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How to Be a Memorable Leader

Jean Kelley February 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

If you look back over your career, chances are one or two people stand out as memorable leaders. Even if these people didn’t hold an official leadership role, their actions and words rallied people together to achieve a common goal.

What makes one leader memorable and puts another in the out-of-sight, out-of-mind category? It comes down to three key elements.

Know who you are

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Although that’s a little harsh, it does make the point that you must examine your life to pinpoint your moral compass—your true values. Memorable leaders know their values, why they are important and how they play out in life.

Realize that you can’t have one set of values in your work life and a different set in your personal life. You take your set of values with you everywhere, and a mistake in one area of life can easily affect another.

Getting to know yourself starts with honesty—with others and yourself. Although most have “cash register” honesty—meaning they’d never steal money from their employer—they aren’t always honest in other ways. If you’re having trouble knowing who you are and what you stand for, ask a trusted colleague or family member to give you feedback. You can also opt to do a formal 360-degree feedback assessment, which enables others to give objective insight on how they view you.

Know your vision

A Harvard Business School professor once said, “The only thing CEOs need to do is communicate their vision, communicate their vision and then communicate their vision.” Why is communicating a vision so important? Because if you don’t tell others where you’re going, then you and everyone around you are going to lose the way. With all the things employees have going on in their lives, they’re distracted during some of the week, so it’s easy for them to get off track. Memorable leaders know their vision and keep communicating it so everyone is always on the same page.

Living your vision and your company’s core values means everyone—those you report to and those who report to you—knows the vision, as well. Also realize that communicating a vision does not mean a leader needs to be talkative. Many memorable leaders are quiet and reserved, such as Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. People follow memorable leaders because they exemplify their vision, not just tout it.

Be teachable

Being open to learning new things, and admitting your limitations and your struggles, gives you power; it’s not a weakness. Memorable leaders teach other leaders and are interested in the development of people beneath them. That’s why you need to be in touch with your direct reports and learn their dreams, goals and career aspirations. As the old quote says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So the “teachable” part goes in two directions: You have to be willing to learn for yourself, and you have to be willing to teach others.

Also, it’s important you know what’s going on in all industries, not just your own. Staying too focused on your own viewpoint makes you one-dimensional. Creativity comes from combining what you know with what other leaders know, and then adapting it to your own industry in order to improve or innovate. That’s why overview publications, such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Inc., are favorites of memorable leaders.

A leader for the ages

Although few people are natural-born leaders, you can learn to be a memorable leader and have people lining up, asking to work for you. All it takes is a commitment to lead others in a way that reflects your deepest held values, embraces your vision and encourages lifelong learning.

Jean Kelley, author and entrepreneur, is the managing director of the Jean Kelley Leadership Alliance whose faculty and trainers have helped more than 750,000 leaders and high-potentials up their game at work in the United States and Canada. Kelley can be contacted via e-mail at

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