We’ve all met them. That one person who is not just a great leader, but who also makes a lasting impression. We remember them, quote them, and refer to them long after our interaction has ended.
These are the leaders who become our mentors and role models. They affect us to such a degree that we channel them when faced with tough decisions, pondering what they would have done in a similar situation. These are the leaders whose attitudes, approach, and style we regard as touchstones for our own.
What is it that makes such a transcendent leader? What do they have that others don’t? In my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with many truly great leaders–individuals who left a lasting legacy and impact–and I’ve noticed they all share four characteristics:
1. Serious time management. The most notable characteristic of transcendent leaders is their ability to be resolutely in the moment. Seemingly untroubled by overflowing inboxes, unhurried by over-scheduled calendars, not distracted by ever-growing to-do lists, the best leader seems to always have time for the task at hand.
As a result, they are sharply, intently focused–on you, on the issue under consideration, and on the needs of the team around them.
2. Prioritization. Great leaders are highly focused, but they also focus resolutely on the right things. They’re skilled at the art of triage; they can prioritize many demands, and always ensure they spend their limited time on those issues that are central to the enterprise’s needs.
This is one of the reasons a transcendent leader can remain so focused in their interactions with others. They know that what they are doing is important for the enterprise as a whole, and they’re able to zone out the competing demands of lesser priorities.
3. Crisis management. Even a strong leader can buckle in a crisis. Blindsided by the unexpected, it’s easy to get caught up in the gravitational pull of a sudden emergency and lose sight–and control–of the rest of the organization’s needs.
Great leaders, conversely, excel in crises. They refuse to have their ongoing priorities (and those of the enterprise) distorted inappropriately by individual events.
Instead, like the ripples caused by a stone thrown into a pond, the transcendent leader will react to crises with just the necessary response–no more, and no less than is required to address the new situation, correct it, and return to equilibrium.
4. Delegation. Finally, the best leaders are masters of delegation.
Acutely aware of their own limitations, and driven by the knowledge that they can’t possibly do everything they’re asked, the transcendent leader entrusts tasks to others not by exception, but by default.
As one such leader put it to me: “I try only to do, what only I can do.”
Do you wish to not just lead people, but to be seen as a mentor and a role model? To leave a legacy? Doing so is surprisingly straightforward: the four individual skills that differentiate the transcendent leader are each in themselves surprisingly mundane. These are skills which any good leader can learn. But together, they combine to transform an average leader into a truly transcendent one.