7 Characteristics of Memorable Leaders

There are a number of people who have had a dramatic impact on my thinking and practice of leadership. You might expect me to offer the familiar names like Patrick Lencioni, John Maxwell, or Mark Batterson. And that would be true along with a list of many others.                                 

I've read their books, talked with them, and have had the opportunity to interact with them over the years. One of the many things I love about being president at Southeastern University is I’m able to meet with leaders of all shapes and sizes. I feel like I’ve learned so much yet still have even more to learn.

But when I think about the leaders in my life, I’m reminded that many of them will never write a book, speak from a platform, or hold a position of national or international influence. In fact, outside of the lives they touch, few will likely even recognize the many ways in which they lead.


In our alpha male culture, we expect leaders to look the part, talk the talk, and act certain ways. It’s as if our culture demands that leaders be smart, strong, and savvy. While this is true to a certain extent, leaders must also be humble, service-oriented, and committed to seeing the change desired through to the end. There are many so-called leaders in the world, but there are few who lead by serving others.

I remember a retired pastor I met once. He was in his 70's with his significant health challenges, yet he never let his limitations get in the way or slow him down. He volunteered to help a small, rural congregation start growing again. He participated in community events, and he regularly made home visits. He was strangely active for his age.

People loved him. And it was primarily because he loved them first with everything he had. Those types of leaders will remain unknown to most of the world’s population. But he will live on in the stories that the people of his community will tell for decades after his ministry on earth is over.

I also remember a dad who lost his wife to cancer. It was a terrible story of struggle and defeat. They had one daughter together, and she was the center of his world. He knew he couldn’t exactly be a mother to her, but he tried to make her world as normal as possible.

He made sure she was at every dance rehearsal, that every birthday party was special, and that they celebrated his wife and her mom often. He wanted her to know her mother lived life with courage and strength until the very end. And he saw that same fire for life in his daughter’s eyes, too. Now that’s true leadership!


These are the leaders you rarely hear about but are truly world changers. I bet if you think about the people who have meant the most to you in your life, you will begin to see some common characteristics which give you hints about what it means to lead in an unforgettable way.

Let me give you seven characteristics of memorable leaders to think about:

1.     They see themselves as people builders first. You can’t forget these types of leaders because they make you feel special and one-of-a-kind. And who doesn’t want to feel like that?

2.     They believe the best about people. Sometimes you need someone else to see good when all you see is how you’ve come up short.

3.     They are committed to personal growth. You can never lead someone beyond yourself. A desire to grow others starts with a desire to grow yourself.

4.     They find time for meaningful conversations and interactions. It doesn't matter how many tasks you have on your to-do list; you'll never be able to accomplish all you want to without communicating to others in substantive ways.

5.     They celebrate the little wins as much as the big victories. You win a war one battle at a time.

6.     They invest in the people around them—even if they can't benefit from them. If you want to grow your influence beyond your wildest imagination, help others accomplish what’s most important to them.

7.     They believe the best way to lead others is to serve others. Just because you command authority doesn’t mean you can demand respect from others. True leadership begins by serving others.


My friend, Rob Ketterling, wrote a book about this type of leadership. It’s called, Front Row Leadership. He believes the energy and determination it takes to move from the back row to the front row prepares us for the challenge of stepping onto the platform.

Rob believes leadership begins well before most people will recognize you as a leader. It starts when you decide to stop complaining, wishing, and hoping for change and start acting as if your decisions and actions can make a difference. That shift in thinking results in a significant change in your life forever.

The leaders you’ll remember as you progress in your life and leadership will not just be the famous ones. You’ll be able to—if you can’t already—identify those leaders in your life who are sitting on the front row cheering you on, dreaming of your success, and helping you become the best version of you every step of the way.

I need those leaders in my life and so do you. While the world may never know their names, they will remain memorable to you and me for the rest of our lives.

REFLECT: Identify the leaders in your life. Which ones are the most memorable? Why? Is your desire to lead so you can be famous or make a difference? How are you exhibiting the characteristics of memorable leadership in your life?