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What do Exceptional Leaders do Differently?

Leadership Traits

There is no shortage of material about the traits of good leadership and some of the pointers and lists can be helpful for assessment and development. However, it is not uncommon for someone to possess many of these traits but still be uninspiring as a leader. What makes people willing to follow one person but not another in similar situations? There are many factors to this of course, but in decades of study and experience, I have found that the most inspiring and effective leaders do 3 things exceptionally well:

1. They have a clear vision of what success looks like and how to get there, and they can communicate it to diverse stakeholders in an engaging way. Leaders thrive on change: they are constantly looking ahead for the next thing, and their enthusiasm for reaching new heights is infectious. However, they understand that it is not enough to just identify and state the goal, it has to be ‘sold’ with clarity, energy and intelligent enthusiasm.

2. Great leaders have an acute sense of awareness. They have a deep appreciation of their own and others’ strengths, weaknesses, preferences, etc. Further, they understand the wider context and are cognisant of how their teams’ work impacts not only the corporate whole, but the wider external environment as well. In short, they can see things as they really are and are adept at horizon-scanning.


3. Finally, in the light of the first 2 points, effective leaders flex their style to match the requirements of the task, the team, the individual and the wider environment. This is crucial and is perhaps the most common shortcoming I observe. Many have a preferred or ‘go to’ style of leadership and are often blind to the differing motivational primers on their teams. I use TSDI to help leaders and their teams to better appreciate each others’ motivators and responses to conflict. Once aware of the motivational value systems (MVSs) of their people, leaders can then adjust their style to promote engagement and achieve the related business benefits. If there is no such flexibility, the leader will only inspire those with the same MVS as him/her and will miss out on the significant benefits realised by more balanced teams.

Leadership Style

Leadership is hugely rewarding, but it is hard work. To be effective it requires a time investment and a willingness to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone. However, those willing to pay the price will realise great rewards in staff engagement, innovation, resilience and productivity. They will also enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their teams grow as they realise more and more of their potential - and the process will be more enjoyable for all!

By Ian Kirkby.

Direct Line: +44(0)20 3904 7501 Email:

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