What makes an exceptional leader exceptional?
This was the topic I had the fortunate opportunity to discuss recently with a class of graduating university seniors. Many of the students believed that future business leaders needed a new set of leadership skills that recognized the new global economy that continues to be molded and shaped by rapidly changing technology and globalization.
They aren't wrong.
They were overlooking, however, the fact that fundamental leadership skills are characteristic of all great leaders, past and future. What differentiated exceptional leaders from great leaders, however, was not necessarily how to amend these characteristics but rather how to execute them better.
Here are six things exceptional leaders do better:
1. Great leaders are exceptional communicators and orators. Exceptional leaders are better at knowing when to shut it and listen.
Being able to motivate and influence others is an incredibly important skill for a leader. The most exceptional leaders, however, are often those who ask more questions than they answer. Not coincidentally, they also know the right questions to ask. Typically, the reason exceptional leaders are great communicators is not because they orate well but rather that they are better at understanding with whom they are speaking.
2. Great leaders are exceptionally idealistic vision setters. Exceptional leaders are better at admitting when they are wrong.
Great leaders operate innovative companies that often challenge a business or cultural paradigm. Exceptional leaders are no different, except that their companies endure. Think about it.
3. Great leaders are exceptionally organized and analytical. Exceptional leaders are better at delegating.
I do believe that great leaders need to possess a high degree of organizational skill and be able to apply analytical thinking to understand complex business situations. Indeed, the age of Big Data is making these skills even more necessary. Exceptional leaders, however, understand the importance of and how to surround themselves with exceptional talent and delegate tasks and responsibility to them.
4. Great leaders are exceptional problem identifiers. Exceptional leaders are better problem solvers.
One trait that separates great leaders from the field is the ability to delve into a problem, ask the right questions, and understand the root cause of an issue. This is not as easy as many believe. Exceptional leaders, however, not only intuitively understand how to do this but also how to construct and assess the problem in terms of a solution. It's a fine line that exceptional leaders understand.
5. Great leaders are exceptionally confident decision makers. Exceptional leaders are better at dishing credit.
A great leader is really adept at running a great company. An exceptional leader, however, does not necessarily run an exceptional company. The rest of the company does. Think about it.
6. Great leaders are exceptionally smart. Exceptional leaders are better at not being stupid.
Not being stupid is one of the most undervalued skills today. This goes beyond bad business miscalculations to include remarkably stupid personal decisions leaders make that inevitably seep into and tarnish a business. Exceptional leaders instinctively know how to keep their noses clean and avoid precarious situations.
The debate will assuredly continue about what exactly differentiates an exceptional leader from the rest. For certain, the graduating seniors are convinced that technical skills, such as being fluent in a programming language like HTML, are key factors to becoming a great leader in the future. Again, they aren't necessarily wrong, but I am hopeful that they will find their youthful exuberance as a much more valuable asset!
So which other skills are exceptional leaders better at? Share your thoughts below.