Leadership excellence refers to the ability of ordinary leaders to deliver extraordinary results. It requires them to walk the talk, dream big dreams, inspire people, challenge the status quo, and lead other leaders.
Discover the essence of leadership and learn 10 practical steps to excel as a leader, transforming your team and organization for success.
To start our discussion on leadership excellence, think of an architect. Just as an architect creates a blueprint for a building, a leader must create a blueprint for success.
An architect’s blueprint provides a detailed plan for building construction, including the materials needed, measurements, and design.
Similarly, a leader’s blueprint for excellence includes a detailed plan for achieving success, including the necessary skills and knowledge, the strategy for executing the project, and the vision for what success looks like.
A leader must have a clear of the shared vision and must communicate that vision to others.
Both the architect and the leader must be able to work with others to ensure that the plan is executed successfully and be willing to make adjustments when necessary.
An architect must design a building to withstand weather and natural disasters. A leader must be able to adapt to changes in the environment and overcome obstacles to achieve success.
We will explore what leadership is, why there is a need for leadership excellence, and what are the first ten steps to becoming an excellent leader.
What is leadership excellence?
Leadership excellence is the ability of a leader to inspire, equip, and guide a team toward a common goal while demonstrating a high level of competency, integrity, and emotional intelligence.
Leaders who exhibit leadership excellence communicate their vision and values effectively, build strong relationships with their team, and make quality decisions that lead to positive outcomes.
These leaders adapt to changing circumstances and challenges while remaining focused on their goals and maintaining a positive attitude. I
In essence, leadership excellence involves achieving results and doing so in a way that inspires and empowers others.
Qualities of Good Leaders. Our leadership qualities may attract or repel people. Being aware of the qualities of a good leader is a necessary step to becoming an excellent leader too.
10 Steps to Leadership Excellence
Whether you’re a governor of a province, a CEO of a multinational company, or a team leader of five people, effective leadership can help you achieve your goals and inspire others to do the same.
There are many steps to leadership success. If you think these steps are too simple, don’t worry. Learning how to lead can be simple.
I aim to make leadership learning easy so you can start at once. Leadership is best learned through experience. And you can do it one step at a time.
On Leadership Skills. You will notice that the ten steps to leadership excellence are skills that leaders need to know and develop. There are more than 30 skills that I have identified. After reading these ten steps, you should explore them too.
I will outline the ten essential steps to leadership excellence. I will explain each. Then, in the end, I will provide articles that can help you in each step.
I will start with the first three: building relationships, listening and learning, and setting clear goals.
1: Build strong relationships.
When people ask me about the difference between a leader and a boss, I am tempted to say that a leader and a boss can be the same person.
But a boss who power-trips finds it challenging to lead. For most people, the difference lies in the relationship between the leader and the people he leads.
As a result, some people can’t lead the moment they become bosses.
So, this step is crucial. Anyone who aspires to become a leader must start building strong relationships with people.
Effective leaders build strong relationships with team members, colleagues, and stakeholders. A leader who has strong relationships with people has personal power.
Personal power is built on trust, respect, empathy, compassion, and bonding with people. It comes with the ability to communicate sincerely with others.
In the CLAPS Principle, which I often share in workshops, I encourage leaders to care and listen. C is for care, and L is for Listen. I will discuss listening and learning in step 2.
People need to know that you care for them. You really must. Because you cannot do anything of impact without the help of others.
Show that you are interested. Find out their strengths. It is not enough that you believe they are important. You must make them feel they are important.
Be approachable and empathetic. Encourage open and honest communication. Feel free to address conflicts and issues when they arise.
People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
Challenge: Reach out to at least three colleagues or team members this week and engage in meaningful conversations. Focus on understanding their perspectives, goals, and challenges, and offer your support where needed. This will help you build trust and rapport with them.
2: Listen and learn.
When I was young, my teacher told us that communication is a two-way process. One speaks, and another listen. One gives, and the other receives.
And that is still true. But let me emphasize this: listening is also giving.
When you listen, you are giving people your valuable time. You are communicating to others that they are essential to you.
Listening is a leadership tool.
It is a tool for building strong relationships with people. In a world where most people want to “create content” rather than read and people want to speak than listen, you’ll be in the best position to lead.
Listening is counter-intuitive.
Allow yourself to listen to your team members, co-employees, and customers each day. Ask questions, seek feedback, and strive to understand different perspectives.
Listen to the wisdom of older people and the idealism of the young. Don’t discard people’s ideas, even if you consider the ideas stupid. There are no stupid ideas.
When you listen, you build trust and credibility. It can also help you identify opportunities for growth and improvement.
I’ve learned elegant leadership ideas from John Maxwell and Zig Ziglar. But the people I lead and serve taught me how to become an effective leader.
