Meet the Extraordinary Leader
by Charles M. Herbek
The purpose of the article is to introduce you to the extraordinary leader. First, a definition. A description of the extraordinary leader must examine the two separate parts of the term. Extraordinary: very unusual or remarkable. Leader: a person who has commanding authority or influence.
If we combine the two definitions, we have “a remarkable person who has commanding authority or influence.” But it doesn’t tell us what this leader does, how we can recognize one, or what we should aspire to become, if that is our intent. For this we must look at what this extraordinary leader does, for it is in that behavior, the outward actions recognizable by all, that we find the foundational aspects of the extraordinary leader.
“Extraordinary” is Really Just the Basics
Above all, the extraordinary leader cares about his subordinates, knows as much as he can about them and considers them more important than himself. He is respected for who he is. From this sense of caring and accompanying respect flows the motivation, the energy, and vision to seek the advancement and improvement of those he leads. Their well-being is paramount in all this leader does.
The extraordinary leader searches for way to improve the skills of his subordinates. He understands the organization’s advancement paths, the in-house education programs, and all the technologies that support them. He ensures his subordinates understand these as well, and provides the time and support to gain those skills.
This extraordinary leader sets achievable goals that are consistent with the organization’s strategic goals and positions his subordinates to succeed at these goals. Expectations are clear and open to discussion between leader and led. The extraordinary leader employs his team within the limits of its capabilities and simultaneously seeks to expand those capabilities. He knows each person’s skills and limitations and searches for ways to facilitate their growth.
The extraordinary leader frames the assigned tasks as his own, helping subordinates to understand what must be accomplished and seeking their buy-in to the tasks at hand, be they operational or strategic. This leader is present with his subordinates as much as possible and facilitates, directly or indirectly, the execution of tasks or requirements. The time spent framing the tasks for execution will enable subordinates to push through when things get difficult or better yet, to act in the absence of guidance because they understand the task and the leader’s intent.
This extraordinary leader shields subordinates from outside interference and criticism. If there are blows coming he initially stands between his team and the hammering mechanism regardless of whether the accusations are valid or not. Loyalty is paramount until the dust settles. And then he adjudicates the consequences within the team according to his clearly defined standards.
This leader firmly believes in his team and encourages them to believe in themselves, applying constant affirmation. Not petty, empty phrases but substantial recognition for a job well done. He creates an atmosphere that is free of fear of reprisals for mistakes. Mistakes will happen but as long as they are not the results of outright negligence or inattention, subordinates know they can try different approaches and discover new ways to accomplish the task that no amount of over supervision or berating would have ever achieved.
This leader is fair when both dealing with mistakes and unaccomplished tasks as well as when giving praise. No one is treated any differently for success or failure. This does not mean there is little discipline, only that each person knows they will receive the same level of attention good or bad as any other member of the team.
The extraordinary leader demands integrity in all that the team does. The leader’s personal example is the best guide to a team that understands and is committed to integrity. Our leader could be extraordinary in all things mentioned, but if lacking integrity, dissonance and distrust will seize the ground and this team will not accomplish its assigned tasks and eventually cease to exist.
The extraordinary leader cares about his subordinates more than himself and positions them to become himself, to take his place in this organization or the next. He is not afraid of that possibility, as his vision has always been the accomplishment of the assigned tasks, and the betterment of the organization and the people who, in essence, are the organization.
And finally, one could say these behaviors are those of any good leader. However, the key difference between a leader and the extraordinary leader is that he sees himself in all of his subordinates from the very moment they are assigned to his organization. And seeing himself in each individual, the extraordinary leader can do nothing less than take care of them as he does himself, because they are indeed the very essence of himself.
Charles M. Herbeck is a retired Army officer and owner of LearningFields, an executive coaching program that uses civil war history to elevate individual and organizational performance.