Seven Standards of an Exceptional Leader


As I work with leaders, especially those being primed for higher roles, I find they often communicate and work from three perspectives: the Peer Leader, the Hesitant Leader, and the Confident Leader.

Each perspective or mindset sounds very different, but poorly trained leaders can deceptively believe they all represent successful leadership. It is essential to see what each looks like, to avoid the traps of the first two, and to strive to be a Confident Leader!

Look at each of these three perspectives and see where you or your leaders might fit today and how they can fit differently in the future to be a truly exceptional leader.

Peer Leader

Leaders with a Peer Leader attitude may identify more with their previous role as part of the team, not leading the team. They may be tempted to avoid difficult conversations, treat everyone’s input the same, openly complain about upper management, divulge confidential information off the record, socialize and encourage venting with direct reports, or believe that team members will stay in the communication loop without help from the leader.

Hesitant Leader

Leaders with a Hesitant Leader mindset recognize they are in charge, but are uncertain how to use their authority or allocate their time wisely. Leaders with this mindset may avoid delegating tasks for fear of upsetting the team, hide behind policies and not offer creative solutions, apologize when making a decision even when it is a good one, or feel like a failure when they don’t have the right answer all the time. This attitude, like the Peer Leader, diminishes the leader’s voice and ability to optimize one’s positive impact on the team and organization.

Confident Leader

Leaders who step beyond these two counterfeit leadership mindsets can communicate and work from a more powerful and inspiring perspective. Leaders who recognize the power of their own voice, while simultaneously respecting the voices on their team, push the limits of high performance. These leaders are the Confident Leaders.

Seven Exceptional Leadership Qualities

1. Unapologetically sets high standards.

The primary function of a leader is to set clear expectations for high performance without any apologies!   These expectations need to align with the direction of the organization. The capacity of the team needs to be considered and elevated to meet the performance goals, not the other way around.

2. Repeatedly communicates the mission.

Linking the organization’s purpose to the day-to-day is a hallmark of highly engaged and functioning teams. Strong leaders recognize a single communication of the mission isn’t sufficient. Frequent repetition of the purpose, especially involving multiple communication methods, is the best way to go.

3. Mirrors the attitude you want your team to have. 

A leader is on stage and can have tremendous impact on the disposition of the team. Others look to the leader—in word and mindset—as the barometer of how the organization is doing and how one should act. A leader’s attitude cascades through the team as either an inspiring waterfall or a crushing lava flow.

4. Listens to the feedback of high performers more than low performers. 

Despite a well-intentioned desire to treat everyone the same, not everyone’s input carries the same weight. How much attention you pay to each team member’s ideas should be based on their impact and performance, not just on their team membership.

5. Focuses on solving problems instead of dwelling on them.

There will always be a long list of problems and issues to address. There is also seemingly no end to the amount of venting, complaining, or moaning that can emerge with these problems. It is natural to need some time to react to challenges. The problem is staying there and not accepting accountability for solving it. Confident leaders listen to their people and also ask, “What are you going to do about it? I look forward to hearing your possible solutions tomorrow morning.”

6. Rewards value, not time. 

Longevity and effort is important. It represents loyalty, service, and dedication. While these are noble characteristics, they may not always coincide with task completion and value-added actions. As the world gets faster and the frequency of change increases, agility and contribution is how leaders measure time. Strong leaders purposefully recognize and reward contribution more than effort or time.

7. Accepts responsibility and learns from mistakes.

One of the most beautiful traits a leader can possess is humility, a healthy balance of confidence, ownership, and openness. This is the ability to try new things, learn from them, and approach the next round of learning with a smile. This requires a leader who is comfortable in his or her own skin and who looks at the world as full of opportunity with many right answers.

These standards define truly exceptional leaders. These are the leaders that we aspire to be and who inspire others. These seven qualities of exceptional leadership help leaders move beyond a Peer Leader or a Hesitant Leader to truly becoming a Confident Leader.