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"GOAT or Ass?"

Life Lessons Series: Six of One Dozen of the Other- "GOAT or Ass?"


I have a tendency each night before I fall asleep to reflect on the day. I like to think about what went well and what I did to contribute to the positive outcome. I then like to think about what did not go well and again what I did to contribute. This is followed by most importantly what I would do differently in the future.

Over the years, I have thought a lot about the exceptional people in my career that helped when things went well. To me, these colleagues make up my trip (or group of) GOATs and what made them stand out. (See for more on GOATs.)

I have learned equally as much from some of the worst bosses and colleagues I have had- most notably how not to behave and manage. I have had a lot of material to work with over the years and the learning lessons from which I have grown both personally and professionally seem to never end! I like to think of my bad colleagues as small horses- more commonly known as an ass. While these lessons were far more painful to endure, the value of the experience cannot go unmentioned. In retrospect what I wish I had learned sooner in nearly every situation was when to leave. In each bad colleague scenario, if I had a do over it would be to have left sooner and cut my losses!

The overriding Life Lessons in all this reflection are rooted in finding the traits, essential qualities and characteristics of what makes a Great Leader. Also looking at the journey taken by many successful leaders and their ability to overcome significant obstacles and failures along the way; one of the core competencies that makes them a Great Leader and gives us all hope that we too can achieve greatness. Finally, a self-reflection of the best and worst bosses and colleagues. Enjoy…I could not have made this stuff up!

(For anyone curious about this picture it is of a sign out in front of the Donkey Ball Store in Kona, Hawaii. If you have never been to Kona or the Donkey Balls Store you should absolutely go to both!)

Traits of a Great Leader

I think it is fair to say that Great Leaders come from all walks of life. I don’t believe there is a fated path to leadership for most individuals. While a few may have birthright entitlements that help in their journey as a “born leader,” in most cases Great Leaders weren’t even picked to be “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school! It is interesting to note that many of the Great Leaders in my path have overcome significant obstacles and failures along the way. For many, that’s what defines their leadership style, earns the respect of their colleagues and drives them. It is also what gives us all hope that we can still become a Great Leader.

I believe that Great Leaders follow three simple rules that set them apart:

  1. They lead by example. Never are they a “do as I say not as I do” mentality. A great leader truly walks the walk.

  2. They admit mistakes and learn from them. This to me is always one of the most impressive traits in an employee. They don’t deflect or refuse to accept that they were wrong. They own their behavior and see the mistake as a gift that they use to improve their performance in the future.

  3. They see and celebrate qualities in others. It is never all about them. The most impressive leaders in my career path are not people who can necessarily sit down and do the work I do. Instead, they are people who are comfortable rolling up their sleeves and working in a team. They don’t sit in their ivory tower. They surround themselves with people that complement their skills and knowledge base to build a great team. They inspire the people around them to achieve greater heights. And when they get there, they celebrate it!

The 10 Essential Qualities of a Great Leader

I found it interesting to look at the underlying traits that are found in commonly accepted Great Leaders - both past and present. Most of the published lists had slightly varying items, with the core content being essentially the same. I found the Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL) list to be among the more comprehensive

The CCL asserts that while successful leaders may exhibit these 10 leadership qualities to varying degrees, all good leaders leverage at least some of these characteristics. Take heart and know that you can strengthen any of these 10 characteristics of a good leader if you’re open to growth and you put in the time and effort towards self-improvement!

  1. Integrity

  2. Ability to Delegate

  3. Communication

  4. Self-awareness

  5. Gratitude

  6. Learning Agility

  7. Influence

  8. Empathy

  9. Courage

  10. Respect

A Sampling of 11 Successful Leaders…and Why?

I also thought it would be fun to look at commonly accepted Great Leaders - both past and present. My list in the closing is very specific to the journey I have taken professionally. I ran across a list of Successful Leaders published be The Resourceful Manager. The Resourceful Manager article asserts that this is not intended to be a list of the Greatest Leaders of all time. What makes this list interesting is that each is a successful leader in his or her own way. Also that at some point, each of these Successful Leaders were viewed as just ordinary by the people around them. Further support for the thought that with concerted effort we can all strengthen our leadership qualities and become Great!

1. Bill Gates

  • Authoritarian leadership style- not conducive to innovation.

  • The authoritarian style is very effective in fast-changing situations, where quick decisions are required. Much of Microsoft’s success can be attributed to Gates’ willingness to make decisions on the run.

2. Martin Luther King, Jr

  • Used a variety of styles to establish and lead a movement.

  • Was transformational, but he also could be authoritarian.

  • He was a coach and mentor.

