What differentiates companies in our industry, or any industry for that matter? One thing we know for sure is that there are very few companies that stand out in an industry, let alone change an industry.

So why can’t more companies grasp their potential greatness? The answer is found in exploring leadership traits. Leadership is more easily defined in the dictionary than it is in the real world of business. There are key leadership traits that make the difference in companies that can truly change their industries.

No one person can change an industry or make a good company great; it takes a team of leaders to make that happen. However, it does start with one person – the person at the top and the team he or she assembles. The first rule must always be to hire the right individuals.

A defining moment will be when you answer this question – which is more important in the selection criteria: character or competency? It is so easy to let ourselves be swayed by someone’s experience or technical know-how, but without character (his/her work ethic, integrity, willingness to learn, ability to grow, etc.) competency is a dangerous road that will fall short of greatness. Someone with exceptional character can always learn the competencies he or she may be lacking.

For years we have heard motivational speakers and business pundits talk about how to motivate our teams. But what about the concept of simply not unmotivating your team? If you follow the premise that you have made the right hiring decisions (in other words, you have the right team) and you have set the tone correctly for your team (meaning, the direction is clear) then shouldn’t your team simply take charge of their specific areas of the business? Freedom to win is a concept seldom heard in motivational channels, yet it is the most powerful motivation a leader can give.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t recognize them for their efforts, or more importantly, for their results. Recognition is probably one of the most important aspects of a company that can change its industry. Recognizing the people that perform in any organization is key to reinforcing the business behaviors that lead to results. Recognition comes in many different forms, such as awards, top performer clubs, a name in the company newsletter or words of encouragement. Even listening is a form of recognition – sometimes it is more powerful than words. Leaders know when to listen.

Human nature makes us want to be liked, but what some fail to realize is that people do like leaders that lead. Leaders that choose to make tough decisions at the appropriate times in the evolution of their businesses will set the course for greatness. All companies will come to a fork in the road at some point in their business cycle – only a few will continue to make decisions that keep them on course and in the hunt to change their industries.

When tough decisions are required, it is important to be direct and establish a clear and concise message that your team can follow. Setting the course, being honest and open, being direct and forthright and being intentional in messages to the team must be qualities woven into the fabric of a company’s communication culture.

Changing an industry is different than playing in an industry. All companies play in their industry, but few will literally change the course of their industry. The final key ingredient in this equation keeps you always pushing and dreaming of more – tomorrow’s reality is today’s dream. Vision is a powerful ingredient for successful leaders – but vision without the right people, vision without action or accountability, and vision without the freedom to excel will not become tomorrow’s reality.

Many will say it was a widget or an invention that changed their industry, but someone was behind that widget or invention – someone was those people’s leader and someone dared to do it even better.