3 Keys to Exceptional Leadership

Leadership runs deeper than simply driving performance and profit. Too often we stop there, and fail to ask what the keys are to empowering and drawing out the best in our employees, our children, and our peers.

What makes leaders exceptional are their ability to draw out the greatness in others. To drive out the fear that holds people back and create environments built on a solid foundation of communication and trust. But this doesn’t just happen. It takes intentional discipline and commitment to living out the three keys to exceptional leadership.

These three keys are to love, serve, and care.


Key #1: Love

The most common cause of weak leadership--which is evident in a leader’s need to micro-manage, control, and act authoritatively--is fear.

Fear of failing. Fear of falling behind. Fear of losing money, power, and significance. Fear of not living up to expectations.

Fear takes us out of the moment and throws us into the hamster wheel of anxiety-ridden ruminations and what-if worrying. It hovers over us, making us feel small and weak. And so we respond in the way we know best, by puffing up our chests and trying to control and manipulate everything...all the way down to the smallest detail.

If we can just make everything perfect, we can protect ourselves from experiencing that which we fear.

Unfortunately, this way of living never actually gets rid of the fear, but creates more stress, anxiety, and busyness.

Take yourself out of the game of trying to achieve perfection, of trying to look or act a certain way. It’s a game that no one can win. Yet most people are playing this game, which is why we are the society of the stressed and overworked. We’re letting fear drive our lives.

Instead, commit to putting love into everything you do. For where there is love, fear cannot exist. And it is out of this love that we experience the freedom to live our best lives.

It is out of love that we create our best work. It is out of love that we build our best relationships. It is out of love that we experience our greatest levels of success.

Fear is draining. It zaps your energy and keeps you from achieving what you what you want to create as a leader. Love, on the other hand, is sustaining.

You don’t have to go about your day thinking of all the ways you might fail, but rather you can choose to go through your day asking, “how can I bring love to this work, this conversation, this interaction.”

Simply put, you cannot live your best life unless you are putting love into everything you do.


Key #2: Serve

Love is frequently mistaken to be only a feeling. However, real love is an action. It’s movement. It’s doing something for others not because it’s required or you were asked to, but because when you love someone you naturally want to show them.

When you love, you serve.

That’s the second key to exceptional leadership: Serve.

As a leader, are you serving others? Are you giving your power away? Are you giving others the opportunity to take control? Are you empowering your team or your family by giving them the freedom and the resources to step up and lead and take ownership?

You become far more powerful as a leader when you help drive the fear out of those you lead and empower them to take action. You create better leaders and more successful team members, because without fear driving our actions we become better servants to those around us.

But service doesn’t come without a cost.

To serve is to self-sacrifice: to give something up for yourself so that others may gain.

It may be time, money, energy, and sometimes our lives, but true service doesn’t come without a cost. Truly powerful leaders, leaders we honor long after they’re gone, are those who sacrificed so that we all may gain.

Are you serving as a leader? Are you sacrificing your comforts so that those you lead may gain? Are you digging deep and committing to put love into everything that you do, even if it takes more time and is more costly?

It’s difficult work, but those who choose to serve with love experience far greater success and far greater rewards by taking the difficult path. By staying disciplined to loving and serving, you bring out the greatness in yourself and in others. It inspires others around you to look out and serve one another, rather than seek self-preservation.

It raises yourself and others to a new standard of success, where success isn’t measure by what you accumulate but by how many people you serve and help become successful. Understanding that standard of success is key to becoming an exceptional leader.


Key #3: Care

How many people, or businesses for that matter, do you know that just don’t seem to care?

They don’t care about their work. They don’t care about the state of their families. They don’t care about much of anything. As long as everyone minds their own business, they have to worries.

This is why care is the third key to exceptional leadership.

It’s rare these days to find people and businesses who really care about the quality of their work, the quality of their families, and the quality of their relationships with others.

Though we say quality is at the top of our list of values, we often settle for “good enough,” and move on, convinced that we don’t have the time to really put care into what we do. And for most, this is satisfactory. But for the exceptional leader, it’s not enough.

The exceptional leader wants it to be evident that they care about their work, they care about the people they work with, and they care about their reputation. They want people around them to feel like they matter and the work they do matters. This is why we like to go to Chick-fil-a. Care is woven so deeply into their culture. We can’t help but feel valued, and we gladly hand over our hard-earned money to eat there.

Care is rare; but it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t cost any more to care, but it creates immeasurable value. Exceptional leaders understand the value that care provides.

Care is how you stand out and create success in everything you do. People are drawn to those who care, and are encouraged and excited to buy their products and services.

When we are cared for, it inspires us to care for others. It ripples outward, and it’s how we create greater movements of care and service in the world.


Be a Craftsman In A World of Carpenters

These three keys to exceptional leadership are told beautifully through Jon Gordon’s book, “The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All.”

I encourage anyone who wants to lead with more heart--those who want to love, serve, and care--to read this book. It is filled with wisdom and inspiration that will build you up into a better leader, spouse, parent, and friend.

Our world is filled with carpenters; people who work solely to make a paycheck, trying to get things done as fast and cheap as possible. Carpenters simply build things. But the craftsman, as Gordon illustrates, is one who puts love and care into everything he does. A craftsman builds masterpieces, and their work is less about finishing fast and more about having concern for who they are becoming and what they are creating along the way.

We need more craftsmen.

By being a craftsman in a world of carpenters, you stand out and people will want to work for you and clients will be knocking down your door to work with you.

By following these three keys to exceptional leadership, you can be a craftsman of a leader, rather than a carpenter. You can stand out for reasons that truly matter, and create sustainable success as a result.

You can create works of art in the people you lead and the products you build. The key is not to rush through it, but in every conversation and work you produce ask, “how can I love, serve, and care in this moment?”

Choose to be exceptional. Love, serve, and care for those around you and in everything you do.