How to become an exceptional leader

Recent studies suggest that leadership is in fact only 30% attributed to genetics and 70% learned. Of course, a person can be born with natural leadership characteristics, but even more so, someone can learn how to be a good leader at work. Regardless of whether someone is a born leader, everyone has room to develop their leadership skills and grow their leadership competency. This is great news for most leaders today, who find themselves elevated to leadership positions not because of any natural leadership qualities, but because of their advanced technical knowledge and skills in their particular industry. 

Leaders aren’t born, they are made.

This concept is also at the foundation of the research done some three decades ago by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, the findings of which are laid out in their timeless book “The Leadership Challenge”, which is still as relevant today as it was when it was first written. 

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model, defined in the book, is based on research conducted by the co-authors of thousands of leaders with the aim of discovering what effective leaders do when they are operating at their own personal best. In the research, thousands of leaders were asked to think of a time that was a highlight in their leadership experience. What were they doing at the time? What became apparent was that all the “personal best” stories revealed similar patterns of behavior, that Kouzes and Posner later categorised into five ‘practices’.  

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model turns the abstract concept of leadership into easy-to-understand practices and behaviors that can be taught and learned by anyone who finds themselves in a leadership position. Here is an outline of the five winning practices; 

Challenge the process

There’s no flying under the radar if you want to be an exceptional leader. As the name suggests, individuals looking to be good and better leaders ought to step out of their comfort zone and be willing to open their mind and embrace change in an effort to continue evolving. This practice requires leaders to actively encourage new ideas, challenge the status quo and make changes to company systems and policies in order to clear the path for better ways of doing things. These leaders are open to opportunities and are willing to take risks to make changes that improve their organisation. Of course, this requires a willingness to make plenty of mistakes along the way and to view these mistakes as opportunities for learning and improvements. 

Model the way 

Leaders set the standards that others work to. Following this practice requires you to know your own values and model them to others, but also learn what their values are and wat motivates them. What creates success is the space where you and your employees align your values for a common cause. Shared values are the foundation for building productive and genuine working relationships. As a leader, the more you can model authenticity by getting to know the people you work with and what matters to them, the more easily you will be able to reach your full leadership potential.

Inspire a shared vision

“Leadership requires you to spend considerable time reading, thinking, and talking about the long-term view, not only for your specific organisation but also for the environments in which you’re operating,” Kouzes and Posner point out.  Being in a leadership role means you really can make a difference. Good leaders believe in themselves and their ability to leave their mark. They envision the future and create an ideal and unique image of what the organisation can become and how it can contribute to the greater good. A good leader should create excitement and passion amongst their team, and a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. They use their charm and passion to breathe life into their visions and get people to be as excited as they are about the possibilities for the future.

Enable others to act 

Often people new to leadership positions find it hard to let go and let others do their work without being overly involved and micromanaging. Leaders need to trust in the capabilities of the people who work for them and work on developing a culture of collaboration, where everyone feels valued and involved. When others feel valued and respected, they are capable of achieving extraordinary results and performing at their own personal best. 

Encourage the heart 

A good leader recognises the crucial need to keep hope, motivation and determination to achieve high amongst staff.  This involves calling out the achievements of others, recognising and praising the contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. 

Leading others is no easy feat. If you want to be an exceptional leader it requires constant work and a willingness to do better each and every day. An exceptional leader needs to be constantly reading, researching and exploring how to do better. 

I specialise in working with groups of people, moving them from a place of confusion and sometimes even hostility to a place of confidence, clarity and consensus. Could your leadership team benefit from one of my workshops? Please get in touch today. I’d love to help!

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