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8 Signs to Immediately Recognize Someone With the Gift of True Leadership

In ‘Servant Leadership in Action,’ best-selling author Raj Sisodia details the rare qualities of great leaders.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 24 May 2018

8 Signs to Immediately Recognize Someone With the Gift of True Leadership

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In Servant Leadership in Action, a collection of essays from 44 renowned servant leadership experts and practitioners, Raj Sisodia, co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement and best-selling author, details the qualities of great leaders using the apt acronym S.E.L.F.L.E.S.S.:

  • Strength
  • Enthusiasm
  • Love
  • Flexibility
  • Long-term orientation
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Systems intelligence
  • Spiritual intelligence

Sisodia says the S.E.L.F.L.E.S.S. approach to leading reflects a blend of mature masculine and mature feminine qualities. He writes, "Too many leaders today manifest only immature hypermasculine qualities such as domination, aggression, hypercompetitiveness, winning at all costs, etc. They view every leadership challenge through the lens of war -- a mindset that is at best win-lose, and usually lose-lose."

Without further ado, here's how Sisodia defines each letter of the acronym.


The strength of "conscious leaders" is resolute and unshakable in standing up to those who get in the way of their convictions. They are confident without being arrogant, and "draw on the strengths of their teams without depleting the power of those teams." Strength, writes Sisodia, is exercised as "power with, not power over, those they seek to lead."


Because of their commitment to moral authority, integrity, and a higher purpose, conscious leaders generate great energy and enthusiasm, not to be confused with the social traits of extroverted and gregarious people. "When you're aligned with your purpose, you can't help but be enthusiastic," writes Sisodia, "That is hard to fake if you don't have it."


The opposite of love is fear, and when fear permeates an organization, it stifles creativity and innovation. Love here is actionable and noble: creating psychological safety, connecting with employees, and caring for their well-being, and not just managing their work performance.


Leaders must be agile, adaptable, open and able to switch modes and make swift changes while taking into consideration all the moving parts of the business. Sisodia offers up a great metaphor: "Conscious leaders are like golfers with a full set of clubs; they know how to select and implement the right approach for each situation."

Long-Term Orientation

This is leading with an eye toward the future, beyond your tenure with the company, and even beyond even your lifetime. Conscious leaders gauge success by what happens to their businesses after they're long gone. They ensure that the business continues to operate wth the high principles and purpose it was founded on, a century from now.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a force to be reckoned with when it shows up with self-awareness (understanding oneself) and empathy (the ability to feel and understand what others are feeling) in day-to-day interactions and decision-making. Research, however, paints a different picture. "The higher the position in the organization, the lower the level of EQ, with the CEO typically having the lowest level," writes Sisodia.

Systems Intelligence

Systems intelligence is thinking systemically about how each part of the business interrelates within the context of the larger organization. Conscious leaders "understand the roots of problems and how the problems relate to organizational design and culture," writes Sisodia.

Spiritual Intelligence

This is the moral intelligence with which conscious leaders access their deeper meanings, values, purposes and higher motivations. It's where the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and right from left, comes from. It's discerning at our core when things are beginning to go off track from our intended purpose. From this intelligence, we exercise our goodness, truth, beauty, and compassion.

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