8 Traits of Exceptional Leaders

They might be hard to describe but most people know it when they see one. That’s because leaders have a recognizable impact on their business. And they often share a similar set of traits. The good news is you don’t have to be born with those skills. They can be developed through years of experience. Take a look at these traits of exceptional leaders and learn how you can develop them too.

What Exceptional Leaders Do

Rail Against Groupthink

Exceptional leaders know that strength comes from diversity of ideas and approaches. They get nervous when everyone in the group thinks and acts the same way they do. It means they may not be seeing all sides of an issue. So, they seek out opposing points of view before making a decision.

  • Development Tip: Play devil’s advocate with your team by deliberately taking the opposing point of view. It causes people to consider another point of view and to defend their own position. The discussion that follows helps you evaluate the idea and perhaps go a different direction if you can’t support it.

Listen First, Then Talk

Exceptional leaders realize that effective communication starts with listening, not talking. It’s a sign of respect and demonstrates that you value someone’s opinion. It also ensures that you will receive the entire message before drawing any conclusions.

  • Development Tip: If you have a thought or idea while one of your staff members is talking, don’t interrupt them. Instead write your question or comment down, and then come back to it after the employee has finished. It will capture your point but doesn’t interrupt the flow of a discussion.

Exhibit Emotional Intelligence

Exceptional leaders are more than book smart. They know how to monitor their emotions and use that knowledge to respond appropriately. For example, exceptional leaders can detect when they are judging a situation based on their bias rather than the facts of the case.

  • Development Tip: When you’re criticized, don’t react by arguing back. Instead, reflect on the question, “What can I learn from this?” You may find that you need to admit you were wrong and come up with a strategy to avoid future occurrences.

Inspire Others with Their Vision

Exceptional leaders know where they’re going and can inspire others to take the journey with them. That means they see the big picture and translate it into a plan that will help the business reach its end goal.

  • Development Tip: Take your mission statement and give concrete examples of what success will look like. For example, if best-in-class customer service is the vision, paint a picture of what rock-star service looks like. What will the employee do? How will the customer feel?

Realize They Can’t Do It All

Exceptional leaders realize that they won’t achieve the goal on their own. There are too many demands on a business owner to do everything well. So they ask others for help.

  • Development Tip: Practice delegation with your staff. Start by delegating smaller tasks then graduate to more complex assignments as they demonstrate success. Be sure to provide training and feedback first. Don’t forget to acknowledge their contribution.

Plan for Success

Business owners don’t plan to fail. But they sometimes fail to plan. Exceptional leaders know better. They have a solid business plan that outlines where they are going and how they’re going to get there. It helps them focus on what’s going to make a difference.

  • Development Tip: Don’t let your business plan gather dust on the shelf. Review it regularly to see if you are achieving your benchmarks. It forces you to validate your assumptions and to measure progress. Then you can adjust as needed to stay on track.

Ask “What If?”

Exceptional leaders encourage innovation. They disrupt the status quo by challenging themselves and their staff to ask “what if.” It forces them to look at situations differently and come up with alternatives.

  • Development Tip: Remember to tolerate mistakes. It’s difficult for people to think outside of the box if they know they’ll be penalized if it doesn’t work out. You and your staff can learn as much from mistakes as you can from successes.

Lead by Example

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It also makes good business sense. Model the behavior you want from your staff. For example, show them how you win over a dissatisfied customer.

  • Development Tip: Do what you say you will do. Following through on commitments demonstrates that action is important.

Exceptional leaders aren’t necessarily born that way. With practice, you can develop leadership traits too. Start with these characteristics and development tips.


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