  • Was foremost a practitioner of the art of Charisma leadership.

3. Winston Churchill

  • Relied on many styles.

  • Used words as weapons, and it’s said his many memorable utterings were more powerful than a thousand cannons!

4. Dolly Parton

  • Giving: Leaders give of themselves so others can succeed. That means you spend time coaching and developing your people. Pull them aside when they are “high-falutin’” and give them a shoulder to cry on when times are tough.

  • Forgiving: People make mistakes. If they acknowledge them and seek to make amends, move forward. Get over it. A leader cannot afford grudges; it rubs off negatively on others and drains energy from the team.

  • Loving: Apply this to your work. Have a passion for what you do; it will rub off on the entire team. A leader who enjoys his work and the people with whom he works is one that encourages people to follow his lead.

5. Walt Disney

  • Adopted many leadership styles over the years.

  • Built the beginnings of his empire based mostly on Participative leadership; a leadership style that values the input of team members and peers, though the ultimate responsibility of making the final decision rests with the leader.

6. Arianna Huffington

  • As she carefully crafted the Huffington Post, a national online political news and blogging site, she worked 18-hour days, 7 days a week.

  • In 2007 she literally collapsed from exhaustion.

  • Morphed into a national campaigner for work-LIFE balance.

  • Converted more to the Servant leadership style, where a positive corporate culture is built around integrity, generosity and group morale.

7. Colin Powell

  • Situational leadership; holds to no single style, but adapts as needed, as the situation requires.

  • Not everyone gets promoted, he says, because there simply isn’t that many slots at the top.

  • And for those who chose to work nonstop long hours, those he affectionately calls “busy bastards,” they need to prioritize better and get some rest.

  • “With some people you spend an evening: with others you invest it.” In other words, if you flock with eagles, you’ll learn to fly high.

8. Martha Stewart

  • Autocratic management style: meticulous and demanding.

  • It’s often said the Autocratic style works, until it fails…

  • Even more success might have awaited her if she had not relied so heavily on such a potentially damaging style.

9. Marc Russell Benioff (founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce)

  • Genuine passion for his work.

  • His mission is so clear he trademarked it: “The End of Software.”

10. Teddy Roosevelt

  • Master at capturing a moment and using varying leadership styles.

11. Mary Kay Ash

  • In 1963, she retired from a home products company after being passed over for a promotion in favor of a man that she had trained.

  • Created a company for working women to make sure they are treated equally and promoted based on merit.

  • Believed it was important to reward the hard workers, so she gave away vacations, jewelry, and pink Cadillacs to her top performers.

  • Core principal was to act as if each person was wearing a sign around their neck that read “Make me feel important!”

  • Put forth a strong leadership mindset. She believed in herself and others.

  • Put the individual success of each member of her sales team first, and so, the success of her company soon followed.


A Great Leader is comfortable in their own skin. They lead by example, admit mistakes and celebrate others. A Great Leader faces challenges head on and achieves greater success as a result of their “growth experience.” There are varying degrees of core qualities found in Great Leaders. Really all good leaders leverage at least some of these commonly established core competencies. These qualities are ones that can be learned and developed. Looking at the journey taken by many successful leaders reveals an imperfect journey. A Great Leader emerges with their ability to overcome significant obstacles and failures along the way; one of the core competencies that makes them a Great Leader. So where does this take us?

I have taken all this and reflected upon the best and worst colleagues and bosses I have had in my own career path. The below table summarizes each GOAT or ASS I have found along the way. Once again, I could not have made this stuff up! Enjoy.


Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • “Decide where you want to go in your career and make it happen. Don’t let the company decide for you.”

  • Brought people into her home to meet her family.

  • Made sure all employees had fun at various events.

  • “Don’t just see the hotel, airport and office. Make the time to experience the places you go!”

  • Candidly shared feedback about a job well done, would fly out and meet one-on-one twice a year to deliver feedback personally and stay connected with each employee.

  • Built an amazing team of GOAT’s by inspiring hard work and exceptional performance.

Life Lessons

  • Help the next one in line

  • Surround Yourself with Greats

  • Make it Fun!

  • Celebrate Good Times


Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • Rolled up his sleeves and did the work beside his employees.

  • His door was never closed.

  • Did not let under-performing staff remain; managed up or out.

  • Candidly shared feedback, both good and bad.

  • Had your back.

  • Made each day fun!

Life Lessons

  • The Platinum Rule

  • Promote Employees to their Level of Incompetence

  • Help the next one in line

  • Have fun!


Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • Always remained calm and professional- even in times of intense communications and stress.

  • Took the time- always- to mentor and train.

  • Made opportunities happen to expand others’ careers with new employers and professional organizations.

