14 Characteristics of a Selfless Leader


Among my many interests in life is my love for survival stories. I am fascinated with the level of emotional IQ–or, as we at E5 Leader call it, emotional balance–of those who face overwhelming odds and come out victorious in body and spirit. It is amazing to watch, read or hear about the human spirit rising up to face these impossible odds and to come out on the other side, stronger than before.

I want to share an amazing story.

I recently read a historical account of a real survivalist, Ernest Shackleton. His ship got stuck in the ice on his way to explore Antarctica. With his men at risk of hunger, illness and unrest, he skillfully set up the proper atmosphere critical for survival.

Regimented meal times. Proper diets. Time for creativity. All of these things were necessary to keep his men from losing their minds during the long winter stuck in the ice.

Then, do you know what? Their ship cracked due to the pressure of the ice around them. As if their fortune wasn’t bad enough! They resigned to living in tents and lifeboats. Through it all, Shackleton kept the attitude around camp hopeful.

They thought of the future and of brighter days. They focused on their daily tasks and activities. He kept the troublemakers close to him, in his tent, so he could positively influence them and protect the other men.

Months later, spring finally came and with it, the thaw. Shackleton journeyed on a 22-foot lifeboat to a whaling station. He left his men behind, trusting them to keep up the camp. It took him months and many ships to find help, pound through the ice back to his men and make the rescue.

He saved his crew of 22 remaining men. Incredible…

This man was unstoppable. After the rescue, he set out to save another crew, aboard another ship, who had gotten stuck after bringing supplies to his crew before the whole ordeal began!

If put to the test, do you think you would rise to the occasion?

To be honest, most of us don’t like going outside on days that require warm coats, a hat and gloves.

How amazing. His original goal and mission in the Antarctic ended in defeat. He didn’t choose to lose. He shifted his attention to a new goal, a new dream: saving his men.

That’s what great leaders do: they look to serve.

So, none of us are currently stranded in the Antarctic in the dead of winter. Chances are none of us will ever set foot on that continent.  However, we will all find ourselves in moments when we can choose to be selfless and life-giving or not. Big moments or small, we have the choice to look outward and help others.

How do we equip ourselves to make the right choices as leaders? How do we learn to be selfless, that characteristic that is heroic and makes us true leaders?

I want to share 14 critical characteristics of a leader who serves; one who looks outward and makes a difference through selfless acts.

As you read through these characteristics, think of how they apply to Shackleton. Then, think of how they can, or do, apply to you!

14 Characteristics of a Selfless Leader

  1. Leaders ask questions and listen carefully. Be genuine in your attention towards others.
  2. Leaders bring others with them on the journey. Don’t fill yourself with pride and think the path to success is only for you. Engage with others, be willing to use their strengths and talents to help you on your personal journey. Be a part of their journey as well.
  3. Leaders create a leadership environment to foster learning and growth. Your surroundings, at work and at home, should foster positivity, energy, productivity, balance, curiosity and the growth of your potential into actuality.
  4. Leaders encourage and build up others. Know that the strength of the team will determine the success of the mission.
  5. Leaders do what’s right even when unpopular. Removing ego and instilling an attitude of humility in its place is the best way to move forward without worrying about the opinions and cutting words of others.
  6. Leaders are quick to work on and develop themselves. Never think you are done growing.
  7. Recognize the growth of others. Leaders are quick to develop themselves, and even quicker to give credit to others.
  8. Leaders recognize wisdom. Value differing ways of seeing the world: you can learn a lot from the experiences and words of others.
  9. Leaders recognize that talent is never enough. They go the extra mile to do it right.
  10. Leaders focus on the right things. They understand that you should focus on strengths not shortcomings.
  11. Leaders are persevering. Challenges are closed doors to be opened, not to stop you in your tracks.
  12. Leaders fail forward. They recognize failure as a calling towards growth.
  13. Leaders act courageously. Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to press on in the presence of fear.
  14. Leaders make decisions early and then manage them daily. Persistence and good habits get you to where you want to go. Daily adherence to your growth is the only way to move forward.

Go and Grow!

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