17 Core Qualities Of Exceptional Leaders

A simple yet powerful definition of an exceptional leader is “a purpose-driven individual who inspires others to be the very best they can be while pursuing a worthy purpose.”

All great leaders throughout history – be they heads of empires or nations, religious leaders, revolutionaries, business leaders, discoverers – have been able to cause, inspire, and motivate other people to follow them toward a given purpose and goal, and grow and develop people as well.

How does one become an exceptional leader so as to inspire and motivate people to follow and work toward the leader’s goals and purposes? Here are the 17 core and fundamental qualities of an exceptional leader.

A STRONG, CLEAR PURPOSE AND VISION Purpose is perhaps the most powerful force in the universe. Throughout history, people have accomplished amazing things and created fantastic results through the sheer power of purpose and purpose alone. Every major advancement in society, every advance in every civilization, every discovery, every revolution, every great religious or political movement, every invention, and technological advancement, all philosophies are the result of one thing and one thing only – the purposes of individuals. People respond positively to a constructive, strong and worthwhile purpose that improves other people’s quality of life in some way.

HIGH INTEGRITY Integrity is defined as the state of being whole and undivided; the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound; lacking corruption; the quality of being honest and ethical. A true leader has high integrity and stays true to his or her purpose.

A true leader interacts with other people with high integrity and truthfulness and doesn’t play games with his or her people. Exceptional leaders are highly ethical in all ways, and always strive to do the right thing in all situations and circumstances.

High Integrity includes such core values as high ethics, high standards, fairness and doing the best for customers or clients.

COURAGE AND PERSISTENCE It takes courage to be an effective leader. Life, society, competition, other people’s intentions, government policies all combine to present a formidable set of barriers to accomplishing one’s goals and purposes. There are plenty of barriers that get in the way of accomplishing goals, and it takes courage to face these barriers and overcome them. It takes persistence toward a purpose and goal, a never-give-up attitude, a willingness to keep moving forward no matter what barriers are in the way and how many setbacks an individual or group has had. In addition, a true leader isn’t concerned about what other people think of him or her. The exceptional leader focuses on achieving the purpose.

GENUINE EXPERTISE AND HIGH COMPETENCE A leader who is a true expert in his or her field, and who demonstrates high competence and knowledge, is respected and admired for that one quality alone. Knowing all about a profession or field gives a leader a certain elevation and stature with his or her people. People will usually follow a true expert just because he or she knows so much about the profession and is so competent at all the jobs related to that profession.

ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE WELL A leader who communicates the goals and purposes clearly and completely will motivate and inspire his or her people to work toward those same goals and purposes. Leaders learn how to communicate in such a way that their people fully understand the goals and the plans to achieve those goals, understand how their jobs contribute to those purposes and goals, and understand what is expected of them.

Exceptional leaders also make sure their people are fully acknowledged and given credit for their help, contributions, and successes.

GENUINE LOVE, CARE AND UNDERSTANDING FOR THEIR PEOPLE Exceptional leaders genuinely care about their people and their people’s well-being. Exceptional leaders communicate with their people so as to learn and understand their points of view, their realities, any situation or struggles they face, their strengths and weaknesses – but only to help their people, never to use those things against them. Great leaders work to understand their people for positive and constructive reasons, and then work to guide them in the right direction, guide them through any difficulties, and help them grow and develop.

Understanding others does not mean the leader tolerates negative or counter-productive behavior or actions or alters course toward the purpose – leaders never lose sight of the purpose. Good leaders do not tolerate counter-productive or detrimental behavior, as they know this hurts everyone in the group. Understanding others allows leaders to provide genuine help, guidance, and direction to their people as needed. The best leaders consider people part of their family.

