7 Leadership Skills for Excellence

Serving on boards and having served as Chief Executive Officer of nonprofit companies, I have the vantage point of looking at organizations from both sides. I’ve had numerous conversations and mastermind sessions about what makes an organization or business excellent. Obviously, it’s not a straight-forward process, but something that can and should be achieved for every leader who wants to make a difference. I’ve learned a lot of things in business and in life. Those lessons have cost me a lot. But they’ve been priceless.

Whether you are working in an executive position, as an entrepreneur, have an already established company you are running or serving on a board of directors consider these seven ideas for taking your business to another level of excellence. Let’s get started.

1. Know your numbers. While working with executives and boards, there have been times when we overlook the critical role that strong leadership plays in ensuring organizations stay financially competent enough to maintain a high impact on their communities. When you mention leadership, most people come up with the precise criteria for what they think is real leadership. However, what’s less obvious is that most leaders don’t typically have a sophisticated understanding of their organization’s economic stability, making decisions grounded in fiscal realities. As leaders, when you have a good grasp of the financials, you are demonstrating the strategic connection between mission and money; no money, no mission. Knowing your numbers is also true when it comes to your goals overall. Know your numbers like you know your name.

2. Hire slowly; fire quickly. Let me be clear: Hire slowly. Fire quick. I’ve learned when you are mission oriented it’s easy to get lulled into hiring passionate, and mission focused staff members, then giving too many chances for changed behavior in performance. You might be in a rush to fill a vacant spot or add a new position, but it takes more time (and stress) to train the wrong person and fix their mess than it does to hire the right person in the first place. Or sometimes we think we have hired the right person (we all make mistakes), but the moment you start seeing red flags you hang on to them too long. A bad hire becomes cancerous for the entire organization, and an additional challenge for you as leaders. Their effect is felt by other staff, board members, and stakeholders; ultimately your credibility comes into question. I’ve never missed a mistake after letting them go, and have only regretted hanging on to staff too long. I only wish I had let them go sooner.

3. Inspire and lead by example. Your staff is vital to your success, and your highest valued commodity. It is your employees that make you the reputable firm or organization you are striving to become. Inspire everybody in the organization to be the best, motivate them, and help them grow. Make sure to provide opportunities for growth, promotion, and continuing education. Whether you send them to conferences and conferences and seminars or offer an internal learning development opportunities, it’s important for your team members to strengthen skills and gain knowledge. When you invest in your people, you invest in your future. No matter how charismatic you are as a leader or how sophisticated your board of directors is, it is your team that makes the greatest impact within your organization.

4. Be strategic and entrepreneurial. Are you spending time thinking about what your company or organization can become? What’s your competitive edge in the marketplace? It is a high level of inspiration and strategic thinking that you can take your company to the finish line and create momentum. One of the best quotes I’ve read in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins is “Put your best people on the biggest opportunities, and the most major problems.” Often, it is easier to sit in the office and be submerged in paperwork, but the most entrepreneurial leaders are in front of stakeholders, staff, and community leaders during the prime hours moving their mission forward. Allow your team the time to create the atmosphere for big-picture thinking, while also tackling today’s challenges. How are you spending your time?

5. Operate with integrity. Every leader will eventually be faced with challenges to your integrity and character. You’ve either faced it, facing it or about to face it. You will also be faced with defending the integrity of your company or organization. It is important that you stay consistent in always operating with a set of guiding principles and values that can never be compromised. Don’t allow talented staff, high-level donors, money, greed, or ego to get in the way when it comes to your integrity. Be accountable, and hold everyone else responsible for ethics and high standards. This will be the basis for every decision you make as a company even if it cost you revenue or funding opportunities, but it will never cost you your reputation or precious sleep at night.

6. Focus on results. If you say it, measure it. Although you must track activities that lead to results; the bottom line is about being results oriented, and ensuring the right activities are being performed to maximize your results. I’m a true believer that the right actions will always lead to the correct results, which will get you the mission impact you are endeavoring to achieve. For instance, in fundraising or sales, it takes an average of eight “touches” to break into a new donor or client. You need to see that company or major donor eight times before you can even begin to think you have a chance. Of course, this is not an exact science, but by each encounter, you should gain traction that will lead to a potential new revenue source. Another great reason to track your progress is that it allows you to do an evaluation on what’s working and what’s not. Part of being an exceptional leader and organization is self-reflection, and adjusting to meet your goals.

7. Make excellence a priority and add value. A spirit of excellence in not only a powerful mantra for you as a leader but also for the organization. From the way you dress to answering phones to handling clients to showing up on time, every task has to be done at the highest level to give your customer and the people you are serving that “WOW” effect. The magic is in the details. You show your value by not being afraid to make the tough decisions, holding the organization accountable for results, and personally being engaged.


When people experience your company do they walk away saying WOW or do they leave with a negative feeling? How is your follow up? Are your stakeholders hanging up the phone and leaving a meeting feeling like they just dealt with the most amazing people and company or the opposite? Do your employees feel appreciated, valued, and cared for? Do board members feel connected to the mission? Are meetings productive and participatory? Are you maximizing your strengths every day? Are you striving to be the best in every aspect; even the smallest of tasks? Is your goal to provide world-class service? Remember, your goal is to provide service, not sales. Nobody wants to be sold, but everybody wants to be serviced.

These 7 skills of leadership excellence listed I’ve acquired through real life, on the job training, as well as, working with leaders as an executive consultant and coach. It is only through the complex experience of challenge and victory that emerging leaders and executives are indeed forged into truly exceptional leadership roles.

Headship requires courage, accountability, a hunger for learning and a willingness to own what you know and be confident in the knowledge of what you need to know by those you hire to work with you. Be willing to change, adapt, and adjust your leadership style to achieve the goals you have set. You must have a strategy in place to always become better. It’s also learning from your mistakes, and take responsibility, however, in all you do, BE EXCELLENT!