There are four skills that seem to set some leaders ahead of the rest of the pack.

Do you have the skills that make an exceptional leader?


We have all had a few bosses in our life that we will never forget. These leaders stick out in our memory because of their exceptional ability to lead. They inspired an engaged workplace and the results were tangible. Turns out, according to a Harvard Business Review study, that these kinds of executives all seem to have some critical skills in common – four to be exact.

In a sizeable analysis of over 2,700 leadership interviews over the span of ten years, leadership consultant Ron Carucci set out to determine what separates a good leader from an exceptional one. He boiled it down to the following areas:

What separates great leaders from good ones?What separates great leaders from good ones?

1. High-level industry understanding

It’s no secret that the modern business world moves fast – and organisations that don’t move with it are bound to get left behind. The best leaders are a step ahead of big changes. They can see where their industry is going and adapt their business plans accordingly.

Many leaders react to change as it comes causing rushed decisions. Above average leaders know that change is coming and help move their company in the right direction progressively. They use change to their advantage instead of panicking.

2. Exceptional relationship skills

Forming strong and durable relationships with your team is critical for success. This opens up the doors for more honesty communication internally and more engaged employees.

Leaders that excel at forming important relationships take the time to engage with their team at every level. Listening to the ideas of your team members and creating space for open forums is a great first step for relationship building.

A leader must be prepared not only make difficult decisions but execute them.

3. Solid strategic execution

It’s no secret that one of the main duties of leaders involves making tough decisions. From long-term strategic calls regarding core business functions to settling difficult client disputes, a leader must be prepared not only make difficult decisions but execute them.

Yet, according to a recent Strategy& survey, a mere 16 per cent of leaders were rated successful at strategy and execution. Worse yet, over 60 per cent of executives were rated neutral or worse in these categories.

Outstanding leaders excel at making strategic decisions based on an equal balance of fact and intuition, according to Carucci. This ability to make well-informed decisions and stick to them is a key differentiator between leaders.

4. A 360-degree understanding of the organisation

Exceptional leaders look beyond the management team and have a deep understanding of how their entire organisation works. This has the ability to affect leadership because it allows leaders to see things from all different perspectives.

Instead of viewing issues from a top-down lens you see the situation from all sides. This is especially useful when attempting to solve problems. By taking a more holistic approach to any given issue, the end result will be a more complete solution.

Exceptional leaders have a complete understanding of every level of their organisation.Exceptional leaders have a complete understanding of every level of their organisation.

Training your way to exceptional leadership

This extensive analysis by Carucci has formed a sturdy baseline for above average leadership. Luckily, these skills are completely attainable. Any leader willing to make the necessary investments in training can master these core competencies and potentially become exceptional leaders themselves.

Better yet, all these skills are connected. Without industry insights your strategic execution would be lacking, without solid connections internally and externally you will not have a complete view of your organisation. Knowledge in one area will likely inform knowledge in the others.

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