An ancient African proverb states that: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
What makes leaders stand out as being truly exceptional?
To slightly amend a proverb, “motivate a man to fish and you feed him for a day; Inspire a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Exceptional leaders not only motivate their followers towards a goal or wider outcome but also inspire them towards the attainment of their own goals and progression within the organisation. Clearly, senior leaders have a plethora of day to day responsibilities but a common goal among some of the best leaders is to establish a work environment within which personal growth and professional development can thrive. They actively encourage feedback and use this as a tool for personal growth and professional development.
Exceptional leaders are highly skilled in the “Art of War” and know how to pick their fights.
They tend to fight their battles constructively, remaining focused on clear outcomes rather than becoming embroiled in an emotional conflict.
They will also tend to consider if their desired solutions are “fair and just” to all parties concerned and are generally willing (where appropriate) to make concessions.
They also know how to beat a tactical retreat, particularly if a strategy is not going to plan. Rather than damaging team energy or morale by persisting when things aren’t working out, they re-think and re-focus.
Exceptional leaders is their sensitivity to the pulse of their own organisation, their customers and markets. Rather than engaging in “blue sky thinking from an “ivory tower” in their office, they engage with everyone in the organisation. They walk around, talk to staff and gauge internal motivation. They meet their clients and ask the big scary questions like “How are we doing?”.
If they notice, something is off track, they act swiftly and proactively to change direction to mitigate negative outcomes… But they don’t stop there!
They recognise what works and what doesn’t. They measure the benefits realised from the change delivered and learn from the experience.
A key factor is their ability to follow through with conviction and purpose.
To quote Robin Sharma
“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end”.
An exceptional leader will build and develop a great team (the brightest and the best) who not only share their corporate vision but possess the “intellectual horsepower” and motivation to deliver it.
Exceptional leaders are comfortable delegating tasks and responsibility to their teams and giving them space to deliver autonomously. They don’t breathe down their necks and don’t micro-manage but they do make themselves visible and available to assist if questions or problems arise.
A common trait among exceptional leaders is their enthusiasm to allow team members to make and work through their own decisions. They monitor team progress from a “safe distance”.
If project deadlines start to slip they rise to the occasion to support and inspire their teams as opposed to “pointing the finger” or engaging in a “Blame Storm” to decide who is going to carry the can for the slip.
Instead, if plans are not working, they are ready to alter direction and make new ones. In a crisis, exceptional leaders endeavour to remain calm whilst keeping team morale high and encouraging collaboration.
Exceptional leaders actively listen. During conversation, they focus carefully on what the other person is saying, rather than planning the next clever thing to say the moment the other person finishes speaking.
They don’t treat conversation like a “competitive sport”. On this basis, the person who speaks the most, makes the most observations, forcibly persuades others of their opinion, or even speaks the loudest is the winner.
They know that the person who speaks least benefits most.
By listening carefully to others, they build relationships and facilitate trust by making those that they converse with feel both understood and respected.
Exceptional leaders have the ability to transform their vision into vividly clear pictures and strategies.
Through their passion and enthusiasm, they inspire those around them to make their vision a reality.
Clearly, there are many traits that make some leaders stand out as exceptional and by no means do I propose that the above list is exhaustive. Nevertheless, I do believe that the traits listed above play a significant role in achieving organisational success. Do you possess some or all of the above traits and what further ones would you add to the list?