S2 Blog: 2 Attributes of Exceptional Leaders

3 min read
May 22, 2023 12:00:00 AM

2 Attributes of Exceptional Leaders

culture leadership people May 22, 2023
System & Soul Blog: 2 Attributes of Exceptional Leaders

When we think of the leaders we’ve known, personally or professionally, there are certain traits that no doubt come to mind. When asked to list traits of exceptional leaders, you would think most would answer that they are excellent communicators, great decision makers, action-oriented, great strategists and drivers of results, etc. but we've found, when you ask people, they say things like "they were consistent, trustworthy, steady in chaos, and genuinely cared about their well-being and growth."


Most of us have have a terrible leader—an example that we tell ourselves we hope we never emulate in our own leadership. So we try harder, read all the right books, try to be fair, clear, and competent in all we do. 


All of this is admirable and of course benefits the work we do, the only problem is, it doesn’t help us be the kind of leader people want to follow. They might respect your knowledge, and appreciate your drive, but it doesn’t mean they will follow your leadership.


There’s pretty shocking data that proves this too. 


In his book The Only Leaders Worth* Following, author Tim Spiker set out to test and understand what makes a leader truly effective. What he and his research partner Vanessa Kiley found was not what they expected.  They found that over ⅔ of your effectiveness as a leader comes from WHO you are, NOT what you do.


Through their research they surveyed data on over 20,000 executives and compiled a surprising top 10 list of traits of who good leaders are and what they do:

  1. Pursue Vision  
  2. Think Strategically
  3. Marshal Resources
  4. Ensure Execution
  5. Others Focused
  6. Drive Culture
  7. Cultivate Talent
  8. Inwardly Sound
  9. Unleash Motivation
  10. Communicate Effectively


The data from this list indicated that 77% of a leader’s effectiveness was dependent on if the leader was Inwardly Sound and Others Focused, while only 23% of their effectiveness consisted of the eight remaining attributes plus age, gender, experience, and education.


These two attributes of Inwardly Sound and Others Focused are different from the rest because they represent WHO the leader IS. The other attributes in the list represent WHAT they DO. 


Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be Inwardly Sound and Others Focused: 


  • Being comfortable in your own skin
  • Having a reasonable understanding of who you are
  • Aligning your mind/body/spirit
  • Being intentional how you invest your time
  • Being courageous, honest, and authentic


  • Being present in each interaction
  • Proactively seeking greater understanding of others
  • Standing in other people's shoes
  • Having a mindset of self-forgiveness
  • Being selfless, consistent, and unconditionally caring for others

Coming to this new understanding is just the beginning. What we need to do from here is challenge ourselves and our direct reports to BE Inwardly Sound and Others Focused so we can DO the things that make us exceptional leaders. 


As we consider what it means to be inwardly sound and others focused, take a moment to reflect and identify what this looks like for you. You can start by asking yourself:

  1. Which one or two of these attributes (inwardly sound and others focused) do I need to improve or grow in?
  2. What would need to happen to improve in one of these two attributes?


You can also assess how others experience your leadership with our Leadership Pulse Assessment. This tool was designed in partnership with Tim Spiker’s organization, The Aperio, and Exceptional Leaders to accurately measure one's leadership effectiveness based on the attributes discussed in this exercise.


You can self-assess for free or take a 360-feedback version for a fee. More info HERE.


Becoming an exceptional leader requires you to get out of your comfort zone...and that's where the magic happens.




The Only Leaders Worth* Following 


As a note…a number of other notable organizations including Human Synergistics, Leadership Circle, and Gallup have corroborating data to what has been discussed above.

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