Eliciting Excellence

The Essence of Exceptional Leadership

Scores of books have been written on the subject of leadership, and some great insight and advice has been imparted. But most of those books avoid answering one critical question…

We all know that better leadership is important and makes a difference, but most books and people I know – leaders included – can’t really explain “why” good leadership makes a difference. I’ll hear explanations about leaders needing to be decisive and needing to have good judgment, but truthfully, having the ability to make good decisions doesn’t make someone a good leader. (We all know smart people who are poor leaders.) I’ve given this topic a lot of thought over the years and have distilled the impact of great leadership down to one important concept.

“The essence of exceptional leadership is eliciting excellence in others.”

In other words, great leaders bring out the best in the people around them. They bring out the best in their team, they bring out the best in their organization, they bring out the best in their vendors, and they bring out the best in their customers.

The art of leadership is learning how to bring out people’s best. Great leaders understand what keeps people engaged and what compels people to give their best. There are many ways to make this happen, but five of the strongest strategies are 1) Treating People as People, 2) Treating Adults as Adults, 3) Expecting the Best in People, 4) Helping People Develop, and 5) Giving People Something to Believe In.

Treating People as People
People will give (and be) their best when they’re treated like “people” rather than “things”. Effective leaders understand that everyone – regardless of position – has hopes, fears, dreams, and stress. They interact with people in a way that reflects that understanding. Great leaders demonstrate that they care about people.

Treating Adults as Adults
People will give (and be) their best when they’re treated like adults rather than like children. Effective leaders allow people to be responsible and give them the autonomy to complete tasks in their own way. Great leaders encourage people to use their creativity and avoid micromanaging.

Expecting the Best in People
People will give (and be) their best to live up to expectations. Effective leaders help people understand what is expected of them – not only as it pertains to achievements but to personal traits as well. Great leaders expect the best – and usually get it.

Helping People Develop
People will give (and be) their best when they’re asked to develop new skills and take on new responsibilities. Effective leaders help people grow their skill set – both technically and interpersonally. Great leaders nudge them beyond their comfort zone to become the best they can be.

Believing in Something
People will give (and be) their best for something they believe in. Effective leaders provide a reason to accomplish something. They understand that an initiative without a “why” is simply a goal – and no one gives their all for a simple goal. Great leaders provide a compelling reason (a cause, a philosophy, a passion) to strive for excellence.

Bringing out the best in people is the essence of exceptional leadership. Simply getting things done is managing people and process. Getting people to be their best and achieve their potential is the job of a leader.