7 Tips on Becoming an Exceptional Leader

Leadership is a nebulous concept. I mean, we all know when we’ve got a good leader or when the person in charge doesn’t know what they’re doing. But that’s not the same as defining leadership. I mean, there are leaders that are outspoken and there are leaders who listen patiently. There are leaders who lead from the front and there are leaders who are more hands off.

All of those can be great leaders.

At the same time, there must be some concepts that unite good leaders, right? Right. Here we’re going to list some of the habits a leader must have to be able to able to be a good leader. Cultivate these and you’re cultivating a leader.

They can make decisions

A leader that doesn’t make a decision isn’t a leader. They’re a figurehead. The very first quality that is essential for leadership is that they can, at the end of the day, make the call – whether it be right or wrong.

Of course, how they arrive at that call will be very different. Some people can make calls as if they’re deciding what to order in a restaurant. Others will need to agonize, consider, weigh and repeat. The path they take will differ. What matters is that they get there (and that they do so on time).

They know themselves

Know thyself might be some of the oldest advice out there (the Oracle of Delphi originally said it), but that does not make it any less important.

If you don’t know yourself then how are you going to know where you need help and where you should trust your own instincts? For this reason, exceptional leaders are always striving to understand themselves, to grasp their weaknesses and to utilize their strengths.

In fact, great leaders use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses. Exceptional leaders turn their weaknesses into strengths. What do I mean with that? If a leader isn’t good at something (for example they aren’t well organized) then they will use that to bring their team together.

They will accept their weakness and work together with other members of their team to compensate for that. In this way, the team members that help them in that regard feel valued and like they’re an important part of the team. The weakness of the leader has become a strength for the team.

They communicate well

In effect, communication is two separate abilities that, though interlaced, aren’t necessarily the same thing.

These are:

  • The ability to listen
  • The ability to explain

They’re equally important. After all, as a leader, you have to accept that you don’t know everything. That’s what you’ve got people for. They can tell you things, be it about the facts on the ground or how they feel about them.

If you don’t listen, you’re going to miss out on valuable information. Not just that, you’re going to end up with frustrated employees. After all, if we don’t feel like we’re being listened to, then we don’t feel our input is being valued.

Listening alone is not enough, however. Sometimes decisions have to be made that people do not agree with – possibly because they go against their own best interests. In moments like these, the ability to explain the why and the how of it is vitally important. That’s the only way to avoid resentment, stress, and intergroup conflict.

They have a destination

A great leader can’t be reactive. They have to be proactive. They have to have long-term goals, and these goals have to be inspirational.

They must have clearly defined goals on paper, so that they can share them and those that work for them can understand them.

Sometimes leaders seem to think that if they have a plan in their head, that’s enough. It isn’t. The actual act of writing it down is vitally important, as the act of writing them down exposes leaps of logic and mistakes in thinking that are easily overlooked when goals are just thought about. You may feel uncomfortable writing down your goals for the first time but practice is the key to improving your writing skills - be persistent and you will notice the benefits soon enough.

They accept blame

When things go wrong, an exceptional leader accepts responsibility – even if it isn’t really their fault. In this way, they shield those below them from the wrath from up high.

This is incredibly important, because only when employees feel protected do they feel capable of experimenting, coming up with new ideas and trying the new things that will make a team go from ordinary to truly exceptional.

The leader, in other words, creates a safe environment by putting themselves in the way of any negative feedback that might come the team’s way.

They give credit where it’s due

When things are done well, the leader doesn’t say "look how well I did." They say "look how well we worked together." This means giving credit to the people that have done well, both within the team and higher up the ladder.

It also means they take the time to recognize the contribution of every person – whether they’re loud or quiet. In fact, exceptional leaders go out of their way to make certain the quiet ones get the respect they deserve, because they know that once they’ve got the loyalty of the quiet ones and the introverts, they’ll have a loyalty that is far deeper and more meaningful.

They have infectious passion

Passion is an important quality in a leader, but it alone is not enough. It has to be a passion that can infect others so that they too become driven to reach the ambitions and the goals of the leader.

With infectious passion, people don’t mind working late and working hard. Without it, they’ll be spending more time watching the clock than actually doing what they’re supposed to do. With passion, people become more creative and effective.

A leader must care about what they’re doing and be able to give that passion to the people that they work with so that the group can work as one, with one mindset, towards the goals of the team and of the company.

Last words

Leadership comes in many forms. The only time it’s great, however, is when it’s outwardly focused and the leader is able to share what they have with those around them. Great leadership is the ability to hold a group together, to motivate the different parties and avoid the strife that can tear less well-led groups apart.

Leadership is prosocial. It makes people – both the leader and those that work with them – better. It advances the goals of the group and manages to turn "me" into "us." With that, an exceptional leader can create an exceptional team. Without it, they will only ever be a group of individuals.

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