4 Key Attributes of Great Leaders

Creating a fun, exciting, attractive environment.

I have A few topics that I want to talk about that are very close to my heart that can help create a winning environment that leads to constant growth. I believe the key for all of us is to build something, build a business that’s bigger than any of our personalities, that continues to change lives long after we’re gone. And that requires you to build an environment. The leader is responsible for the environment.

So, I want to talk to you about a handful of leadership keys that have served me well during my time in this wonderful industry.


If you told me to describe what is the mission of our industry in one sentence, it is that we transfer confidence to unconfident people. But that starts with you. You’re the leader. It’s how you think, act, and the words you say. You have to build a team with unshakeable confidence. And that starts with you.

You may not be the CEO, but you’re an influencer, you’re the leader. What you do every day, how you live every day, that creates that culture.

I’m here to tell you the number one thing that you’ve got to work on every day is your confidence. Not everyone else’s, yours. The truth is, we’re all basket cases. We all have dark corners of our brains we’d just as soon not go to. We all have squirrels in our attic. We all have scary little things that we wake up with at 3:00 AM in the morning. Those doubts, those fears, those insecurities, those frustrations, can hold you in place in life.

You need to understand, we’ve all got a screw or two loose in us. And that’s okay. We have our fears, and we have our doubts. Look, personally, I am more motivated by the fear of failure than I am by the desire for success. I always feel like I’m not good enough. I always feel inadequate. I know it doesn’t sound like it when I’m up here doing this, but God knows how many times I have said to myself why would anyone listen to me? Who am I? I’m Johnny Addison from Route 2, Brown Bridge Road, Covington, Georgia. How did this happen? There is this fear that somebody is going to show up at my house and say ‘Okay, you were not supposed to have this kind of success, God figured it out. He made a big mistake. We’ve got a double-wide trailer in Covington you’re supposed to be living in.’ We all have those fears. I am motivated by the fact I don’t want to let anybody on my team down, and I want to deliver for my friends and my family.

You need to understand what those fears are and overcome them. You’ve got to become a force of nature. In life, you can either feed your fears or you can feed your dreams. You have to work like crazy every day on feeding your dreams, so you can feed others. When you’re around other people, think about what you say. Words matter. Are they positive and affirming or do they tear people down? You’ve got to understand, in your business doubt spreads like wildfire. You have to spread confidence like wildfire. You have to be the most confident person on the team. You’re the leader.

Art Williams used to always say to us, “When they look you in the eye, they can’t see fear or doubt. They have to see confidence. They have to see a mission. They have to see where you’re going.” You have to spread confidence.


The second is courage, and it matters more than anything. Winston Churchill said, “It is the most important of human characters because without courage all other virtues lose their meaning.”

Courage matters. It’s tough to win. It’s hard to get up every day and be positive and get after it, particularly when you’re scared and when you doubt yourself. But you’ve got to have courage.

A few summers ago we went on vacation to France and visited Normandy. I’d arranged with a historian to take us for three days and visit the D-Day beaches. We did the Band of Brothers Tour the first day, where Easy Company landed when they parachuted in the night before. We were told the story of Dick Winters who was the young lieutenant who led them. His captain was killed, never making out of the drop plane. And he—a 24-year-old lieutenant—was in charge to lead a mission to take out four giant, fixed guns aimed at Utah Beach. He and bunch of 20-year-olds took out all four guns in a matter of two hours. The maneuvers he and his men used are still taught today at West Point all these years later. He led that battalion all the way through to the end of the war.

Now that’s courage. I pray to God none of us will ever have to do anything like that. But you soon realize learning about what happened all those years ago was that decisive moment in history wasn’t won by generals with a plan; it was won by a bunch of 24-year-old kids that wouldn’t give up, that fought and won freedom for Western civilization.

It takes courage to win. Art Williams use to say “People won’t follow dull, disillusioned, dadgum crybabies.” People won’t follow timid leadership. The leader has to show courage. The leader sets the pace. Sir Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” You’ve got to decide to have that courage, even when you’re scared. And you’ve got to show up and shine that light for your team, to create the kind of environment that produces consistent growth.


My third key is consistency. People need to know where you stand. Look, I always told people when they were dealing with me, ‘If I’m upset about something, they pretty much knew how John was going to react to something. They’ll know how I will react. I have always wanted to be consistent, where the team didn’t have to go, Oh, God, I wonder how John’s going to react to this.

Your business does not need to run on your ego, your hormones, your mood whims, or whatever psychological drama is going on in your life at that moment. You’re a coach. You’ve got to show up and be consistent because people are watching you. They’re looking at your eyes, not just what you say. They’re watching you every day.

I’ve always wanted the team to know, number one, I’m just one of them. I’m just a kid from nowhere that worked hard and things wound up going right for him, but I’m no better than you, I’m one of you. I’m not above the team, I’m proud to be on the team. And you can count on me. If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. If I say this is what our priority is, this is what our priority is. You’ve got to understand, you’re the leader, you’re the compass, you’re the rudder. You set the direction.


A final point I want to talk to you is about having fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re done. One of the first speeches I gave when I became Co-CEO is, ‘We’re fixing to put the fun back in fundamentals.’ People need to have a good time. Our businesses are a celebration—a celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit, life and the human spirit. Ask yourself “Are we having enough fun?”

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So, I always tell people, number one, lighten up. It’s not that big a deal. We don’t deal in crisis, we deal in situations. Dick Winters faced a crisis: ‘Commander’s dead. I’m on the ground trying to take these guns out.” That’s a crisis. We face situations and challenges. Lighten up and loosen up. If your team is sitting around all knotted up waiting on what’s going to happen next, you need to remember that loose teams play better.

Just like when you’re watching a sporting event like the Super Bowl and they are doing player introductions. Some look all wound up, and some look like they have been there before, mainly because they realize that people aren’t going to die out here. It’s a game.

This is just a business. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the adventure. Create an environment of fun, where your team wants to be around you and wants to be a part of your business for years to come. You’ve got to create a fun, exciting, attractive environment. Our businesses are organisms, not organizations. This is a business where you are working with human becomings every day, not human beings. Human becomings you’re helping to grow.

Disclaimer: This content was an excerpt from the 2017 SUCCESS Partners University

John AddisonJohn Addison, author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, Leadership Editor for SUCCESS magazine, and President and CEO of Addison Leadership Group, engages and inspires audiences with his relatable messages. Most recently, he served as Co-CEO of Primerica Inc., a company he joined more than 35 years ago.