When I was young, I learned that the best way to sell to others is to listen and allow them to tell me what they need. I found that the same is valid with leadership.
Listen to what people want and where they want to go. Listen to their fears and aspirations. Listen to their objections.
Learn to listen. Listen to learn.
Challenge: Set aside time to actively listen to your team members during meetings or one-on-one conversations. For the next week, commit to asking open-ended questions to encourage deeper discussions, and practice listening without interrupting. Reflect on the insights you gain from these conversations and identify areas where you can improve as a leader.
3: Set clear and compelling goals.
People have wishes and dreams. Effective leaders set clear and compelling goals.
I remember Olive, a friend from Amway. She told me that a goal is a dream with a deadline.
When I was younger, I listed my bucket list: the 106 things I want to do before I die. Unfortunately, most people don’t write their bucket lists. And many of those who write their bucket lists do not make their dreams come true.
As a leader, you help set clear goals and expectations for your team. This can help them understand what you all must do together.
Clear goals create a sense of accountability for achieving results.
If you belong to an organization, the easy part is aligning your team goals with the mission and vision of your organization. And then, add the shared goals of the members of your team.
The most popular formula for goal setting is SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. If you don’t know how to do that, send me an email: email@example.com
My preferred formula is “From X to Y by When .”It is simple. I used it to convert some items on my bucket list into goals.
You can also do that for your people. Help them set compelling goals. Let them express their dreams and show them the power of a dream with a deadline.
Are you learning?
We are still in the first three. We have discussed building strong relationships, listening and learning, and setting clear and compelling goals.
Have a break. Drink a glass of water.
Then, come back for the next three steps.
Challenge: Identify a specific project or initiative that your team is working on. Work with your team to develop a clear and compelling set of goals for this project, ensuring they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Share the goals with your team, and track progress together regularly to ensure everyone is aligned and motivated to achieve them.
4: Communicate effectively.
Allow me to return to the architect’s blueprint analogy at the beginning to drive this point.
An architect’s success in designing and building a structure depends on their ability to communicate effectively with various stakeholders, including clients, engineers, contractors, and other professionals.
Similarly, a leader’s success in achieving their goals and leading their team to success depends on their ability to communicate effectively with their team members, colleagues, and other stakeholders.
Effective communication allows leaders to clearly articulate their expectations, establish trust, and build relationships with their team members.
In my dictionary, communication ensures that we have a common understanding of an idea. The root word of communication is uni, which means one.
As a leader, you must ensure everyone is on the same page. Clear communication prevents misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict.
Like an architect who communicates the structural plans and requirements to the contractors and engineers, a leader who communicates clearly can ensure that everyone on their team understands what is expected of them and how their work fits into the bigger picture.
Be clear, concise, and consistent.
Start by setting expectations for communication, such as regular check-ins and team meetings.
Use various communication methods, such as email, chat, and in-person meetings, to reach different people and convey different types of information.
And remember to actively listen and provide feedback to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Challenge: Over the next week, pay close attention to the effectiveness of your communication during meetings, emails, and conversations. After each interaction, ask for feedback from your team members or colleagues on the clarity and impact of your message. Use this feedback to improve your communication skills, focusing on being concise, clear, and engaging to better convey your ideas and vision.
5: Build your team.
During elections, I consider the platform of the candidates. I can not expect them to initiate positive change without a platform.
But there is something more important than the platform. I value the people who surround these candidates.
For example, a presidential candidate who has no platform is no good. But he becomes dangerous when surrounded by corrupt politicians. These politicians will become members of his team once he gets elected.
Assemble a group of talented individuals who work together effectively to achieve common goals.
As a leader, you must find the right people. Look for those who have shared your values, vision, and mission. Then, get those who have the competence to get the job done.
Focus on developing your team members. Identify their strengths and areas for growth and provide opportunities for learning and development.
Provide regular feedback and coaching. Encourage your team members to set their own goals and help them achieve those goals through training, mentorship, and job rotations.
And recognize and reward good performance for reinforcing positive behaviors.
Investing in your team members will create a more engaged and motivated workforce and build a pipeline of future leaders.
Challenge: Evaluate your current team structure and identify any skill gaps or areas where your team could benefit from additional support. Develop a plan to address these gaps, which may include hiring new team members, offering training opportunities, or redistributing responsibilities within the team. Implement this plan and monitor the impact on your team’s performance and overall effectiveness.
6: Lead change.
I have mentioned politics earlier to drive the importance of identifying a leader’s team. So please forgive me for saying it again to differentiate a traditional politician from a leader.
Traditional politicians want to keep the status quo. The status quo enriches them and ensures they stay wherever they are.
I once recommended to a mayor to create a youth development program. He has many ambitious dreams for his community.
