By Steve Adubato, PhD
In Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” he explores the key factors and characteristics of America’s best companies and organizations. But what are the traits of a “great leader” and how do we continually step up our game and raise the bar?
One of the biggest challenges facing so-called “great” leaders is staying at the top of their game. It’s as true for leaders of professional sports teams as it is for managers and CEOs. But, it’s a funny thing when it comes to being a winner in corporate America, because once you’ve won, the status quo is no longer an option. You can’t simply say; “Now that I’m at the top of my game, I want to stay right where I am.” Your evolution as a leader is not an option, it’s a requirement. If you choose to communicate and lead in a static fashion while everything around you is changing—including your competition, the marketplace, as well as your people—nothing good will come of it.
My recent Lessons in Leadership column focused on one trait that great leaders possess, which is having a positive “can do” attitude which communicates the message that their team can accomplish virtually anything regardless of the odds. However, what are some other traits of exceptional leaders? And, just as important, how do YOU not only go from “good to great,” but from great to exceptional? Let’s explore some additional traits of the exceptional leader:
…are passionate and energetic. They never stop thinking about creative approaches to their business. In fact, they are a little obsessive. (In a good way.) What I mean is, exceptional leaders often wake up in the middle of the night with an idea of how to move forward, how to grow, or how to manage a situation and write it down on a pad on their nightstand. But, those who are REALLY obsessed, communicate these ideas to people in their organization who need to know.
…are committed to coaching others by giving direct and specific feedback. Sometimes this feedback can be hard to deliver, but is absolutely necessary to develop other leaders. Succession planning in an organization is something real, as opposed to just being a plan on paper. Great leaders continually ask, as a mentor, how they can improve their own teaching skills on an on-going basis.
…run short, engaging and goal-oriented meetings. They get others involved by facilitating and communicating via open-ended and probing questions. They also hold their people accountable for commitments they’ve made in previous meetings.
…admit their mistakes quickly and apologize specifically for their actions. They work to find solutions for what has gone wrong instead of wasting energy blaming others. Strong leaders are not afraid to admit mistakes. It helps them evolve as better leaders when they can see the reality of a situation.
…are truly present and in the moment. They do not look at email or mess with their smartphones while engaged in a conversation. Great leaders have laser-like listening and communication skills which are honed and improved over time. They are active listeners and respect the people they speak with.
…are concise and to the point in their communication. You never have to wonder what the main message is because they are so direct in the way they say it. The more great leaders practice this, the easier it becomes. Being concise isn't always easy, but it provides the best communication.
…understand that they themselves are the message and in fact, ultimately reflect the brand of their organization. As a brand evolves, so should its leadership.
…never stop learning. They never tell themselves, “I’m where I want to be and I’m going to stay here.”
There is no such thing as a “perfect” leader, but the leaders described here understand that the only way to stay at the top of their game, is to stay on top of the game.