9 Characteristics of Outstanding Leadership

I was conducting some research the other day on employment and work and came across this excellent report on Outstanding Leadership from the Work Foundation. The Work Foundation are a leading think tank and authority on the future of work in the UK and they have a number of reports available to download and view.

The Outstanding Leadership report caught my eye, the nine characteristics were identified following 262 interviews within 6 major organisations. It’s an interesting read especially when you keep in your minds eye someone who you deem to be an outstanding leader. It’s also interesting when you specifically think of someone within the project management profession. Have you ever met an outstanding project management leader?

Here are the nine characteristics;

1. Think systemically and act long term

Outstanding leaders achieve through a combination of systemic thinking and acting for the long term benefit of their organisation. They recognise the interconnected nature of the organisation and therefore act carefully.

2. Bring meaning to life

Outstanding leadership enables a strong and shared sense of purpose across the organisation. They emphasise emotional connection for people with a focus on passion and on ethical purpose.

3. Apply the spirit not the letter of the law

Outstanding leadership focuses on the few key systems and processes which help provide clarity, give structure, enable feedback, give time for discussion and enable the development of vision. They use them to achieve outcomes rather than focus on the process and put flexibility and humanity first.

4. Grow people through performance

Outstanding leaders passionately and constantly invest in their people and use the challenges presented every single day to encourage growth, learning and engagement.

5. Are self-aware and authentic to leadership first, their own needs second

Outstanding leaders unite a deep understanding of others, high levels of self-awareness and a systemic appreciation of their symbolic position to become a role model for others.

6. Understand that talk is work

Outstanding leadership depends on trusting and positive relationships that are built over time for the long-term benefit of the people and their organisation. They spend huge amounts of time talking with people to understand what motivates and how they can support and enthuse others.

7. Give time and space to others

Outstanding leaders both give significantly more time to people than non-outstanding leaders and allow their people considerably more freedom and influence over the work they do and how they do it.

8. Put ‘we’ before ‘me’

Outstanding leaders work hard on issues such as team spirit, shared decision making, collaborative working and a strong bond within and between teams. Sustainable performance comes from collective wisdom and intent, encouraging people to get involved, and giving them voice and autonomy.

9. Take deeper breaths and hold them longer

Outstanding leaders actively build trust by delivering on promises and acting with consistency, which in turn, leads to a sense of security and greater freedom of expression. They understand the power of trust to speed up interactions, enable people to take risks, diminish arguments and disputes and underpin innovation.

Characteristic 8 seems particularly applicable to the project manager and project team but which other characteristics caught your imagination?


Image © Joe Shlabotnik and used with permission.

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