So, I told him that developing the youth is one of the best things he can do. It will ensure that the future of his municipality will be in excellent and ready hands.
“But that is unnecessary. My wife will take my post, then my son when later”. How I wish I did not hear him.
As a leader, your job is not to maintain the status quo. Instead, you must drive positive change and progress.
Leaders who focus on more than maintaining the status quo are likely to inspire their followers or achieve meaningful results.
But those who choose to do nothing can become complacent or stagnant, causing the downfall of their organization.
Challenge the status quo, question assumptions, and seek new opportunities for growth and innovation. Be willing to take calculated risks and make difficult decisions, even amid uncertainty or opposition.
To lead change:
- Start by communicating the need for change and the benefits it will bring.
- Involve your team members.
- Solicit their input and feedback, and provide opportunities for them to contribute to the change effort.
And don’t forget to celebrate successes and milestones to keep your team members motivated and engaged.
Challenge: Identify a process or system within your team that could benefit from improvement or change. Involve your team members in brainstorming and discussing potential solutions. Develop a clear plan for implementing the change, including goals, timelines, and responsibilities. Communicate the plan to your team, address any concerns or resistance, and lead the change process by setting an example and providing support as needed.
7: Manage conflict.
There are bound to be disagreements, differing opinions, and conflicting interests. Conflicts can arise from various sources, including interpersonal issues, power struggles, resource allocation, and goal misalignment.
If a leader does not know how to handle conflict effectively, it can lead to negative outcomes for the organization and the individuals involved.
Unresolved conflicts can lead to decreased morale, decreased productivity, increased stress, and even employee turnover.
When leaders handle conflict positively and constructively, they can help build a more resilient and cohesive team capable of working together to achieve shared goals.
To handle conflict effectively, you can do the following:
- Identify the source of the conflict,
- Understand the different perspectives involved, and
- Communicate clearly and respectfully.
Be willing to listen actively, seek common ground, and work collaboratively to find a solution that benefits everyone involved.
By learning to handle conflict effectively, new leaders can help to create a more positive and productive work environment for everyone involved.
One more thing. Always look for constructive conflict.
Constructive conflict is a healthy and productive exchange of ideas, opinions, and perspectives between individuals or groups. It is a form of conflict that can lead to positive outcomes, such as innovation, creativity, and growth.
You can mine conflict like gold.
Challenge: Over the next month, observe and identify any conflicts or tensions that arise within your team. When a conflict occurs, address it promptly and constructively. Encourage open communication and active listening from all parties involved, and guide them towards finding a resolution that benefits everyone. Reflect on each conflict resolution experience and identify strategies that were effective in resolving the issue, as well as areas for improvement in your conflict management approach.
8: Make tough decisions.
Let’s bring in the architect analogy once again.
Sometimes, an architect has to make tough decisions, like which materials to use or where to put the rooms. They have to consider what is best for the people living in the house and ensure that everything is safe and strong.
In the same way, leaders have to make tough decisions for their teams or organizations.
Leaders must consider what is best for the people and what will make the team or organization succeed.
Sometimes, this means making choices that not everyone will like but are necessary for the good of everyone involved.
It’s essential to approach these decisions with a clear and rational mindset, weighing the pros and cons and considering all available information.
Challenge: Identify a difficult decision you’ve been putting off or that has recently emerged within your team. Allocate time to gather all relevant information, consult with team members or stakeholders if necessary, and weigh the pros and cons of each option. Make the tough decision and clearly communicate the reasoning behind it to your team. Reflect on the decision-making process and identify any learnings or strategies that could be applied to future tough decisions.
9: Encourage Innovation.
In 2013, the former CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop, famously said in a memo to employees: “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.”
This quote became known as the “Burning Platform” memo, as Elop compared Nokia’s situation to a man standing on a burning oil platform in the middle of the North Sea.
Elop acknowledged that Nokia had failed to keep up with the rapid changes in the smartphone market and needed to make significant changes to survive.
This memo was seen as a candid admission of Nokia’s failure to adapt to the changing market, and it has since become a well-known example of the consequences of failing to innovate and adapt.
My Nokia phone was still the most durable. But enduring companies need leaders who value innovation.
As a leader, it’s crucial to create a culture of innovation. Encourage your team members to take risks, experiment, and challenge the status quo. Foster a more creative and dynamic work environment.
Start by setting clear expectations and goals for innovation. Then, provide resources and support for new ideas, and celebrate successes and failures. And remember to lead by example.
Challenge: Over the next month, create an environment that encourages innovation within your team. Start by setting aside dedicated time for brainstorming sessions and encourage your team members to share their ideas without fear of judgment. Implement a system for capturing and evaluating ideas, and provide constructive feedback to help refine them. Select one or more promising ideas to develop further and involve the team in the process. Evaluate the outcomes and recognize the contributions of those who participated in the innovation process.
