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10 Qualities That Differentiate Exceptional Leaders

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By Shaun Cooper, Director & Senior Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International

What makes great leaders and true legends stand out and what do they do differently?

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

- Sir Isaac Newton

Leadership is a subject that is misunderstood by many and yet so vital when it comes to developing a successful and fulfilling life, career or business. Leadership is about helping people see their own potential and worth so clearly that they are inspired to realise their potential and then help others do the same.

So what qualities differentiates exceptional leaders from the rest?

1.  One of The Greatest Qualities of Exceptional Leaders Is Awareness & Being Real

Very often, how we perceive people and situations can be different from how they actually are. So having a solid and grounded take on reality (not what you just think is reality, but truly being aware of what is real and what is not), is an essential starting point to progressing in any endeavour. Benjamin Franklin worked on his 13 virtues relentlessly to do this.

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2. Leaders Step Up & Take Charge

They take great responsibility for making things happen in their lives. No more hitting and hoping and giving up after selling out for the easy road. They respond in a very progressive and positive manner and they do not let their egos or prejudices get in the way of the right thing to do. Helen Keller overcame the frustration of being blind and deaf to leave a lasting legacy.

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3. Leaders Have a Compelling Vision

They know what they want and why they want it. This is where their passion, motivation, commitment and discipline comes from. As the saying goes, “without a vision, the people perish.” J.K. Rowling wrote her first book as a single parent and was rejected by 12 publishers!

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4. Leaders Lead From An Authentic Place

They have a very good understanding of themselves, and therefore they are able to lead knowing their values and what's important to them. They are focused on their own internal sense of self first before needing things and wealth and people out there. Because of this, they are very influential people. They are not concerned with what others think of them; instead, they influence others based on their inner sense of security, guidance, wisdom and power. Mahatma Gandhi building his influence through India’s journey to independence is a powerful example of this.

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5. Leaders Know How To Get What They Want

They bring their compelling vision to reality one step at a time. Nikola Tesla would visualise and plan his ideas with immense detail.

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6. Leaders Have The Greater Good And The Interests of Others At Heart

They think in a fair, (win-win or no deal) way because they know anything less means lose-lose ultimately. Nelson Mandela transforming South Africa into a rainbow nation is a true example of this.

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7. Leaders Are Socially Warm Individuals Able To Relate To People

Every truly successful person will tell you that to create the greatest impact in your life, you must build a depth of mutual understanding, trust and respect with the right people. Oprah Winfrey is arguably one of the most influential women in the world because of this.

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8. Leaders Collaborate & Synergise

They know how to achieve what they want through bringing the right people into their lives on a win-win or no deal basis. Having a strong network of people (both a personal support network and a strategic network) is essential for long-term success. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs called themselves the Four Vagabonds as part of their mastermind group.

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9. Leaders Are Constantly Innovating, Quantifying & Orchestrating

Simply put, they ask questions all the time and turn problems into opportunities. They pre-empt challenges and bring contingencies to the table. They are incredibly resourceful. Soichiro Honda, Founder of Honda Motor Co, had his factory bombed in WW2 and then an earthquake levelled another factory before he was ultimately successful.

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10. Leaders Influence And Help Others Realise Their Potential

They help others become more effective and successful by empowering them, not controlling them. They are leaders and teachers. Jack Welsh transformed General Electric’s culture and focus like this.

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These 10 qualities are not dependent on how smart, well-educated or well-connected someone is. They can all be learnt and developed. In fact, many great legends didn't know or practice them to start with, they often learnt them through failure after failure or through having the mentorship of another legend.

These 10 qualities are based on the fundamental principles of life, and as such, they are timeless, universal and applicable in ANY situation or project.

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