There are leadership “gurus” by the dozens and there’s no shortage of books on leadership. Many of the concepts and qualities of leadership tend to be repeated, in different ways, by different gurus over and over. You’ll often hear about the best practices like: create a vision, set goals, measure what’s important, inspire your people, and keep pushing forward daily. It’s hard to go wrong when you do these things.
But I’m interested in going a step further; in pushing beyond what most of the leadership experts are saying and finding the “X-factors” that only the best of the best of the best are doing to create a massive shift in their organizations.
Here are 5 of those “X-factors”—these are leadership qualities and characteristics that don’t get as much airtime but they’re profoundly powerful for those who apply them.
X-Factor #1. A Rich, Thrilling Vision That People Can See Themselves Participating In
Many organizations create a vision for what they want their company to be. Although vision-casting is important, it often falls short of what it could be and therefore falls far short of being effective.
The reason is: many organizations end up with a boring, too-short vision that has been scrubbed of all passion. The vision becomes just another boring paragraph that no one reads.
But what if it was different? What if your vision thrilled those who read it and created excitement in you organization? Perhaps you can’t change the existing “boring” vision that is printed everywhere but what if you shared a richer, deeper, more exciting version that your employees can see themselves participating in.
One of the best examples, on a national level (that we just don’t see nationally or organizationally very often) was JFK’s speech in 1962 in which he shared the exciting vision that America would put a person on the moon before the decade was through. It was passionate, stirring, and visionary; quite different from the one-paragraph “corporate speak” we often see today.
X-Factor #2. Transparency
Ask a lot of the lower level staff in any organization—the ones who do the so-called “grunt work”—what they think the organization’s leaders do all day long. You’ll probably get answers like, “I’m not sure; they are in a lot of meetings,” or, “They aren’t in the office a lot but when they are, they get a catered lunch.”
You and I both know that the high level work of a leader is hard work, and the rewards of rising through the ranks to being a leader are deserved. However, leaders should be cautious that their work, or the perks of their position, don’t separate them too much from the rest of the team. You want to portray your role as aspirational but not an ivory tower.
Make sure your team sees you working, or at least knows of the work you’re doing. That could include making parts of your schedule public, keeping people updated in a regular way, holding meetings in areas besides the executive boardroom, or even spending an hour at a free desk in the larger office to complete some paperwork.
X-Factor #3. Good Leaders Say “Follow Me”
Good leaders say, “Do what I tell you.” Great leaders say, “Follow me.” A great leader is one who fearlessly runs first with expectation that his or her team will be close behind, watching and learning and giving their best.
Of course this doesn’t mean that you need to do the same work as your employees but it does mean that you should be modeling your company’s core values in everything you do, it means you should be the biggest advocate of organizational initiatives (from new sales programs to fundraisers), and the company’s biggest cheerleader.
Employees will rise to the level of the leader (but no higher) so if you want great employees, then you as a leader need to rise to the level of greatness.
X-Factor #4. Challenge Yourself
Since employees will only rise to the level of the leader they follow, the best way you can create better employees is by being better yourself. Challenge yourself in all areas, personally and professionally. Remember that people look up to you and that your role is an aspirational one. Therefore, you should show that it takes a constant focus and attention on improvement to succeed at your level.
You’ll lead other people in your organization who will want the same level of success, even if they never become an executive themselves, and you’ll create an organization of people who are dedicated to challenging themselves and pushing harder.
X-Factor #5. The Most-Followed CEOs Are Celebrities
This one may be uncomfortable for many but it’s very powerful: consider some of the most famous and beloved CEOs in recent history. They weren’t the ones who were stuck in boardroom meetings all day but were out-front, talking to employees, talking to customers, and talking to the market. In a sense, they were celebrities.
A CEO puts a human face on the company. Although a lot of their work may be high-level, strategic, or even confidential, a CEO that stands in front of the world as the leader of the company demonstrates a level of confidence in their company (and they inspire greater confidence from their employees). A great example here is Steve Jobs, who led the company strategically but was also the celebrity face of the company at new product roll-outs.
You need to become the human face of your company, leading it almost to the level that a pop-culture celebrity would.
As a CEO, you’re creating a vision, building goals, and measuring those goals in the pursuit of organizational growth and stability. Those are the highly valued, highly trusted leadership qualities that every leader should possess. They’re the qualities that every leadership guru espouses.
But there are X-Factors that are “next-level” leadership qualities. These are characteristics that can help to elevate your skills as a CEO to create a stronger organization. Create a richer vision; have greater transparency with what you do; lead from the front; challenge yourself; and become the celebrity face of your organization. These go beyond the tried-and-true leadership qualities. Deploy some or all of these to see your position and your company grow.
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