Positive Leadership Development: 50 Defining Characteristics of Exceptional, Authentic, and Positive Leaders
How do you become inspired and motivated to approach your life and career with the utmost purpose, productive action, passion, and positivity? The defining characteristics of the most successful, fulfilled, and joyous individuals — including top-flight executives, entrepreneurs, and championship team players — are about far more than the leadership style they’ve adopted or the persona they’ve assumed in order to assimilate more effectively into a particular organization and its culture. The actual qualities that make someone truly extraordinary are far more intrinsic to who they are as individuals and encompass myriad thoughtful, ingrained approaches to their life and career.
Many of the principles and precepts that create extraordinary personal lives should also permeate one’s professional approach if you are to live authentically and purposefully. The “best of the best” executive talent understands and integrates both personal and professional success principles, and they know how to assimilate and interchange these approaches throughout their lives in a way that unlocks and stimulates creativity, leverages passion, fulfills purpose, elicits development, and brings meaning. They do not reserve their deepest, most profound and strategic thinking only for work because those who live the most fulfilling lives don’t garner their joy merely from work – they thrive upon the totality of well-rounded lives and reap significant pleasure from both the professional and personal aspects of their lives.
How have they done this? Very simply, individuals who are extremely satisfied with their career progress, who are surrounded by family and other healthy relationships that bring forth their life’s greatest joy, and who live their lives with resounding positivity and meaning, typically took the time very early on to discover their life’s passions, purpose, and priorities. And since that time, they have kept these priorities defined, focused, and squarely in front them, providing guidance and clarity as they moved along their life path. They put the pieces of their life together so that their thoughts, actions, talents, relationships — even expressions of gratitude — remained centered around their deepest authenticity — who they are and what they are all about, whether they are on or off the “stage.”
50 Traits of Positive, Exceptional Leaders: The Real Career Success Tools
- They understand the immense, overarching importance and necessity of figuring out their life’s purpose. They have carved out time for this significant contemplation, and consider the understanding of what they are on Earth to do and accomplish to be the most useful discovery of their life. They are committed to the expression of their purpose, believing that the purpose of their life is, in fact, to apply their purpose every single day. Not surprisingly, the people who make life’s most significant discoveries and contributions are those who have embraced their unique gifts and have confidently, creatively expressed their purposeful authenticity in an imitable way. A life of greatness is a life of purpose. You are sure to wander aimlessly and build a life around the wrong targets (leading to inevitable feelings of emptiness, angst, and wanting down the road) if you don’t get very clear about your purpose.
- They are able to articulate with extraordinary vision and specificity what success means for them – how it feels and what it looks like in their life. They know where they want to have an impact, and they thrive on these feelings of accomplishment. They understand the types of experiences that will allow them to grow and experience meaning. Feelings of personal and professional “success” and fulfillment are important because they lay the foundation for creating true vocational fulfillment.
- They can readily separate the wheat from the chaff and get to the heart of the matter to focus on what’s important. They also know how to apply themselves to the most high-impact activities when they find themselves with prime work time. The sense of accomplishment they feel from these core work times fuels further action and keeps progress and momentum moving forward. When focusing on details, they don’t lose sight of the big picture.
- They have strong self-assessment skills and have unlocked and understand their intrinsic talents and gifts. Their time spent at work adds to their self-esteem because they are actively engaged in roles that leverage their strengths and interests and/or that allow them to develop. They have actively sought and utilized developmental feedback throughout their careers.
- They positively approach their thoughts in such a way that they intrinsically bring to bear their best self, making choices and decisions that help them remain in a purposeful, pure, dynamic, and positive flow.
- They don’t merely skim the surface of their lives. They dig in deep, and think profoundly and with the big picture in mind.
- They live and work deliberately and in the “here and now” moment. They maintain a “present” focus – not ignoring the past or future – but remaining engaged in the improvement of current actions and processes.
- They get extreme comfort and pleasure from their family and friends and understand that these individuals and healthy relationships are, in fact, the most important, enduring aspects of our lives and have so much to do with our life’s fullness and degree of happiness. (Just ask one terminated executive whether he made the right decision in neglecting his family/children for years for his job, and you’ll never have to wonder if it was the right thing to do again. If your family is, in fact, the most important aspect of your life, you will not allow them to be neglected. You will allocate time appropriately to both family and career.)
