May 15

The Secret Sauce of Leadership

By John M. Vetere, President, John M. Vetere & Associates

Have you ever asked a colleague or a friend to tell you what they think constitutes a great leader? Chances are you will get back a list of traits, a set of distinguishing qualities or characteristics. Maybe you will hear, a great leader must be honest, or a great leader must be confident, or a great leader must be courageous, or a great leader must be…you fill in the blank. It’s difficult to find one word, but all the words that describe great leadership derive from a foundation of two words, what I like to call the secret sauce of leadership.

Two of the most important virtues that form this “secret sauce” of leadership are conviction and humility. One without the other is not enough to form a great leader. But, together, they form the foundation for developing great leadership skills.

So is that it? Either you are born with these two traits or you aren’t? Absolutely not! Benjamin Franklin wasn’t born a great man, and he was far from perfect. At 27 years of age, Franklin decided that he wanted to improve key areas of his life. He wrote a list of 13 Virtues that he wanted to work on every day, week, and year to become the kind of man and leader he wanted to be. The real story about Ben is that the list had 12 virtues he wanted to improve. He gave the list to a friend for comment, who quickly informed Franklin that his pride, bordering arrogance, was his biggest nemesis. Twelve virtues became 13, and guess what? Number 13 on his list of virtues was humility.


As a leader, you are often called on to make tough decisions, set difficult goals and provide vision and guidance for your team. Those who make decisions, especially when ambiguity is in play, must have self-confidence or you spend your life second-guessing yourself. Convictions are pillars upon which we make decisions, lead our lives, and engage with others. It is important to know what your basic convictions are regarding how you treat the people within your sphere of influence: employees, colleagues, clients, customers, vendors, and others. What are your ethical convictions; how do you conduct business, do you walk your own talk, or is it lip-service?

Having convictions, standing up for what you believe in is important, noble, and can lead to great results. How many entrepreneurs have been told that their product or service will never be successful yet they have gone on to become recognized leaders who changed their industry.

Henry Ford is known today as a visionary leader, however, the fact is he went bankrupt five times before he founded the Ford Motor Company and ultimately brought the automobile from an invention without a purpose to an innovation that has and will continue to impact our daily lives. You think he had conviction? You bet he did.

So obviously having convictions is good, right? Sure it is, and a hammer is a great tool for banging in nails except when I miss and hit my thumb. Ouch! Leaders hit their thumb with the conviction hammer when they start believing they are infallible, have all the answers, and stop hearing the people around them. Therefore, we need a complementary force that stops us from becoming so full-of-ourselves that our convictions become nothing more than emotional stubbornness, blinding us to ideas and thinking that could enhance our businesses, customers, and lives. Great leaders, the type of leader you want to be, have a healthy mix of conviction and…


“It takes a disciplined person to listen to convictions which are different from their own.” – Dorothy Fuldheim

The concept of humility is hard and when used in the same sentence with conviction can be confusing, but great leaders master the balance. Does humility mean that you don’t have self-worth or your opinion doesn’t matter? Definitely not! Does having humility mean that you change your views at a whim simply to please or appease those around you? No. Does it mean you are weak or not smart? Absolutely not!

Humility is not the absence of something; it is the positive addition of thinking more about others than about yourself. In fact, practicing humility means that you have the self-confidence, self-awareness, and strength to recognize that the individuals and teams around you may have the ability to add significant value to your vision, strategy, and execution plan. A huge side benefit is that those individuals and teams improve their leadership skills adding more value back into the company, products, services, and customers. Humility means parking the dark side of ego at the door and using your convictions to raise the leaders around you, thereby bringing out the best in them, and guess what, they will bring out the best in you.

American businessman, Max de Pree, seems to understand the secret recipe of conviction and humility pretty well, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.” Hold on to your convictions as you help shape the reality for your team. But, when all is said and done, don’t forget to be humble even after you have achieved success.

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Humility and conviction together create the secret sauce of leadership. In this blog we dig into the relationship between conviction and humility, and the practical connection to becoming a great leader.

To learn more about leadership and related topics, visit John’s website at

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