The five pillars of truly exceptional leadership

Paul Brewerton
It can be a bad thing when your strengths go into over-drive (Source: Getty)

There are lots of theories about how best to be a leader, many telling us that we need particular styles, qualities or personalities to be truly effective. But exceptional leaders are not all alike. They each have very different strengths, skills and vulnerabilities.

We have identified five pillars of exceptional leadership to help you to achieve your potential as a leader, enabling you to build productive, positive teams and organisations fit for today’s fast-changing business environment.

Pillar One: Get your leadership edge

Exceptional leaders typically have exceptional self-awareness – they have a clear understanding of who they are, both when they are at their best and their worst. This gives exceptional leaders an “edge” – they can stay true to who they are and remain authentic.

Tip One: Understand your unique mix of strengths, skills and experience by asking others how they see you at your best. This is what differentiates you as a leader and is where you can make your strongest contribution.

Pillar two: Establish good habits

There are some things that you need to do as a leader if you’re going to get your ideas off the ground. First, have a clear vision for what you want to achieve. Second, involve people in putting together a roadmap of how to achieve that vision. Then tell people how they’re doing, giving positive and constructive feedback to keep them on track. Finally, mark successes along the way but remember to keep pursuing your goals.

Tip Two: Practice four essential leadership habits: share vision, spark engagement, skilfully execute and sustain progress, and make sure you’re bringing people with you every step of the way.

Pillar Three: Don’t ignore your risks

Everyone has vulnerabilities, including the most exceptional leaders. Work out when your strengths might go into “overdrive” – when you go that little bit too far and don’t get the result you’re looking for. Develop strategies to keep your strengths in balance and delivering a good outcome even when under stress.

Tip Three: Over-reliance on your greatest strengths, or using them in the wrong way, can undermine your performance and may even hold you back in your career. Keep your strengths under control.

Pillar four: Challenge people to give their best

Exceptional leaders are not afraid to push the boundaries and always look for innovative ways to achieve the organisation’s goals. There is no “one size fits all” approach for getting the best from others or from yourself, so explore new ways to stretch yourself and your team.

Tip Four: Keep stretching yourself and others – discover your team’s strengths and create an engaging environment that allows all of you to use your strengths and push the boundaries every day.

Pillar Five: Build complementary teams

Build awareness of the strengths within your team: this enables them to adapt to changing goals, stakeholder needs and new processes more quickly. It also pinpoints areas where certain strengths are lacking that might need to be plugged in future.

Tip Five: Encourage team members to partner up and support colleagues in areas where they don’t have strengths or skills. This will quickly improve team morale, trust and effectiveness.

If you follow these principles, you’ll soon be on the path to exceptional leadership – getting the most from you at your best with people around you happy to follow your lead.

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