- They live principled lives of high moral character, integrity, and honesty. Their values permeate their personal and professional lives.
- They have a need to constantly self-actualize and achieve. While professionally they keenly watch the competition and are, indeed, competitive individuals always striving to win and be the best, personally they don’t continually waste time comparing themselves with others, as they tend to leverage their own strengths with the fullest force. They have discovered ways to feel acknowledged, needed, valued, positively challenged, responsible, significant, successful, appreciated, and encouraged at work which carries over to bring positivity to their personal lives.
- They possess an abundance mindset and believe that their effort and expression of their purpose will be rewarded. They don’t believe that there is a limited supply of reward.
- They feel good about themselves, are unpretentious and do not live or work from a place of massive ego. Because they live from a core of pure purpose and passion, they have solid self-esteem and solid footing.
- They treat others with dignity and respect expecting to earn the reciprocation like everyone else – one step, one interaction, one day at a time. They are ever mindful of the best interest of others.
- They set priorities based on their purpose and their life’s overarching goals. They have sacred boundaries drawn around certain activities and people that they do not cross. Their priorities are very clear which prevents feelings of bitterness from developing when they do have to make a sacrifice. They have a balance in their life that allows them to enjoy and take pleasure in personal and recreational pursuits. They have an internal equation and compass for how to divide their time. They have not sacrificed their personal lives for their career. They listen to their internal voices when they get out of balance and need to redirect their time.
- They are flexible as needed because they have their eye on a larger prize than just the hour, day, or even the week. They know that the external world will always be fundamentally unpredictable, but their firm dose of purpose – internal certainty about what they want and who they are – allows them to make the occasional shift or sacrifice.
- They understand the significant role that serendipity can play in our lives, particularly, when we are in our flow or zone, and they follow their instincts and hunch as they see fit.
- Money, prominence, and prestige are not their sole, or even primary, drivers. While they want financial stability and freedom, they clearly understand what brings them deep meaning and joy. They have not allowed their priorities to become completely skewed by building a life purely around financial success – this is one of the reasons that many wealthy executives eventually get to a place of inevitable unhappiness and not uncommonly want to make a late-career switch to a not-for-profit leadership role that might bring more meaning. Money and financial rewards serve as poor guiding lights with respect to our happiness and life satisfaction – and once you use them as your key goal, you find it harder to ever supplant them with more meaningful drivers. When your vocation is truly a part of bringing forth your most fulfilling life, it provides deep and lasting personal development, growth, service to others, contribution of your unique gifts, and achievement of meaningful benchmarks. It also brings appreciation, recognition, and acknowledgment from constituencies that matter to you — be it family, friends, a team, colleagues, or customers.
- They haven’t drawn a line or separation between who they really are – purpose, passions, spirit – and their vocation or career. They don’t feel as if they must abandon their true essence to go to work and get through the day. Rather they approach all aspects of their life with the fullness of their purposeful authenticity.
- They do not allow fear to hold them back. They are bold and are not afraid to take a risk, seize the moment, be different, think different, or express their individuality. Because they possess the ability to think deeply and strategically, they are not reckless. Their risks are thoughtful and calculated. They know that very often moving through fear and anxiety is how greatness is born.
- They possess the ambition to realize their fullest potential.
- They find their jobs to be fun and exciting – they like what they do professionally and they want to do it. They literally will get up earlier than necessary in the morning because they are excited to start their day. An amazingly small number of people are truly jazzed and energized by their jobs.
- They believe that the future is big, compelling, and great. They live with hope, optimism, and positivity. Their optimism, when combined with purpose, brings them to their goals, heightens their confidence in their capabilities, and inspires additional goals that further build upon their success.
- They are resilient through change as they accept change as a part of life and welcome the lessons change brings as an integral aspect of their intended personal growth and development. They keep their eye on the prize/big picture. Life’s inevitable changes, challenges, and distractions are part of the cycle, and they don’t allow themselves to be sidetracked from taking purposeful action toward their goals. They don’t lose their hope and optimism.
- They feel that they are doing something for the greater good, beyond their professional demands.
- They feel immense gratitude for their good life. Nothing is taken for granted. They express their thanks and gratitude freely and frequently. They are grateful for all that they have and believe with no doubt, and with immense hope and optimism, that even better is on the horizon.
- They live without a victim mindset. They view themselves as capable, self-sufficient, and ready to lead.
