Attributes of Exceptional Leaders

Posted on January 22, 2019


Today’s guest post is by ELGL member Larry Iverson PhD with the Institute for Advanced Development.

Implementing Exceptional Performance

To be a world-class organization in the 21st century requires a new set of beliefs and abilities for all involved. The abilities that are required are strategic and concern how we approach work, the people we serve and our goals and objectives.

What emerges are roles that are highly innovative, individually proprietary and important to those who depend on us. Long-term effectiveness is built by making a significant contribution to those you serve.

The primary benchmarks for this are: 1) consistent results, and 2) more effective teams. When you achieve these, you will be surrounded by people who desire to collaborate with you.

Becoming An Exceptional Leader

In 2014 Harvard University Graduate School of Business published the results of a multi-year study on leadership. After summarizing data collected from corporations, small businesses, military and nonprofits, they found there are twelve traits that stand out in exceptional leaders.

No matter where a person is within an organization they can choose to step-up and apply these attributes within his or her position.

Leadership Attributes


Continuously looking for new and innovative ways to move from where they are, to where they want to be. The leader is able to see the big picture as well as the details. By a sustained vision broadcast to all personnel a feeling of being involved in something bigger and a sense of pride in excellence is created. This vision stimulates team effort and purpose even though employees vary greatly in roles, knowledge, experience, age, values and backgrounds.


Self-directedness results from having a clear image of where one is going and what is the desired outcome. Feeling good about oneself and valuing their abilities is a requirement. Knowing both strengths (and how to capitalize on them) and weaknesses (and be striving to improve on them) is imperative. Being self-managed requires maturity, discipline, focus and motivation.

Goal Focused

Having a concrete step-by-step pathway for moving from where you are to where you desire to be is essential. Goal focus keeps the leader on-track with what must be done and helps to avoid getting caught up in ever changing priorities. This clarity of what is the most important goal allows all to see they are all focused on the same end, and moving in the same direction.

Failure Resistant

By staying focused on where they want the organization to go, the leaders are able to see blocks and mistakes as ways to learn and improve. This doesn’t mean that you have an apathetic attitude. Handing the situation as a situation instead of like it is the end of the world is essential. The majority of highly successful leaders resist thinking of failing as a total “end.” It is viewed more as a step on the way versus a finality.

Never-Ending Student

Realizing that “state-of-the-art” in every field is changing, the effective leader is continuously updating their skill base. This may be done by mentors or mentor groups, reading in the field, attending courses or observing leaders with similar and different expertise. This is a continuous searching and learning enhances leadership skillsets.

Passionate & Motivated

A leader’s passion is a source of power for the team. It generates motivation and helps keep morale up and staff focused. Passion is also a stress reducer. When pressure, priority decisions, task overwhelm occurs, personal passion for accomplishment can carry one through. Personal passion is stimulating for the staff and gives them a model to follow.

Action Oriented

The dynamic leader acts decisively and with concern for timing. Following a strategic plan is by definition an action oriented, engaging, team process. Sharing the goals actively with staff and establishing a bias for action and decisiveness empowers others and facilitates professional growth within the team.

Effective Communicator

Staff and subordinate leaders are too well informed and skilled to have someone just talk at them without being able to give any reciprocal input or feedback. Willingness to utilize the input of your team from the top down is where true innovation and growth spring from. Giving staff and supervisors on the front-line an opportunity to voice their concerns and problems is a priority.

Highly Visible

The term “management by walking around” applies to all levels of leaders. Being out there so the team can see and interact with the leader can significantly enhance team morale and motivation. Interacting with staff and showing concern for them gets noticed. If the staff is able to see the leaders on a regular basis, they don’t feel as much like a small link in a big chain.


The empowered leader is willing to view a situation from many points-of-view. This flexible leader is willing to change their course of action or decision if a better way is given. This doesn’t mean being wishy-washy or just casually changing things. But it does mean being open to altering actions or the goals if during strategic thinking a better course is shown.

Promoter of Central Values

When the leaders’ values align with the team and organization’s values   and they are ongoingly promoted throughout, everyone has a yardstick with which they can measure their conduct and performance. Living worthwhile values is a component of personal and professional success.

Team Player

This team process takes the leader beyond what they are alone. As a team member the glory needs to be shared. Credit must be given to all who participated – the “lone ranger” approach rarely works for long in a strong team environment.

Living these attributes of exceptional leaders is a learned process and a choice. Winston Churchill said,

“Though many are considered leaders because of seniority, title or rank, the most effective lead because they know it is what they must do.”

Living these attributes consistently is a choice that each person must make. To enhance them and move yourself to a higher level of effectiveness, take them one at a time.

Spend a week keeping this attribute in your focus throughout the day. Keep it in mind during meetings, calls, interviews and all the many “to-dos” you have. Keep at it and you’ll find over time that you will build a more powerful base from which you will lead. For more information, contact Melissa Asher at

Dr. Larry Iverson is a psychologist, author, keynote speaker and trainer who has personally coached or trained more than 1,000,000 people in his career. For more information on products, programs or how he may be able to assist your organization, go to
Close window