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  • Thursday , Feb 1 , 2018


January 01, 2021 Be the first to comment!


By Dr. Adaji Joe-Bell,

Country Director, Excellerated Professionals Inc.

There are certain characteristics that distinguish the exceptional leaders from the rest of the pack.

I have had over 10 years of experience consulting to all levels of management and staff. My most recent work has included strategy building sessions and processes. I bring to all my assignments a solid background in project management and group facilitation, gained through experience in the FCMG, education and sports marketing sectors. As a certified personal development & organisational growth professional, with experience gained in this field in both the private and public sectors of the Nigerian economy, I have helped organisations align strategy and people.

Many people in leadership positions struggle with understanding of what makes a great leader. While huge sums of money are spent annually on leadership development, quality leadership is still in short supply. For example, the move towards total quality has inspired many organisations to take a long, hard look at building their leadership capacity. Quality management systems such as the Lean, Six Sigma and 5-S Methodologies all demand an emphasis on quality leadership.

Organisations have responded to this with myriads of education and training resources, which seem to be plentiful, yet most attempts at building high performance leadership are either far too complex or too simplistic to be of any practical use to leaders who need to make things happen.


Here, I have thought out, going by my experience, the five key facets of high performance leadership. These are: focus, authenticity, courage, empathy and timing.

1.      Focus: Effective leaders stay focused on the outcomes they wish to create, and don’t get too married to the methods used to achieve them. They provide this 'outcomes focus' for their organisation by authenticity.

2.      Authenticity: This is done by emphasising the mission, vision, values and strategic goals of their organisations and at the same time building the capacity of their organisations to achieve them. This capacity building emphasises the need to be flexible, creative and innovative and while becoming fossilised through the adoption of bureaucratic structures, policies and processes is avoided.

Leaders who are authentic attract followers and are viewed as being highly driven and difficult to work for. Simply put, such leaders are viewed as always being themselves and therefore followers know what to expect from them and can rely on them, come thick or thin. Authenticity provides the leader with the currency to obtain 'buy-in' from key stakeholders, because it builds and maintains trust. Authenticity is the bedrock upon which the other facets are built.

3.      Courage: The challenges facing leaders today are immense, and require great courage to overcome. Leaders are constantly being challenged by others, be it their own team, customers, the public or other stakeholders. Standing firm in the face of criticism, yet having the courage to admit when they are wrong, are hallmarks of courageous leaders. For example, shifting an organisation from being introspective to becoming customer focused requires courage when people pay lip service to the new direction; it means calling people on their bluff.

4.      Empathy: Effective leaders know how to listen empathetically, thus legitimising others’ input. By so doing, they promote consensus building, and build strong teams. They coach others to do the same, and so create a culture of inclusiveness.  They tend to be great listeners who capitalise on the ideas of others, and provide recognition for these ideas, yet they don't get bogged down in overly complicated dialogue. While they create learning organisations that place a high value on dialogue and continuous feedback, they know when to take action, when to 'fish or cut bait.'

5.      Timing: The one facet that can make or break a leader is in knowing when to make critical decisions and when not to. All of the other facets must be viewed as subservient to getting the timing of critical decisions right. There is a need to be focused, authentic, courageous and empathetic, but get the timing wrong on critical decisions and everything else stands to be nullified. Great leaders move with appropriate speed. They don't believe that everything must be done immediately; they know how to prioritise, and how to get their team to prioritise. As well, they engage in timely follow-through to ensure actions that are committed to happen in a well-coordinated and timely way.


These facets of high performance leadership are not exhaustive. Just as one would look at the facets of a diamond, upon closer observation other facets become observable. Any person can aspire to being a great leader by commencing with these facets. If you are in a leadership role, regardless of your position in your organisation, start by asking yourself the following key questions:   

  1. How focused am I? How much of my time do I spend communicating and inspiring people about our mission, vision and strategic goals? How much focus do I create in my organisation? How married am I or my organisation is, to methods that have outlived their usefulness?
  2. Am I viewed as authentic? Do people see and hear the real me? Do I wear a mask at work, and remove it when I leave each evening?
  3. How courageous am I when my values, vision and goals are challenged? Do I stand firm and only change my position when I know that I am wrong?
  4. How empathetic am I? Too much or too little? Do I create enough opportunities for open and candid dialogue? Do I ever find myself getting bogged down in consensus building, or achieving false consensus? Is there a feeling of inclusiveness amongst the members of my organisation, and with other stakeholders, including customers?
  5. Do I make and execute decisions in a timely fashion? Do I know when to 'fish or cut bait?' i.e. do I demand well-co-ordinated and timely execution of strategy from others?


Asking these questions in a candid way will open up many possibilities for you, your organisation or your clients; if you have the courage to do it.

Building and sustaining a high performance leadership culture takes time, patience and a clear focus on the vital few characteristics that leaders can develop naturally and authentically. Listening to what people expect from you as a leader, and then responding empathically, in a timely fashion, will move you dramatically towards mastering these five key facets of high performance leadership.

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