  • Candidly shared feedback about a job well done, inspired hard work and exceptional performance.

  • Shared stories about his wife, children and grand-children.

Life Lessons

  • Be Careful What You Say…

  • Always stay humble and kind

  • Help the next one in line

  • Celebrate good times


Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • Made himself approachable to employees and customers alike; never met a stranger.

  • Treated employees like an asset and not a liability on his balance sheet.

  • Had your back.

  • Behaved ethically and fairly with employees, customers and vendors alike.

  • Constantly embodied the concept of his “work family” in his actions- always asking about parents, spouses, children, trips and life events.

  • Ensured his staff knew his appreciation for their contributions and what they meant to him and his company.

Life Lessons

  • Always chose his words carefully and wisely

  • Embodied the Platinum Rule

  • Hold the door say please say thank you

  • Always stay humble and kind

  • Help the next one in line

  • Make it fun

ASS #1

Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • His self-proclaimed motto was “Throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.”

  • Continually used words that hurt- “Could you imagine sitting across and having to look at that face all day?”

  • Conducted an employee annual review by calling a customer on speaker phone and encouraging negative feedback about the employee sitting silently in the room.

  • Found ways to covertly sell things to unknowing customers that they did not need and were not required to buy to line his own pockets.

Life Lessons

  • Be Careful What You Say…

  • You Create Your Own Stress or Bad Days

  • Complete opposite of Always stay humble and kind

  • Never learned the Platinum Rule.

ASS #2

Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • Unapproachable- stayed in his office most days with the blinds and door closed.

  • Continually used words that hurt.

  • “Can you take 30 minutes today to train me on everything your three departments do?”

  • “Any monkey can do what you do!”

  • "TELL ME I AM A GREAT BOSS (damn it)!!!!”

Life Lessons

  • Be Careful What You Say…

  • The Jive Turkey

  • You Create Your Own Stress or Bad Days

  • Another complete opposite of Always stay humble and kind

ASS #3

Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • Continually took subordinate work and passed off as her own work product.

  • Yelled and verbally insulted vendors or other employees in front of staff.

  • Lied to vendors to try and reduce payments.

  • Waged personal insults about subordinates’

  • Made overt threats to staff that if they quit she would ruin their careers in the industry by sharing falsified insulting performance feedback.

Life Lessons

  • Be Careful What You Say…

  • You Create Your Own Stress or Bad Days

  • Never said please or thank you

  • Never helped the next one in line

ASS #4

Contributing Traits or Characteristics

  • Purported himself verbally to have extremely strong ethics and morals that were never exhibited.

  • Sent insulting emails that he thereafter never wanted to discuss.

  • Treated colleagues like a liability that could be easily replaced.

  • Could not be trusted with proprietary information; shared for his own gain and personal benefit.

Life Lessons

  • Complete opposite of Always stay humble and kind

  • Be Careful What You Say…

  • You Create Your Own Stress or Bad Days

  • Never took the time to learn the Platinum Rule

What is Your Life Lesson….

  1. What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a Great Leader?

  2. Who would you list as your top 11 Successful Leaders?

  3. Who is on your list of GOAT’s and why? Who is on your list of Asses and why? Send me an email at to share your list!


I recently ran across a list of leadership quotes. Not quite as good as the email that had phrases you’d like to say at work (See!) Nonetheless some of these quotes I found to be priceless in revealing the thoughts of Great Leaders. I wanted to share and hope you enjoy!

  1. “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” — Peter F. Drucker

  2. “It’s not about you. It’s about them.” — Clint Eastwood

  3. "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

  4. “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” — Aristotle

  5. “The mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.” — Brandon Sanderson

  6. “A cowardly leader is the most dangerous of men.” — Stephen King

  7. “You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

  8. “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” — Rosalynn Carter

  9. “Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.” — Bill Bradley

  10. “Never give an order that can’t be obeyed.” — Douglas MacArthur

  11. “True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.” — Sheri L. Dew

  12. “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” — John C. Maxwell

  13. “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” — Stephen Covey

  14. “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” — Thomas Sowell

  15. “Earn your leadership every day.” — Michael Jordan

  16. “Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be led.” — Ross Perot

  17. “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” — Ralph Nader

  18. “Leadership is a choice, not a position.” — Stephen Covey

  19. “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” — Andrew Carnegie

  20. “There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” — Simon Sinek

  21. “Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.” — James Humes

  22. “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” — Sam Walton

  23. “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.” — Kenneth H. Blanchard

  24. “The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.” — J. Paul Getty

  25. “The greatest leaders build organizations that in the end, don’t need them.” — Jim Collins

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