The secret of exceptional leaders

Throughout my career I’ve often been asked what I think the secret to being a great leader is. I’ve probably said things like, vision and drive or strategic thinking and commercial acumen. The truth is that I don’t think any of these things are the key to being a GREAT leader, they’re pretty much standard practice.

The thing that I’ve observed that really separates the good from the truly exceptional is  a bit closer to home, a bit less glamorous and sexy and yet probably harder to achieve.

It’s self-awareness.

Truly great leaders recognise they’re not as great as others believe and they know how to compensate for it. They’re acutely aware of their strengths and weakness, they recognise how they’re behaving and why – the situations that will trigger them or cause them to react. And they work constantly to maintain that level of awareness.

Most of us aren’t truly self-aware – we build internal stories that allow us to explain away our foibles:

“I’m not impatient, I’m demanding”

“I don’t do detail, I”m a big picture thinker”

“I’m not a micro-manager, I just like detail”

But of course, none of us are perfect and therefore no leader is perfect either. Instead, the really successful recognise, acknowledge and either adapt or compensate for the areas where they know they fall short. That can take the form of public acceptance and permission to challenge, by building teams who have complimentary approaches or simply through self coaching and holding themselves account.

So if you’re on a leadership journey, my advice to you is to spend a little more time focussing on yourself.  Be hard on “you” in order to give yourself a break. There is no model of leadership perfection that you will ever obtain, but you can be the best leader you’re capable of being. There is a path for you to grow and be better, but only you will ever, truly know how.