Most of us are pretty good at recognising an extraordinary leader when we meet one. The millions of ordinary people who make great leaders have a high focus on practicalities, solutions and results.
Each time I’ve immediately known I’m in the presence of someone great. It’s for this reason I share with you my top learnings from extraordinary leaders I’ve worked with.
Here are 10 traits of extraordinary leaders; does the person who leads you demonstrate these skills and values or do you as a leader of people?
1. Unafraid of recognising feelings
They are not afraid to have feelings and let these feelings along with their logic inform their decisions. They also know when to and how to decide without being overly influenced by these same feelings – those occasions when detachment and clear thought must guide their actions.
2. Expect change and embrace it
Extraordinary leaders understand they operate within complex environments that are continually changing. Of this they are certain. They embrace change, know that random chance and opportunity are constant companions, and stay flexible and agile.
3. Relationships and trust are crucial
They recognise and accept the trust is critical to effective leadership and know this is achieved through forming relationships with colleagues and subordinates, superiors and stakeholders in a way that is truly authentic: as a whole person and as a role.
Relationship building is just as important as anything else they do and good leaders will spend time talking, cajoling, persuading, negotiating, reminding and supporting others,
4. Listen to their inner voice
They have a deep awareness of their inner guide and their own set of values, ethics and principles. Each decision is made based on these principles and they use these to guide their behaviour and the organisations they lead.
5. Stay on message
These leaders always give a consistent message, re-iterating on every occasion the same few consistent themes, values or perspectives.
6. Be present
They turn up, are fully aware and take detailed notice of what is happening around them. Blackberries, iPhones and SMS messages are confined to other times and places: when they are not with you!
7. Guides not control freaks
Extraordinary leaders accept that they’re not in control. They know they can’t control for outcomes but they are passionate and enthusiastic about guiding people to achieve them. The key to their effectiveness is the way they build an agreed set of principles and behaviours to guide the decision-making of those they lead.
8. No-one is extra special and everyone is developed
Extraordinary leaders place a high value on developing each employee as both a professional and a person. No one individual is more special, as the leader places the same value on each person that works for them.
9. See the trees and the forest
Extraordinary leaders can dive in to a single inconsistent cell in a spreadsheet and in the next breath notice a deep and inconsistent pattern or large-scale consequence. They process big patterns and small details simultaneously.
10. Get down and dirty
A client of mine is the GM of a large hotel – in the first week on the job he donned the uniforms and did a day as a bellhop, another a room cleaner and another as a waiter in one of its restaurants.
Extraordinary leaders are as comfortable around the boardroom table as they are on the mine site or the assembly line and employees can tell stories of the memorable occasions when their leader spent time with them and was familiar with their world, no matter what level of the organisation they work in.
There is no magic formula for extraordinary leadership, no recipe that will guide you in baking the perfect leadership cake for yourself, no set of rules that you can follow to be a perfect leader, but when we do see greatness in a leader most of can recognise it easily. What is not so easy is spelling out what it actually is.
These ten characteristics have been present in all the extraordinary leaders I have met.