5 Traits of Exceptional Leaders

 Traits of Exceptional Leaders

Simon Childs – Optitude360 Executive Search Psychology

An ancient African proverb states: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Often situations arise in business, (particularly in times of crisis) when it is imperative that we go as far as we can as quickly as possible and this is where exceptional leaders excel. Over the course of the last 15 years, I have specialised in the Executive Search and Selection of Senior Leadership professionals across the UK & Europe. Each year, I am privileged to meet many highly talented C-suite level leaders with well-honed skills and abilities from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. However, the real question is what makes some of them stand out as being truly exceptional leaders?

They don’t rely solely on Motivation – They Inspire!

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.” I tend to find that 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.

They choose their battles carefully

Very simply, most of the exceptional leaders that I meet are highly skilled in the “Art of War” and know how to challenge what is worth attacking and defend what is worth protecting. 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.

They, don’t complain about situations -They change them!

Another consistent trait I have found in 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 the middle of the North Pole, 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 in 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”.

They build exceptional teams

In my experience, a great leader must be able to build and develop a great team who not only share their corporate vision but possess the “intellectual horsepower” and motivation to deliver it. But how do they achieve this? I often find that 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 their teams to 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 the direction and make new ones. In a crisis, I find that exceptional leaders endeavor to remain calm whilst keeping team morale high and encouraging collaboration.

They talk less but achieve more

Another common trait, I find, among exceptional leaders is their ability to actively listen. During the 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. On occasion, I interview senior leaders who treat our 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.

Although everyone falls foul of this trap from time to time, some of the best leaders that I meet tend to adopt a much more stoic and considered approach to their communication, knowing that often 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.

In conclusion, exceptional leaders share many common traits including 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?  

Simon is the Managing Director at Optitude 360 Search & Selection where he brings 25 years’ experience of placing senior managers and CXO – level leadership professionals within major organisations across the UK and Europe – He is a specialist in Attitudinal based Selection and the use of psychometric tools including the Judgement Index. Simon can be contacted directly on his LinkedIn profile page.

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