- They take responsibility and don’t make excuses.
- They are hard workers who diligently and conscientiously apply themselves, personally and professionally. They never stop taking action to move forward. Even when they are tired, stressed, or anxious, they maintain a high level of effort and action. They are thorough, outstanding in their execution, detail-oriented, and the quality of their work is exceptional. They always go above and beyond.
- They want to leave a legacy that is significant and meaningful and that leaves the world a better place than they found it.
- They create and engage in traditions and celebrations, personally and professionally.
- They are life-long learners and are open to learning from anyone anytime. They admit when they don’t have the answers and proactively educate and inform themselves. They are always eagerly seeking further learning, development, and enlightenment. They never stop trying to move themselves to the next level. This approach to life keeps you moving forward; when aligned with purposeful action, you are an unstoppable force.
- They work to earn people’s trust knowing that trust-based relationships endure.
- They inspire confidence by not only knowing what to do, but through a willingness to jump in and take action themselves.
- They are strong mentors and get personal satisfaction from developing others, empowering them, and seeing them progress. They have also sought and utilized mentors and have surrounded themselves with an inspiring, supportive inner circle.
- They see things through and honor commitments rather than giving up or flitting from one thing to another.
- They expect tests and challenges to happen from time to time and face anxiety and challenges head-on while maintaining the greater perspective that irrespective of how dire the situation may seem, it will somehow stretch, grow, and serve them. They have perspective about life’s inevitable ups and downs, and face them with resiliency. They do not get sidetracked for long or sabotaged. They can be counted on to become their best self and best leader during times of challenge. They know that by kicking into overdrive to solve a particular problem, they will open new doors. They step into action, step into the moment, and proactively reshape and redefine the situation with authentic inspiration, confidence, resolve, strategic thought, and optimism. When faced with trials, their dreams and visions do not diminish, but rather grow more resolute.
- They are proactive about keeping to the path that feels right for them and maintaining their peak energy level and happiness. When they find themselves in bad situations, perhaps an ill-fitting role, culture, or supervisor, they figure the best way out.
- They take great pride in being good managers and leaders and garner significant personal feelings of reward from teaching, developing, and recognizing others, and also from fostering effective teamwork. They gain significant fulfillment from helping others to achieve, reach goals, and be their best selves. They truly want to positively touch the hearts and minds of others.
- They are strong communicators and relationship builders who take the time to develop deep, engaged, and meaningful relationships and to express interest in others. Even those individuals with a more introverted intrinsic nature take the time to cultivate relationships. They believe in the power of interconnectivity and respect the ability and potential contribution of others. They effectively team with others and excel in the communication and buy-in of collective mission, vision, and values. You cannot build a truly successful team and culture without leaders who are relationship builders. Our relationships — and how we cultivate and grow them – can make or break our careers and lives.
- They don’t carry unnecessary burdens and fret about the past.
- They tune out naysayers and armchair quarterbacks, never allowing the uninformed to take them off their course.
- They possess a keen awareness that they are setting an example for others in everything they say or do, in the vision they share, and in their demeanor. They roll up their sleeves and jump in whenever needed. They walk their talk.
- They care for and nourish themselves, physically, mentally, spiritually.
- They create and innovate.
- They have a sense of humor.
- They don’t waste a lot of time being offended, taking things personally, complaining, or fretting over who likes them or who doesn’t.
- They believe in their greatness, maintain a focus of excellence, visualize their success, and never stop dreaming and believing that all their driving desires will come to fruition. They live from a positive baseline. They expect success yet are undaunted (and may even be surprised) when things don’t come together as planned.
- They are completely self-motivated.
- They always celebrate success, big or small, knowing that supporting progress along the right path is as important as setting the right goal.
- They do not participate in negative energy-producing situations, including gossip and discussion of the trivial. They bring positivity in the face of negativity. They have full lives and realize that their full effort needs to be placed on the meaningful. When they do have time to unwind and relax, they do not focus on anything that carries negative, destructive energy.
The approach of the most purposeful, fulfilled and successful individuals teaches us the importance of living an integrated life that leverages your best, most profound and innate abilities and traits. Through discovering your purpose, and subsequently experiencing passion through the application and leverage of your unique gifts, you can experience new dimensions of yourself and begin to live with an underlying fulfillment, optimism, self-assuredness, confidence, and deep joy that you may have never previously known.