to start the morning!!
    Of course, your HABIT is awesome, I’ve often said great leaders have clear expectations, accountability, and communication PLUS heart!
    Thanx! Have another great week.

  6. A leader “expect the best”…and this starts from the right attitude of self confidence and self esteem, expecting the bets from them self first; with the set of mind that everything that can go “wrong” in some moment is not a “failure” or a “mistake”, is just a opportunity to growth and become stronger and better.

  7. Leaders are empathetic. They lead because they understand the ramifications of decisions and can explain consequences in a positive manner. I think this is one of the most difficult things to do when things are moving fast. It is easy for forget to put yourself in their place.

  8. I believe leaders are ones who communicate strategy in a way so all understand “How does this affect me?” and how strategy ultimately impacts the customers’ experiences with the company. They are clear, concise communicators. They want A Players (and do not fear them) on their team. They know when to push, and when to pull back. They care about you and your professional development. They are not afraid to say I don’t know, but will make every effort to get the answer.

    • Dan, So good. Agree. I like, “how does this effect me” so much more than WIFM..the leadership you describe here is such an important art. Thank you.

  9. Over the years, I enrolled in a number of supervisory and leadership courses that I would refer to as Leadership 101 studies. They were all excellent learning tools, but I really longed for what would be taught in advanced leadership – what I came to call Leadership 201. I finally decided to find out and went back to school for a graduate degree in Leadership. The number one take away for me – teaching others what I had learned. Sharing teachable points of view.

  10. To me leadership is about truly caring about people. I believe in “the more I give, the more I get” philosophy and that applies to every aspect of our life, including leadership.

    Karin, I would love a copy of this book 🙂

  11. Willingness.

    I was talking with someone at our church yesterday that is in her first leadership role ever. She is in her 30’s and has a ton of self-doubt. She tried and tried to deny the role, but her leader would not listen.

    She said she felt like Moses, who for the entirety of Chapter 3 in the book of Exodus argued with God about being a leader. He gave every reason why he could not and finally relented and became a great leader.

    The reality is that 80% of the population never even dream about being a leader. 15% dream about it but do nothing to get there. They think they want it but really don’t. 5% (or less) know they will lead, want to lead, and train to lead. Then, when opportunity comes, they are ready.

  12. A great leader makes it ok for others to say no. They will ask for alternatives, but still have it be ok to decline a request.

    They also make time to focus specifically on each person on their team, setting aside time for periodic meetings that are all about the other person–working through current projects and initiatives, handling issues and personal and professional growth.

  13. I am learning personally that a leader is someone who can learn to actively listen suspending judgment so as to empathize with those we lead. I also have adopted a philosphy of a fellow friend who is a practicing licensed therapist which is simply: if I am to care and nurture others, I need to care and nurture myself foremost. Lastly, I feel passionately that leaders need to develop disciplines that cultivate a growing self-awareness. I have enjoyed your daily postings very much and have shared them with fellow coworkers in the healthcare field. Thank you for all the time you put into this.

  14. Great read! As I’ve learned over the past few years there are many things that makes leaders different. Ultimately I feel it comes down to your style and the type of environment you are in. For me, I feel leaders are those who remove blockers or obstacles that prevent their team from doing great things. I feel leaders are active listeners, helping others come to their own conclusions and insights. I feel leaders are self aware and encourage a feedback driven culture. I feel leaders look at the whole team as well as the individual and lead on many levels. There is much more, but I feel for me these are the things that make leaders different. Keep up the awesome work!

  15. In my experience leaders are the best teachers and they show you what you could be as opposed to what you are currently. They then push to to be what you could be. Great Topic.

  16. Karin- a great post and interview. You and the commenter have said it almost all. I would add resilience. Leaders must have a rubber-like character to withstand the stress of rapid changes and the shrinkage of time. Leading in such circumstances is challenging as the leader must continue to lead with a brave heart and passionate heart as well.

  17. Leaders quickly build trusting relationships with others. That could be taking the blame for the team when they miss step. Non-leaders will just blame others.

    Leaders are also able to build a lasting relationship when meeting someone for just a few minutes. Non-leaders will go thru the motions but not make a connection.

    Leaders need to also have a greater risk tolerance, both for themselves and for their team. Leaders that I have met are willing to jump in with both feet when the end game is unknown. Non-leaders will choose the safest route.

    Leaders will let you stumble but not fall. They help you learn from your stumbles. Non-leaders walk by when they see someone is struggling.

    Leaders need to be willing to take a risk with their people. Someone took a risk on you at some point. Non-leaders think they did it all by themselves.

    • Ben, yikes…this is a post in itself. LOVE IT! My favorite: Leaders are able to build a lasting relationship when meeting someone for just a few minutes. Non-leaders will go through the motions and not make a connection.” I might just need to write about that one.

  18. Great discussion, and I wish Mark outrageous success with his Heart of Leadership publication. I do find that leaders have this hunger for leadership, in my recent work I talked to 33 people who changed careers and became a leader in their new field. One theme that was very strong among my respondents is this hunger to learn more, whether it is relevant or not to their career specialty.

    • Steve, Thank you. I have such curiosity about people beginning again. Please continue to share your insights. It will give our community courage.

  19. I completely agree with the post and the other comments. While I recognize that there are many qualities that make leaders different, there are two that stand out in my mind. One, the ability to build relationships with different kinds of personalties. Second, leaders are different in that they are congruent. They have no issues walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Leaders are willing to do whatever is needed to be done.

  20. What makes leaders different is that leaders are the ones that say “follow me” rather than “go there” . Any leader I’ve ever enjoyed working with was the one that I would follow into the darkest situation. As a district manager in charge of 8 managers and 75 hourly employees and also as a volunteer firefighter and emr, I look for the people that are “doing what they say”.

  21. Great leaders are never behind their team pushing them, the are out front pulling them. They genuinely want and help their team achieve success and give them credit when they succeed but are quick to step up and take the blame when things don’t work. A great leader never stops learning. and growing

    Great post and insights! 🙂

  22. Thank you all for your fantastic contributions. I will reach out to you via email to get your mailing addresses to give you your book. Shane, I’ve got yours with me, I’ll fly right over and hand deliver 😉

  23. I think one thing that sets a true leader apart from others is their willingness to listen to themselves first. This means listening to their own heart, because until they understand what authenticity and vulnerability sounds like, will they recognize it in others? Truly listening to ourselves is not an easy task…it means setting aside the ego and expectations of others and uncovering their own calling.

    Great post, Karin 🙂

  24. Wonderful read, great insights and provided me with the prompt to reflect! I believe that one trait that a truly effective leader has is the ability to pause. To take a moment, a few, an hour, day or week….to reflect on a situation or whatever has presented itself. And to use that time in order to figure out what to do next and to decide on what impact they will have when they act. Or, even better….what impact they want to have.

    Love the LGL posts!

  25. Great post, Karin.

    I always like the old sports analogy from Vince Lombardi:

    1) Commitment

    2) Discipline

    3) Excellence

    4) Mental Toughness

    5) Faith

    6) Passion

    7) Results

    It sure seems to be a dandy equation.

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