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. In the past, I have explored the traits of a “great leader”, but now it’s time to 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 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.” Change is not an option, it’s a constant.

So, if you choose to communicate and lead in a static fashion, everything around you is going to change, including your competition, the marketplace, as well as your people. The question is, how do you not only go from “good to great”, but from great to exceptional. Let’s consider some of the communication traits of exceptional leaders.

Exceptional leaders…

…have a positive “can do” attitude. Simply put, they communicate the message that their team can accomplish virtually anything regardless of the odds. This kind of communication and leadership style helps people get to the next level.

…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 and write it down on a pad on their nightstand. But, those who are REALLY obsessed communicate these ideas via their Blackberry 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 hear, but is absolutely necessary in developing other leaders so that succession planning in an organization is something real, as opposed to just being a plan on paper.

…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.

…are truly present and in the moment. They never are looking at e-mail or messing with their iPhone or BlackBerry while they are talking with you. Their listening and other communication skills are laser-like.

…say thank you a lot and mean it.

…are concise and to the point in their communication. You never have to wonder what their main message is because they are so direct in the way they say it.

…understand that the message they are delivering is important, but how they deliver it is even more important. These leaders may use PowerPoint, but don’t get caught up in it by inundating you with slides.

…understand that they themselves are the message and in fact, ultimately are the brand of their organization.

…never stop learning and growing. They never tell themselves, “I’m where I want to be and I’m going to stay here.” They are always reading articles, books and listening to other approaches to getting things done and motivating people.

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.