WILLINGNESS TO MAKE THE HARD YET CORRECT DECISIONS FOR THE GOOD OF THE GROUP An unwillingness to make hard but necessary decisions causes the entire group to suffer. An executive who cannot take the right action for fear that he or she will be thought less of by others is a weak and failing executive. The exceptional leader does not try to please everyone. Trying to please everyone is a sure road to failure. Instead, the effective leader works for the good of the entire organization as this, in turn, will generate the most success, job satisfaction, and professional rewards for his or her people. Hard decisions include weeding out of the organization any negative, detrimental or counter-productive people who harm or hold back the organization in any way.

EMPOWERING PEOPLE BY INVITING AND ENCOURAGING THEIR IDEAS, IMAGINATIONS, AND CONTRIBUTIONS  Most people (70-80%) are good, constructive and caring, and want to do a good job. Good people respond well to the truth, they respond well to positive direction and coordination. Such people respond especially well to requests and invitations to help and contribute. What is most remarkable about good people is how well they rise to any occasion, if they are simply asked and encouraged to do so. Exceptional leaders invite and inspire their people to come up with good ideas and develop better ways of doing things. Good people are an organization’s greatest asset, so why not empower them to be the best they can be?

Any organization is infinitely stronger and more prosperous if everyone in the organization can contribute their ideas, observations, and solutions to the group.

INSPIRING AND DEVELOPING PEOPLE TO BE THEIR VERY BEST The best leaders create a positive environment which encourages people to develop and become the very best they can be. Exceptional leaders provide an atmosphere of creativity and challenge that brings out the very best in people. Exceptional leaders make sure all people in the group receive any needed training and knowledge.

A TOTAL, UNCONDITIONAL BELIEF, AND CONFIDENCE IN GOOD PEOPLE, THEIR POWER AND THEIR CAPABILITIES. Good people have far, far more positives than negatives. Therefore, far more attention and concentration should be placed on the positives. And, good people have a great deal of inner, native power and amazing capabilities deep down – even if they are not aware of them. Exceptional leaders know and believe this about their people, and have great confidence in them. Exceptional leaders reinforce and strengthen the positives in people, and keep a lid on their negatives. Exceptional leaders recognize the true value in all their people and encourage their people to grow and enhance their skills and abilities.

INSISTENCE ON AND DEMANDING THE VERY BEST AND HIGHEST STANDARDS FROM PEOPLE An exceptional leader is the perfect blend of love and caring for his or her people, while also demanding that they be the best they can be and produce at a high-quality level. After all, the whole point of being a leader is to achieve some goal and purpose, to actually get things done, to accomplish something, to create the desired end result. It’s a tough world out there and will eat a weak individual or organization. In order to accomplish one’s goals and purposes, the exceptional leader insists that his or her people be competent and produce excellent end results. The exceptional leader demands that a high standard is set and followed.

But none of this is done harshly, or with arrogance, or by bullying, or by yelling or degrading others, or by being mean and nasty, or pitting people against each other, or any other negative element. Insistence on and demanding the very best and a high standard are done with all the other qualities given here – and in a very positive, inspiring, encouraging, understanding, and patient manner and attitude.

ABILITY TO GET THINGS DONE Exceptional leaders have the ability to get things done. This goes along with expertise and competence in one’s field. The leader who is personally a strong producer and who gets good results consistently, who knows his or her business and exercises good judgment is automatically respected by others. People will tend to follow someone who can get the job done himself or herself, someone who is a proven winner and success.

MOTIVATING OTHERS TO GET THINGS DONE While it’s true and ideal that a leader be an expert in his or her field, it’s equally important that a leader knows his or her duties and responsibilities as an executive and leader. One of the major roles of a leader is to get his or her people to do their jobs well, to the highest standard and performance. This includes making sure that his or her people receive the most effective training that develops them to their fullest potentials. The end result of all a leader’s work is a productive, efficient, high-morale, low-stress group of competent professionals that are united, motivated and working as a coordinated, efficient team dedicated to accomplishing its goals.

