7 Hacks for How to to Be an Exceptional Leader in a Wild World

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The Pandemic, Brexit, War, Inflation, Gas Prices, Climate Change…The Challenges Don’t Stop. A Wild Time and Nevermore Has a Leader Needed to be an Exceptional Leader.

Here’s how you can be an exceptional leader in these changing times…

Hack #1: Need for Speed (Yes, Think Tom Cruise and Top Gun!)

I overheard a conversation between a Sainsbury’s Director many years ago and his Buying Manager. They were talking about Morrison’s salad bar. The BM explained that they should launch salad bars and she was presenting her project plan with costs, resources, timescales, and risks. All-in-all a great well thought through plan.

Bob, the Director of Fresh Food at the time, asked her, ‘What’s the biggest difference between what they are doing and what we are doing?’. She replied with how our quality and experience would be better, in great detail, and in a very confident tone. He listened intently and then said, ‘The biggest difference is that they are making money on this today and we are not’.

Assume that your competitors have your resources, people, infrastructure, ideas, and innovation. Then, the only challenge is to do it quicker. Asking questions of your people like, ‘Ok, cool. Now how do we do that in half the time?’. Then, helping them to remove the barriers to doing so.

Hack #2: Lighting People’s Fires

A bad leader lights a fire under people. An exceptional leader lights a fire within them.

Hand starting a fire with a match stick
Lighting a fire within rather than underneath sorts the exceptional leaders from the rest


Hack #3: Have Concrete Principles

Your principles need to be agreed with yourself, be clear, and be communicated. What do you want to stand for? Doordash wanted to be the fastest grocery delivery business with their 10-minute window. For you, as a person, what do you want to be known for? Fear, no. Being aggressive, no. Then what?

You could be a stickler for spelling, telling anyone that doesn’t take care of their spelling when they email you, to be aware. But what value would that really add? As a leader, we want to be known for things that are important to us and also that make a big difference.

Achieving deadlines, being within budget, listening, diversity, work-life balance, brand awareness, self-improvement, not being late for meetings, cutting-edge innovation like Steve Jobs, treating others with respect, or a mission to Mars like Elon Musk. The list goes on. The hardest part is deciding which are your top 3 and making them known, and never compromising on those principles.

Hack #4: Find Their Strength

‘Everyone is good at something’.

Believe that this is true and, as an exceptional leader, help them to unlock what they do well because when you do, they’ll do more of it.

There is a famous quote from Albert Einstein, which has been animated by the cartoon below. For me, the point is that yes we need to ask people, to be great at emails, meetings, building rapport, and so many other soft skills, but the real value is finding what they do exceptionally well, and enabling & encouraging them to do it more.

You might say, ‘You’re great at analysis, please help Mike, and find out how he can help you. Plus, present back to the team your top 7 tips for analysis at the next team meeting, please’.

Black and white cartoon square of Einstein's education quote with animals
Asking everyone to be good at the same things will not equal a productive team


Hack #5: Give Regular Feedback

Lord Mark Price, the ex-chairman of the John Lewis Partnership runs a business that helps employers to create happy employees. He told me that feedback is, on average, given 3 times per year. This breaks down as the formal lengthy appraisal type of feedback once a year and a couple of well dones. An appraisal should be a summary of all the feedback in the year. Not a surprise.

Use the SBI model to give feedback weekly. In the moment, short and concise. Lead by example with this behaviour, and others will follow and what will follow this is a step change in culture as people learn that they do lots well, and watch as continuous improvement takes over.

Learn how to give feedback regularly, get comfortable giving feedback and let others see you accepting feedback and most importantly acting on the feedback. Do this also because you need to know that you do things well too!

Hack #6: Rifle, Not Shotgun

A friend of mine moved to Lanzarote some years back. He managed a VW fleet in the UK, and his wife & he went on holiday. Sitting by the pool they both agreed that ‘this was the life’, and they emigrated and have run the website ‘Lanzarote Information’ ever since. Speaking with him a few weeks ago, we were discussing that he had read that there are nearly 9 million Apps available. He carried on to tell me that his favourite App was one from a Spanish bank that only told him his balance. ‘Sometimes, we just need something simple done’, he said.

Being clear on what you want to achieve in your business is hard. Choosing is hard. Yes, we can attempt to do many things – like the shotgun, but the real clarity comes with laser-like focus – like the rifle. Focussing on fewer targets and being known for achieving those.

Ray Kroc had a rifle when he bought the McDonald’s brand – consistency. To make a consistent burger every time. That was his laser-like focus.

Hack #7: Trust is Everything

Team not getting on well? Trust will be the problem. Are your direct reports not doing as you agreed? Trust will be the answer. Need to be able to step away and be more strategic? To trust your people will be what you want.

Purple trust quation formula by MBM
Trusting your team is one of the key people management skills


Some bright spark figured out that this woolly and foggy trust thing is actually built of 4 parts; Crediblity, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation. You can read more about the trust equation in this article. The challenge for you is 3 stages:

  1. Completely understand the trust equation. To the point where you could be grilled on it and hold your own.
  2. Teach the trust equation to your people and encourage it to be ‘something we discuss around here’.
  3. Work together to improve trust between each other by using the trust equation as a guide, a metric, and an indicator.

Action: For even more useful content on leadership, check out our ultimate guide on Leadership Skills.

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