Extraordinary Leadership: What Does it Take To Be Great? Here’s 5 Clues.

“Great and good are seldom the same man.” – Winston Churchill

Great. Extraordinary. A stand-out person, one who leads at a higher level. A man or women who others want to follow. A person who shows they care. A leader who can make decisions, set direction, inspire others with a strong vision for the future, while executing on the needed deliverables. 

When you hear the word great, and you think about leadership, what comes to mind for you?

After several years at Macy’s as a senior leader myself and after countless leadership training sessions with thousands of leaders in a variety of industries, when we ask people who was the greatest leader they have ever worked for, here’s what we hear:

  • “The thing about this guy was he/she pushed me, believed in me, when others didn’t.”
  • “I remember my best boss to this day, she was tough and some of her feedback was hard to hear, but she was so fair and she had this way of making me feel really valued, I would have followed her any where.”
  • “He/she had an impact on everyone, their ability to rally people to the new changes needed was amazing.”
  • “My best boss…he/she is still a large part of who I am and what I became, I still call them, and I have modeled by leadership style around theirs.”
  • “This person called me and asked me to take this role that I just knew I should turn down…I wasn’t ready, but they insisted I was, and that was the real turning point in my career.” 

It doesn’t matter where we have done this training exercise, the results are always the same. Extraordinary leaders tend to do 5 things better than their peers:

  1. They have a vision. Usually a positive one conveyed with confidence about the future and where the business is going and how their followers or direct reports are part of it. This vision fills others with hope, and understanding of “why” others are part of it helps to galvanize the vision becoming reality. 
  2. They lead with confidence–even in the face of adversity, bad business, or economic downturns. Their steady flow of belief calms down the anxiety in others so that they can do their work with confidence and the security of feeling like things can and will get better. 
  3. They build powerful networks to help others get work done more effectively, not just because they want to be know as “powerful”. They volunteer to connect others. They get the notion that work has gotten more complex and the person who has the best networks for getting work accomplished more efficiently will emerge as a person more valued in the organization. They don’t see the need for silos, they would rather seek collaboration with others. 
  4. They have a strong set of communication and people skills. People know where they stand. And, they set out to communicate to improve things: performance, people development, vision or strategy. They are not afraid to give direct feedback or hold someone accountable because they know, these things are the best ways to invest in others. They are also just as apt to seek feedback for how they can improve and get better. 
  5. They believe in their team. And, as the team leader they are willing to invest in higher team performance. They know it takes a lot to build trust, engage in healthy conflict, gain commitment to the team goals, hold team members accountable and drive for results.