Seven Characteristics that Exceptional Leaders Possess
7 Secrets of Exceptional Leadership
In his book the “Seven Secrets of Exceptional Leadership” Mr Tracy outlines the most important leadership qualities that top leaders practice. According to him those are: leaders know who they are, leaders know what they want, leaders are committed to winning, leaders are courageous, leaders get results, leaders inspire others and leaders are role models. Mr Tracy breaks each topic into smaller parts and explains how those support it with quotes, examples and images.
The first important leadership quality is “Leaders know who they are”. Mr Tracy explains that most successful leaders are people who know and accept themselves while remaining objective and honest to themselves. Successful leaders often know their strengths and weaknesses and strive to develop them so that each day they would be closer to the vision that they have of themselves. To become a successful leader, one needs to have a clear idea of what they would like to be in the future, their ideal image. What most successful leaders have in common is that they are clear about their values and non-compromising on them. Pressure situations usually reveal people’s core values as they will be pushed to choose between different things until they reach ones that they cannot compromise on, those are their core values. According to Mr Tracy, beliefs grow out of people’s core values and successful leaders have empowering and positive beliefs of themselves, others and life in general. They are optimistic about opportunities and abilities rather than negative because negative beliefs limit and can hold back not only individuals but whole companies. As successful leaders view things optimistically, they often expect the best out of themselves, others and the situations they are in. Even though they confidently expect themselves to be successful in most endeavours, they do fail at times. What separates a successful leader from an unsuccessful one is that the successful ones see failure as a temporary situation that brings learnings for the future. Mr Tracy mentions is that most successful leaders align their actions with their values and beliefs because it inspires the employees to follow the good example.
The second important leadership quality is called “Leaders know what they want” and relating to this one Mr Tracy discusses how successful leaders are clear about their goals. This means that they know what they want and pursue it determinedly. He argues that all successful leaders are great at defining goals and deciding what actions need to be done to reach them regardless if the goal is personal or set by the company. Effective and successful leaders must have a vision, but it can be hard to know how to set goals that take one closer to the vision. Mr Tracy suggests using “back-from-the-future thinking” where one imagines what their perfect career or business situation looks like if there were no limitations. Then one looks back from the ideal situation to current situation and thinks what steps need to be taken to get from current situation to the ideal one, creating a roadmap to success. It is important that one has great clarity on their ideal situation as the clearer that image is the easier it is to create a roadmap to there.
“Leaders are committed to winning” is the third important leadership quality. Mr Tracy claims that all leaders are ambitious, competitive and committed to personal excellence as well as business excellence. He also warns that “anything less than a life-long commitment to excellence becomes an unconscious acceptance of mediocrity and poor performance”. He discusses this because most companies first products or services begin as poor quality, and the difference between a success and failure is the level of commitment of their key personnel (such as the founder). The job of a leader is to commit to developing the business to be better and inspire others to commit to it too. Kaizen is the Japanese system of continuous betterment which is seen to be the secret behind so many successful companies coming from Japan. When a company follows the Kaizen principle then every employee is responsible for making the products or services better, meaning they are deeply committed to excellency. So, to follow the Kaizen principle the leader must be committed to excellency every day and lead by an example. As an example of this attitude Mr Tracy introduces the story of Zappos.com that Mr Tony Hsieh established. Zappos is an online shoe retailer that focuses on high level of customer service and became the most successful company selling shoes online and was bought by Amazon for $1.2 billion.
The fourth important leadership quality, “Leaders are courageous”, centres on courageous actions that leaders must take if they want to be successful. According to Mr Tracy courage can be divided into two parts: the courage to begin and launch a company or products, and the courage and willingness to endure hardships. Leaders need to ignore the fear of failure in order to be successful but remain risk averse enough to not ruin a company. This usually means that they investigate the situation carefully and then take definite and continuous actions towards goals of the company. Leaders need to be able to endure setbacks, difficulties and potential failure after they have launched something. Mr Tracy recommends one to adopt an attitude that one refuses to give up until they succeed as failure is just a temporary learning opportunity on the road to success.
“Leaders get results” is the name of the fifth important leadership quality and Mr Tracy explains that effective leaders always consider what results are expected of them and “of all the results that I can achieve, what are the most important results for my business”. He elaborates on that by explaining that time management is the first key component to getting results. It is because time cannot be saved, and one must choose how to spend that time. The most effective way to use time is to focus on areas and activities that bring the highest return for the time and energy spent. According to Mr Tracy great leaders focus on activities that can have serious consequences for completion or non-completion. The second, and last, key component is allocation of time and Mr Tracy recommends thinking of it from the point of view of return on investment. Time is an investment and should not be wasted on low value or no value activities. Time allocation also includes delegating tasks so that someone else can do them and the leader can spend their time on more high value tasks.
Mr Tracy begins defining the sixth important leadership quality called “Leaders inspire others” by quoting Mr Peter Drucker saying, “The job of a leader is to get extraordinary results out of ordinary people.”. What this means is that the most important and valuable assets are the employees who report to a leader as they are the people the leader must rely on to do the work and achieve the results that the leader is responsible for. Mr Tracy then introduces five keys to building a peak performance team which are: selecting the team members carefully, giving clear job descriptions, having regular meetings and making people feel important. What he means with selecting the team members carefully is choosing people who have an aspiration to work in the business and with the leader and avoiding people who have negative approach to working in the team. Clear job description is important so that every team member understands what is expected of them, what level of quality they are supposed to create and how that is measured. Having regular meetings allows the leader and team members share ideas and learn about what is happening and how the business is going. A great leader will make their employees feel important and appreciated by accepting them unconditionally, showing appreciation to them, complimenting them, praising them, giving attention to them and by building and maintaining trust. Many things go into building a peak performance team and leaders must always tend to the team to keep it performing at higher levels.
The seventh, and last important leadership quality, is called “Leaders are role models”. Mr Tracy explains that effective leaders not only lead by an example but also set high standards. They also recognise that their potential is unlimited and actively engage in lifelong learning. One can set high standards by always working towards bettering oneself and it will be noticed by others. That can encourage them to also set high standards and engage in lifelong learning instead of feeling complacent in current situation. Leaders must lead by an example because employees often look at them and subconsciously pick on how the leader behaves and whether they are staying true to their words.
Successful leaders possess majority, or all the characteristics mentioned above. It is interesting that all of these are so called soft skills and no hard skills were mentioned as key characteristics. It must be because leaders come from many industries and can have the specific skills required for that industry while also possessing qualities that make them great leaders. As leader’s task is to achieve positive results with the resources that they have which in turn emphasizes the importance of employees under them. This is because a leader cannot achieve success with just product and money but need employees who can implement the work and achieve wanted results.