Leadership runs the gamut — extraordinary, great, good, bad, terrible and just awful. I’ve seen them all during my career.
To successfully lead requires a mix of innate and learned abilities that culminate in the ability to adjust in any setting. Given the complexities of a global economy and challenges we’ve never seen before, succeeding requires extraordinary leaders with an adaptive, inclusive approach.
Tried and true ways won’t cut it and today’s business landscape demands a new crop of leaders to flex differently to be successful, otherwise they’ll find themselves in the just awful category.
In my experience, the most exceptional leaders have the majority of the attributes below and I’d encourage every aspiring leader to try to master most, if not all of these seven qualities:
1. They give clear communication.
I’ve worked with some of the best communicators in the world ranging from politics to government to technology. I’ve also encountered some of the worst, like awful communicators who flip-flop on their positions and those I’d consider patently dishonest.
The extraordinary leaders all have two things in common, they are authentic and clear in how they communicate. I once had a boss where every other word was a lie and I had to compare notes with my co-workers just to figure out what was true. As a leader, you never want staff or customers to think you aren’t on the up and up because once you lose their trust, it is difficult to regain.
2. They don’t pick favorites.
People want to know they’ve been treated fairly. A boss playing favorites wreaks havoc on team dynamics, fosters feelings of resentment and results in folks leaving the organization due to unfairness.
Take the tech industry for instance, a study by the Kapor Center showed that “experiencing and observing unfairness was a significant predictor of leaving due to unfairness, and the more bullying experienced, the shorter the length of time that employees remained at their previous company.”
Exceptional leaders create spaces of that are objective, fair and simply treat people right.
3. They stay curious and open-minded.
The worst type of leader is the know-it-all. They create an environment where they effectively cut off conversation, interrupt incessantly and kill the innovation vibe.
When people are afraid to speak up for fear of getting cut down in front of their team, the know-it-all can inadvertently create an echo chamber as staff with differing ideas stop speaking up. That’s why intellectual curiosity is required. A leader who is genuinely interested in what others think makes sure everyone is heard from.
4. They don’t try to be the hero.
In basketball, there is a term called hero ball, where an individual player tries to be the team hero by taking and ultimately missing most of the shots. The problem with hero ball is the player doesn’t involve everyone which undercuts the team.
My favorite boss of all time always figured out a way for us to get in the game because she believed in collaboration. And our team succeeded because we weren’t out there missing shots, with a go-it-alone mentality. An optimized team works toward a common goal, complements each others strengths and offsets each others weaknesses.
5. They prioritize trust.
Trust is paramount and is a bedrock characteristic every leader must have. Employees need to trust their leader is above board and operating with integrity. As a leader, there is an inherent amount of trust that is given and expected.
When that trust is broken, irreparable damage occurs that’s nearly impossible to recover from such as loss of loyalty, continuous conflict, staff withholding critical information and attrition.
6. They stay humble.
A leader should be confident but not a raging egomaniac. It’s difficult to be empathetic or to see the needs of your employees and customers when you’re the center of the universe.
I’m reminded of the quote from from CS Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Humility is a must and I’ve found as long as I put people first in my work, I find they remember both my humility and more so, my humanity.
7. They know how to laugh a little.
Being an extraordinary leader isn’t easy. It’s stressful when all of the key decisions rest on your shoulders. However, a good sense of humor and laughter are contagious mood boosters. People will smile back, laugh along with you and generally have an improved outlook, even in the worst of times.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter relieves stress, improves attitudes and can increase personal satisfaction — so laughter is really the best medicine. So set your sights and visualize the leader you want to become and most importantly, live by the seven rules above — don’t’ settle for good, go for extraordinary.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.