We all know an elite leader when we see one, but defining one can be elusive. What actually makes an elite leader stand out from the pack? It starts with their mindset—their consistent way of thinking.
Elite leaders have certain characteristics and make decisions in common.
Elite leaders are visionaries. Andy Stanley defines a vision as “a mental picture of what could be, fueled by a passion that it should be.” These elite leaders have that vision and cast it compellingly and consistently. When there is organizational drift, they continually bring their team and organization back to what they have been called and created to do.
Elite leaders are culture builders. The most powerful factor in any organization is not resources, vision, or strategy. Culture is by far the most powerful. It determines how receptive the staff and volunteers will be to the new ideas that can make the difference for them. Culture either applauds and unleashes creativity or throws a wet blanket on ingenuity. Enthusiasm either flourishes or dies according to culture. Culture creates a deep sense of pride and gratitude about working or being involved there, or sets the tone for pervasive discouragement. Culture shapes morale, teamwork, effectiveness, and outcomes. While this is true anywhere, it is most powerfully and noticeably true in churches and non-profit organizations. Culture is about the people. People are the most valuable asset of any organization. Elite leaders know that the way people are treated, the way they treat their peers, and their response to their leaders is the air they breathe. The entire organization responds to how healthy or unhealthy that air is.
Elite leaders are team builders. They know that the organization rises or falls on the shoulders of the team, not one person. They work very hard to build the team. Making certain the right people are in the right seat.
Elite leaders are secure, and surround themselves with gifted, talented personnel. They are not concerned about someone “out-shining” them. They want the most gifted and best at the table.
Elite leaders are not controllers. They don’t attempt to control everything. They are able and willing to delegate significant responsibility and authority to trusted people. This is very significant. One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is the shift from doing to leading. You can get away with holding on to work for a while, and you may even be admired for your willingness to keep “rolling up your sleeves” for any job. But as your responsibilities become more complex, the difference between an effective leader and a super-sized individual contributor, only the title of a leader becomes obvious. Delegation frees the elite leader to do the things only he or she can do.
Elite leaders are humble. C. S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it's thinking of yourself less.” They tell themselves the truth about what they are good at and not good at and lead from a place of doing what is best for the organization.
Elite leaders have grit and perseverance. This is a steady persistence in a course of action in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. The leader sets the pace of the team. If the leader shows strength and the willingness to discover the cause of the low morale, the team will persevere through this difficulty.
Elite leaders are self-aware. Knowing your own values, personality, needs, habits, and emotions, and how they affect your actions and the actions of others, makes you better able to manage your stress, make better decisions, and ultimately lead others to do the same.
Elite learners are continually leading. They are willing to learn from any and all—it doesn’t matter. They are willing to let go of what is not working, even if it was their own idea. They understand that they have the potential to learn and grow and become even stronger. “It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from followers.” – Warren Bennis and Bert Nanus. You can be an elite leader. It requires that you make the decision to start making the decisions and developing the habits and disciplines of those who already are the elite leaders you admire.