These 7 Practices Will Turn You Into an Exceptional Leader These tips will transform and revolutionize your leadership forever. If you want your people to admire and respect you, stay fiercely loyal and produce breakthrough results, this model works.
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I'll never forget the first moment I really knew leadership mattered. I was 19, working as a teller for a regional bank, and a group of executives came to visit our office. The top-performing teller that worked next to me had been working hard for years and was trying to earn a promotion to become a banker. In advance, she was promised time with the executives that day to share her story and earn their endorsement. She had put a lot of effort into that day — she bought a suit to wear to work for that specific day, and had gotten up extra early to do her hair and practice what she would say.
When the executives left without saying a word to her, she fell apart. She cried in the back break room, and it was at that exact moment I made a promise to myself that if I ever was in a position of senior leadership, nothing like that would ever happen on my watch. I vowed to be better.
That day was over two decades ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Since then, I've spent over 20 years observing, studying and being in leadership at all levels, including my last role as a chief operating officer. I've created a framework for great leadership (I call it V.I.R.T.U.E.S.) and I know that these seven practices are essential to exceptional leadership.
1. Have a vision
Great leaders always have a compelling view of a future reality that looks different than today. And not only do they have it, but they share it, communicate it and talk about it constantly. The vision is the purpose, it's the "why." It's why we do what we do. It's why what we do matters. Great leaders eat, breathe and live this vision every day. They ensure that people know what it is and know how they individually contribute to the bigger picture. They ensure that people are as excited about it as they are. They always make decisions in line with the greater vision for the company or the team, and there's real congruence between the vision statement and what people do every day.
2. Involve others
The best leaders know leadership is not about them, but it's about others. Really outstanding leaders involve their teams, their peers, their partners, their clients and as many people as possible in nearly everything they do. When you're in leadership, you no longer manage "things." You lead and inspire the people who manage the things. Terrific leaders know this. They involve others in key decisions, meetings and events. They ensure that their direct reports get constant coaching and that people are involved in their own development and action plans. They're constantly asking for feedback and ideas.
3. Routine regimen
Exceptional leaders have consistent routines, especially around the activities and behaviors that matter most. They put the most important daily, weekly, or monthly actions that make a difference on a cadence. They put it on the calendar and don't deviate from those plans. Coaching people both in a 1:1 setting and in groups, sharing business updates, team building and creating space to learn new things are all examples of the actions that matter most. These activities shouldn't just happen whenever there's a fire drill, a problem or an emergency — but on a consistent, regular basis. Great leaders not only make time for these activities, but they create structured, predictable schedules around these things and loop others in so everyone knows what's coming in advance. There are not a lot of surprises with great leaders.
Related: 5 Key Habits of Great Leaders
4. Talk terrifically
Excellent leaders are often excellent communicators. However, one thing excellent leaders do incredibly well is create environments where others can excel in communication, too. They work hard to establish safe, secure environments where people can have dialogue, ask questions and share things they're afraid of or nervous about. They're constantly asking questions of everyone around them and they listen well. Great leaders talk the time to recap important conversations and follow up with people after meetings or events. They remember what people said and they're specific in their feedback.
5. Understand how understanding works
Outstanding leaders know how very important learning and growth are for a team's success. The business world is constantly evolving and changing, so if we, as people, aren't upskilling ourselves, then we're already falling behind. Great leaders are constantly creating learning environments, so people can gain new skills, learn new things and grow. Great leaders don't view training or teaching as the responsibility of HR or the learning and development department; they know that for understanding to truly take place, follow-up is required and their involvement matters. They get involved in helping train and teach their teams, even if it's just to ask about what was learned in training and then ensure it's applied and executed.
6. Encourage energy
Inspiring leaders are constantly finding reasons to encourage the heart by recognizing and rewarding success. Great leaders don't wait until a project has been fully completed to celebrate. They're great about finding small wins to celebrate. Their goal is always progress — never perfection — so they're terrific about acknowledging milestones and steps along the way before a project has been completed or before the team is at the finish line. They don't just praise results. Instead, they also readily praise effort and behaviors. They talk about lead measures, not just lag measures.
7. Showcase swimming
With everything that they do, incredible leaders walk the talk. They model the way. They showcase the very behaviors that they want to see in other people. They practice what they preach and they truly live everything that they're asking others to live. Their actions match their words. If they expect others to readily admit their mistakes and be vulnerable, they do the same thing. They eagerly tell their worst war stories about their earlier days so others can learn from them. They create open, safe environments for others to do the same. They're approachable, accessible and never act like they're above anyone or anything. They swim laps with their teams.
I guarantee you that if you follow these seven practices, you will be an exceptional leader. Your people will adore you, respect you, stay fiercely loyal to you and you will have sustainable, breakthrough results.