10: Build resilience.
When a Chinese bamboo seed is planted, there is no visible growth for the first four years. During this time, the seed develops a strong and deep root system, essential for the bamboo to grow to its full potential.
In the fifth year, the Chinese bamboo can grow up to 80 feet in just six weeks, making it one of the fastest-growing plants in the world.
This rapid growth is only possible because of the firm and deep root system that was developed during the first four years.
Just as bamboo needs a strong foundation to grow to its full potential, leaders and organizations must develop resilience to overcome challenges and achieve their goals.
You need perseverance, patience, and a focus on building a solid foundation, even when progress may not be immediately visible.
The Chinese bamboo reminds us that resilience is not just about bouncing back from adversity but also about investing time and effort in building a strong foundation that will allow us to grow and thrive.
Start by practicing self-care and prioritizing your physical and mental health. Develop a growth mindset and focus on learning from failures and setbacks.
And surround yourself with a supportive network of mentors, peers, and friends who can provide guidance and encouragement when needed.
The ten steps I’ve outlined in this guide provide a blueprint for achieving excellence in leadership. Take time to learn each one.
I recommend that you keep a notebook so you can journal your progress. Like the Chinese bamboo, leadership excellence takes time.
Challenge: Over the next month, focus on building resilience within your team. Start by fostering a supportive and positive work environment, where team members feel comfortable discussing challenges and setbacks. Encourage open communication, problem-solving, and reflection on past experiences. Organize team-building activities that promote collaboration and trust. Additionally, invest in professional development and self-care initiatives to help team members manage stress and maintain balance. Track progress and discuss the impact of these efforts on your team’s resilience and overall well-being.
Why Leadership Excellence Is Important
I’ve been writing about leadership for 15 years. My definition and understanding have evolved through the years.
As much as I like the many leadership concepts, I am excited about implementing leadership ideas.
But the ideas I gave are premium that I won’t be ashamed to charge executives for them. The right people can multiply their value a thousandfold.
I was inspired to create a guide because leaders need a guide like this. I typed the word “leadership” on Google, and the first one I found was hard to read and understand, and I could not find any practical use.
So, if you are here because you want to become an effective leader, you are in the right place.
I will share practical strategies that will give you quick wins.
And if you are here because you embrace leadership excellence, print a copy of all ten steps. It may take me ten weeks to write all of these steps.
That’s why the best I can give you in this article is to make a quick introduction.
Before I explain each step, let’s define leadership excellence.
Leadership Excellence Workshops
I offer comprehensive workshops to help individuals and organizations develop leadership skills and achieve excellence.
I work with you to develop customized training programs that meet your organization’s needs and goals.
The interactive and engaging workshops use case studies, group activities, and role-playing exercises to provide practical tools and strategies that participants can apply in the workplace to achieve tangible results.
Leadership Excellence Series
The Excellent Leader
One thing you cannot say about excellent leaders is that they tolerate mediocrity.
Their passion for excellence is great that you will easily notice it with their leadership.
Imagine yourself enrolled in a university to learn about leadership. These leaders are not just your professors; they are your curriculum.
I will try my best to share with you what I know about excellent leaders. But you’ve got to do your own study.
Leadership is learning by doing.
As much as I believe what I am writing now, 10 years from now, some of these will change for I will become older (but less bolder) and must have gained new experiences that will redefine my definition of leadership.
What is leadership?
The thing about defining a term like leadership is that we try to limit our understanding of the term so we can begin somewhere.
My definition is not definitive. It is the start of a friendly conversation we can gain wisdom.
You may learn something from me. So, I hope you will send me an email and share your experiences in the comment section so others and I can learn from you too.
Definition of Leadership
We can define leadership in many ways. There are thousands of authors who talk about this and each one has his take.
There are thought leaders who try to show us how to think of leadership.
This reminds me of Confucius. During his time, his ideas about leadership were heard but not followed by leaders. He was not also an excellent leader, but a diligent student of leadership. Later on, after he died, the government started to pick up some of his advice and taught them to everyone.
If you want to dig deep, start at the beginning. Go to the leadership hub page.
What is excellence?
Excellence is the quality of being exceptionally good or superior in some aspect or activity. It involves consistently producing outstanding results or achieving a high level of performance in a particular area of expertise.
Excellence is often associated with excellence in achievement, creativity, innovation, quality, leadership, and service.
It involves setting high standards for oneself and consistently striving to meet or exceed those standards.
Excellence requires a combination of talent, skill, dedication, hard work, and a commitment to continuous improvement.
It is not a destination but a continuous growth and development journey.
Characteristics of an Effective Leader. You can understand what leadership is by identifying the qualities of an effective leader. Please explore the seven Characteristics of an Effective Leader.