The Zen of Exceptional Leaders

One of the most popular Dilbert episodes in the comic strip’s history begins with Dilbert’s boss relaying senior leadership’s explanation for the company’s low profits. In response to his boss, Dilbert asks incredulously, “So they’re saying that profits went up because of great leadership and down because of a weak economy?” To which Dilbert’s boss replies, “These meetings will go faster if you stop putting things in context.”

Courage

“Courage is the first virtue that makes all other virtues possible.” — Aristotle

People will wait to see if a leader is courageous before they’re willing to follow his or her lead. People need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show courage themselves when their leaders are.

For the courageous leader, adversity is a welcome test. Like a blacksmith’s molding of red-hot iron, adversity is a trial by fire that refines leaders and sharpens their game. Adversity emboldens courageous leaders and leaves them more committed to their strategic direction.

Leaders who lack courage simply toe the company line. They follow the safest paththe path of least resistancebecause they’d rather cover their backside than lead.

Effective Communication

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” — Joseph Priestley

Communication is the real work of leadership. It’s a fundamental element of how leaders accomplish their goals each and every day. You simply can’t become a great leader until you are a great communicator.

Great communicators inspire people. They create a connection with their followers that is real, emotional, and personal, regardless of any physical distance between them. Great communicators forge this connection through an understanding of people and an ability to speak directly to their needs.

Generosity

“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” — John Maxwell

Great leaders are generous. They share credit and offer enthusiastic praise. They’re as committed to their followers’ success as they are to their own. They want to inspire all of their employees to achieve their personal best — not just because it will make the team more successful, but also because they care about each person as an individual.

Humility

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” — C.S. Lewis

Great leaders are humble. They don’t allow their position of authority to make them feel that they are better than anyone else. As such, they don’t hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work when needed, and they won’t ask their followers to do anything they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves.

Self-Awareness

“It is absurd that a man should rule others who cannot rule himself.” — Latin proverb

Contrary to what Dilbert might have us believe, leaders’ gaps in self-awareness are rarely due to deceitful, Machiavellian motives, or severe character deficits. In most cases, leaderslike everyone elseview themselves in a more favorable light than other people do.

Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence, a skill that 90 percent of top-performing leaders possess in abundance. Great leaders’ high self-awareness means they have a clear and accurate image not just of their leadership style but also of their strengths and weaknesses. They know where they shine and where they’re weak, and they have effective strategies for leaning into their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.

Mike Schoultz writes about improving the performance of business. Bookmark his blog for stories and articles. www.digitalsparkmarketing.com