set high standards for others
and honor the same high standards
for themselves.” LBJ
In Part 1 of this series, I reviewed the five basic qualities of leaders. Today I will explore the seven leadership qualities that are seen and experienced only in a select few whom by their actions and results have earned our respect and admiration. I have organized these virtues as the seven "I's" of exceptional leaders.
Below are the seven “I's” of exceptional leaders:
- INITIATIVE – the exceptional leader is a self-starter who is self-directed and self-controlled. He does not need to be asked to do something twice. If approached to assist in an unfamiliar undertaking, he will not utter the following phrases: “Sorry, it’s not my job," "No, I can’t help you, "Aah,my shift has ended and it’s quitting time for me," or " Nope, I don't have a clue.” Instead, this leader will go the extra mile, never complain and embrace opportunities to venture into the unknown. He views risks as a necessary evil. Mistakes and past failures do not dwell in his active memory. This unique type of leader is also an unapologetic initiator and a happy taskmaster . This "go-getter" has the proverbial "fire in the belly" to decipher what needs to be done and creates an action plan. He has his own internal achievement clock and is often a master of time management. He can easily set deadlines, envision and anticipate the time needed to complete a task.
- INTELLIGENT – the exceptional leader is insightful, mindful and strategic. He is deep thinker but is also pragmatic, flexible and open-minded, with a quick wit and profound understanding of life's unpredictability. When a new venture arises, he will do his due diligence to ascertain the full scope of the project. When his knowledge is limited this leader has the gumption to reach out to others to ask for help. Even though he is intelligent, his subordinates are almost always smarter than him. That is what he wants and needs. He builds a network of talented and intelligent people who themselves come with a vast array of experiences and resources. This allows him to explore different courses of action to achieve results. "Savvy" is his middle name.
- INNOVATIVE - The exceptional leader improves the status quo and breaks through barriers. He brings fresh new ideas to the table. Creativity comes naturally. He examines a problem, does not make rash decisions and discovers a creative solution. He might seem far away when he is in deep thought. As a "future-thinker" he lives in two realities: the present and future. He must keep on eye on the future to have an edge on the competition. The quest for new theories, approaches and opportunities never stops. Exercising his imagination is a daily activity for this out-of-the box thinker. He creates the environment where innovation is expected and sets high expectations for his team.
- INFLUENTIAL AND INSPIRATIONAL – An exceptional leader is influential. He makes a profound impact on the people around him. He is consistent, using "I walk my talk" as his motto. He is genuine. He's not mean-spirited. These qualities earn the trust of others, something he values highly. His principal concern is to serve the needs of his team or constituents. People are inspired by his moral clarity. Children and adults see him as a mentor and role model. He stands by his decisions. He is fair, sincere and engaging. He will not behave badly and disappoint his supporters. He inspires others to pursue their ambitions and goals. No one is forced to live in his shadow; instead he encourages and inspires others to follow him so they can reach their true potential.
- INTUITIVE - The exceptional leader is so intuitive. He has a "sixth sense", able to read people and circumstances well. These qualities often come from a deep understanding of human nature and behavior. He uses this understanding to evaluate, weigh and make decisions that move people forward at the right time, in the right way. This generates the right momentum important to sustained results. Some people believe that intuition is innate, but can be acquired and developed over time.
- INTEGRITY - Integrity is one of the most cherished qualities to find in anyone especially a leader. A leader without integrity is like a ship without a rudder, condemned to drift and be swayed by the currents of public opinion or strong emotion. An exceptional leader is authentic, clear and consistent, held together by a set of values that do not change. When integrity is present, honesty is not a facade but a sincere quality in the exceptional leader. Integrity gives him the ability to be emotional self-controlled while maintaining an armor of authority.
- INVISIBLE - An exceptional leader is not always seen, acknowledged or well known. They are many "unsung heroes" who have changed the world and people around them but remain nameless. Although they never receive the credit and glory for making a difference, their impact is felt deeply. These invisible leaders are like background singers. They contribute so much to make a song wildly successful, but we never know their names. We enjoy and appreciate their gifts. Their voices have lifted our spirits and brighten our days. Still, they are a voice without a name. That being said, behind and beside every leader is an invisible leader. Some leaders want to remain invisible. Some leaders never got an opportunity to let their light shine. They are parents, friends, spouses, teachers, military, ancestors, rebels and influencers. Any unknown person that has added value to someone's life is an invisible leader.
As the old English proverb states "the eyes are the window to the soul." If you look deeply into someone's eyes you might see the real person living inside. Look carefully for the seven I's in a leader and you will see the soul of that leader. Many leaders come and go, but only a few stand the test of time and live up to the true image of an exceptional leader.
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