It may feel as though we're in a crisis of leadership, but if you stop to look around it's not hard to find examples of CEOs, middle managers, elected officials, public servants, neighborhood watch organizers, team captains and coaches, teachers and countless others who are doing a good job as leaders. Most of us are either in that group or working toward it.
Much rarer are the exceptional leaders whose qualities truly shine, the ones who practice the kind of leadership we all aspire to.
In my years of leadership consulting, I've learned that most of what makes outstanding leaders outstanding lies not in the things they do but who they are when they take action.
Here are seven of the most important:
1. Outstanding leaders lead with consistency of character.
At the center of all great leadership are two interconnected qualities: consistency and character. Those who lead with character do the right thing 100 percent of the time, even if no one is watching and the benefits of cheating are great. They understand that their actions set the standard for their entire team, and that their influence reaches far beyond themselves.
2. Outstanding leaders are intentional about being accessible.
Generally speaking, the more successful you become, the less accessible you will be. Competing demands, busy schedules, and other factors make it tempting to fire off a few emails to your team and call it a day. Outstanding leaders make a concentrated effort to be accessible and available to those who need them.
3. Outstanding leaders are meticulous in their communication.
They know to be careful in every word they write, say, email, text, and tweet. Like all of us, they communicate across different levels of formality, but in every situation they make sure their communication is clear and appropriate. The art of communication is the language of leadership and essential to success, and it works for those who work at it.
4. Outstanding leaders make others feel valued.
They never forget that the greatest emotional need we have is to feel valued and appreciated. And they make sure they do their part so that everyone they encounter, from their CEO to the temps and interns, understands that his or her contribution is important and appreciated.
5. Outstanding leaders thirst for wisdom.
There's a saying that knowledge comes to those who are thirsty for wisdom. The best leaders make a continual effort to expand their mind and increase their understanding--of their field, of leadership, of those around them, of the issues of the day, and of the world in general. Wisdom is a byproduct of our life experiences, and the best leaders take their experiences and turn them into wisdom.
6. Outstanding leaders are decisive.
The ability to make even difficult decisions calmly and authoritatively is critically important to leaders, their organizations, and their people. Part of it is knowing how to focus, part of it is trusting your own instincts (and the knowledge and experience that underlie them), and part of it is being ahead of the game enough that you've already done any studying and discussion that might be helpful.
7. Outstanding leaders set an example for others to follow.
They show those they lead respect, trust, and integrity--the three central traits of leadership. Quietly and without preaching, they model the behavior they'd like to see in others.
Bringing it all together.
Whatever level of leadership you're working to reach, there's no reason you can't begin understanding that outstanding leadership begins with you. Start today to act like an outstanding leader and see how far it takes you.