DILIGENCE AND VIGILANCE It is remarkable how many organizations allow decreased sales or revenues, declining stock values, loss of market share, loss of influence, loss of power, failure to reach goals – all due to simply a lack of diligence and vigilance on the part of top management.

The definition of diligence is conscientiousness in paying proper attention to a task; giving the degree of care required in a given situation; persevering determination to perform a task. The definition of vigilance is carefully observant and attentive; carefully noticing problems or signs of danger, alertly watching and monitoring, especially to avoid danger.

The exceptional leader is constantly diligent and vigilant in applying the fundamental principles and successful actions in his or her organization, and seeing to it that these are carried out by all people at all times. The exceptional leader also recognizes danger signs and takes the correct and appropriate action; he or she doesn’t ignore or brush off such signs.

THE OPTIMUM BALANCE OF FLEXIBILITY AND DECISIVENESS The exceptional leader is flexible and secure enough to invite the help, cooperation, contributions, and ideas of his or her people, and then implement these as appropriate. As already stated above, most people are good, constructive and capable, and most people want to do a good job. It takes some courage and confidence to allow one’s people to contribute their ideas, imaginations, abilities, and judgment, and to give people enough discretion and latitude to grow and help the business grow.

At the same time, an effective leader is also decisive. At some point, a good leader makes decisions after he or she has briefed the team and gotten all their observations and ideas, and has analyzed and evaluated the situation and ideas. Once the leader is certain as to the correct course of action, he or she makes that decision and carries it out. Exceptional leaders don’t allow themselves to be negatively influenced or distracted off course. They can always change course if the situation changes or if they get new and relevant information that demands a change in plans. But a leader ultimately must make decisions and carry them out to their desired end results.

In this way, the exceptional leader is the perfect blend of flexibility and decisiveness.

GIVE POSITIVE DIRECTION AND COORDINATION A good leader issues only positive direction and orders, all leading toward the goals and purposes, and which do the most to keep people focused on reaching the intended goals and purposes. The exceptional leader coordinates people and resources in the most efficient and productive manner possible. Exceptional leaders never lose their cool. They never belittle, demean or in any other way bring down any member of their team. Good leaders are never harsh, loud, arrogant, threatening, sarcastic or any other negative attitude or emotion. Directives are issued with positiveness, with confidence, with understanding, with a positive attitude, and with patience.

DON’T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS Great leaders never fly off the handle or jump to conclusions based on one report or one person’s story. The exceptional leader doesn’t assume that what he or she hears the first time is true; exceptional leaders verify the facts and truth before taking any disciplinary action. Good leaders are fair and work to make sure that all disciplinary decisions and actions are based on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

98% of all mistakes, false information, dropped balls and incorrect actions are the result of some misunderstanding or miscommunication, one way or another. Only 2% of screw ups or false information are intentional.


Joe Kerner
Joe Kerner
Joe Kerner has been a business owner and management consultant for 30 years. He has worked with hundreds of businesses, business owners and executives, spanning several industries and professions. He is a recognized expert in such areas as leadership, management, organizational development, efficiency, personnel development and training, sales training and business planning. He has helped his client business increase their profitability, growth, efficiency, and productivity. He has consulted and coached businesses in such industries as health care, software development, biotech, construction, financial services, scientific instrument firms, systems analysis, travel, hospitals, and insurance. Joe is also an accomplished speaker and has delivered over 1,100 seminars and workshops covering such areas as leadership and management, operations, personnel development, and efficiency. In 1998, Joe was a co-founder of a very successful health care group in Virginia and North Carolina. He served as Vice President of Operations and managed the entire group. Under his leadership, this group increased revenue by 300-400% within three years. This group was sold for a high profit in 2013. Joe holds a Master of Science degree in Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. He has also completed an extensive and rigorous management training program, the Organization Executive Course. This is an intensive 2,000-hour curriculum covering the fundamental principles, technology and advanced systems of management, leadership, organization, executive training, personnel development and management, management tools, marketing, and sales.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE