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Three behaviours that make exceptional leaders
Simon Thiessen

Simon Thiessen

CEO, Culture Consultant, Facilitator

This article was personally written by Simon Thiessen based on over 30 years experience with leadership and workplace culture

Three behaviours that make exceptional leaders

The willingness to reflect (honestly) on the way you lead and how that impacts your team is a critical distinction between average and exceptional leaders.

This article will help you reflect on how you are performing in three critical areas. Each area is an umbrella for dozens of more granular behaviours.

Before we start, let’s get clear on something.

Leadership is not something innate that people are born with.

It is not determined by education, status, intelligence, charisma or any of those ‘fixed’ things that we can’t change or influence. Leadership is nothing to do with who you are or what you look like.

Leadership is a choice. It is all about what you do. A leader is someone who does what leaders do, regardless of who they are.

That may sound simplistic, but leadership is all about actions. People who do certain things are leaders (regardless of position) while people who don’t do those things are not leaders (again regardless of position).

The three behaviours that make exceptional leaders

If you work on developing in each of these areas, you WILL grow as a leader, and if you keep working on them, you WILL be exceptional.

  • Working on being the best version of yourself. We call this Leader as Model
  • Proactively growing the individuals you lead, which we call Leader as Coach
  • Actively managing the team dynamics to ensure that they lead to a robust and productive environment. We call this Leader as Facilitator

Leader as Model

This is about holding yourself to high standards. The bottom line is that you have no right to expect high standards from those around you unless you strive to meet them yourself.

Fortunately, it’s not about being perfect (spoiler alert: you’re not!) but it is about understanding the example you set, recognising the way you impact people, striving to be the best you can be, and owning it when you get it wrong.

Everything a leader does is amplified. When their team sees them act in certain ways, it tells the team two critical things:

  •      This is the way we do things around here – this is the standard of behaviour, communication, productivity, performance, etc that is acceptable within this team (notice that we haven’t mentioned technical skills here?)
  •  It serves as the model by which team members develop their skills. I understand that the norm in the team is for a certain style of communication, but how do I do that? Well, I have seen the way the manager does it, so that must be the right approach …

A manager models both the what and the how: what the standard is and also the way to achieve that standard. A team is highly unlikely to work to a higher standard than the one modelled by the team’s manager.

A critical difference between a leader and a manager is the nature of what they model. Managers manage things – they often set an example around the technical aspects of the job. Leaders lead people. They set their example around interpersonal communication and personal standards and accountability.

  • These are few specifics you could work on
  • Strong awareness of your own style and behaviours
  • Honest reflection on how that impacts the people around you and their performance
  • Being receptive to feedback from team members even when it is uncomfortable
  • Reflection for insight and not for justification
  • Willingness to self-manage through strong emotional intelligence

Leader as Coach

Any person who supervises at least one other person has a critical choice to make. Will they organise and control that person, or will they help them fulfil their potential? Regardless of title, this is a significant distinction between leaders and managers.

Helping people fulfil their potential means making sure they are accountable to a high current standard while also developing them for the future. This is a coaching process which can be intimidating, as very few leaders have formal coaching skills. The good news is that you don’t need them.

Coaching conducted by a leader is about handling a conversation differently. Instead of telling people what they are doing, aren’t doing, should do and need to change, coaching involves asking effective questions that help people realise these things themselves. It’s a process of guided discovery.

Any leader can be an effective coach by incorporating these things into their leadership style.

  • Being strong in the Leader as Model area makes coaching people far easier (and with much more credibility). Do as I say but not as I do doesn’t cut it!
  • Develop an understanding of the way each of your team members communicates and what motivates them. Think about the way they learn and how they acquire skills, tools, and processes. Then, adapt your approach for each team member based on what they need, not your preferred approach
  • Guide your people to find their own success by asking them questions that help them reflect on how they are going, where they are heading, what they need to adjust, and solve their own problems


Leader as Facilitator

If you have been around for a while, you will have experienced many team environments. Some are energetic, exciting, and united. They perform at a high level, and everyone is committed.

Other teams are hard work. Getting even basic things done is difficult. There is a lack of energy and commitment and going to work is a drag. There always seems to be an undercurrent of tension and things that aren’t being said and resolved.

Most teams sit somewhere between these extremes, and the leader has a major impact on exactly where they sit. You may not create the perfect team, but you can certainly make it a positive place with high standards, one where people come to work happily and give their best.

To achieve this, you need to be willing to facilitate the complex interpersonal dynamics that result from a diverse group of people coming together to achieve a common goal.

When a leader observes the dynamics in their team, they have three broad choices:

  • Let them sort it out for themselves, which is fine if they have the skills and willingness, but a cop out when they don’t
  • Intervene and mandate behaviours, processes and outcomes, which is directive and does nothing to build their capability. It will also create resentment against you as the leader (the upside is that at least they now agree on something!)
  • Facilitate team dynamics such as conflict, problem solving, and communication. Have strong standards and values in the team and use those as a platform to help the team solve their issues. It’s like Leader as Coach, but now with more than one person.
 

Becoming a model, a coach and a facilitator

Achieving proficiency in all three skills is a journey that leaders should see as ongoing.
There is no final destination! The day you stop learning and adapting as a leader is the day you start to decline. 

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