3 qualities that make exceptional leaders in 2016

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John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” It’s a great definition of leadership: the ability to inspire others. But how do leaders who make history become so influential? What qualities and abilities set them apart? And, most importantly, what lessons can we learn from them to become better leaders within our own teams and organizations?

It’s an interesting question we’ve asked before, studying how leadership styles change over time in order to learn the leadership lessons of history. Many people think that exceptional leaders are simply very good at a few basic leadership building blocks. And, sure, good leaders are typically honest, transparent, and good communicators. But there’s a lot more to being an exceptional leader. You must understand the people you work with and what motivates them. And the truth is, that changes within the business world as generations, priorities, and technologies shift.

So what makes a truly exceptional leader in 2016? Three specific attributes really stand out. The exceptional leaders of this day and age are:

Passionate. Leaders who believe in their companies and their people are the ones who truly inspire today’s workforce. Passion is what drives startups and small businesses—and works on a corporate level, too. Look at apparel company Toms, whose CEO is so passionate about shoes that for each pair sold, he gives away a pair to a child in a developing country. That kind of passion inspires employees and customers alike.

In touch. When a leader understands the motivations, passions, and priorities of their people, they are better equipped to lead and inspire. Today’s workforce struggles with work-life balance (or work-life integration), so leaders at many organizations have responded by increasing parental leave and vacation time. Putting their people first is a mark of exceptional leadership—and something corporate America hadn’t seen in preceding decades.

Visionary. Leaders who break the mold and see possibilities for improvement and reinvention inspire action. Many of today’s biggest companies—Twitter, Uber, and even Airbnb—came about because of a visionary idea. Leaders who have a vision and a game plan are building the new giants of the decade. It’s no coincidence that these companies also have loyal customer followings—when employees are happy with their leader, they are more likely to provide great customer experiences.

What do you think? Are there any attributes you’d add to the list? Let us know below. As John F. Kennedy said, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” so we’d love to hear your perspective!

By elena todorova
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