Some superheroes are born, and some are made. The same is true of leaders in the professional world.

Whether an individual leads a for-profit company, a nonprofit organization, a government body, a pedestrian organization, or a university, truly extraordinary leaders are continuously created through education and endless learning to perfect their craft.

During the latest Opportunity Hour: Conversations with the Masters, I had the pleasure of speaking with a longtime friend of mine, Dr. Nido Qubein. Dr. Qubein is first and foremost an entrepreneur, serving on several Fortune 500 boards, including La-Z-Boy and Truce. He has authored 12 books and received numerous awards as a leader himself.

His abundance of accolades and entrepreneurship capabilities have enabled Dr. Qubein to effectively speak on what it takes to be an extraordinary leader, which is the foundation of today’s blog post.

Back in 2005, Dr. Qubein became the president of High Point University, a struggling college that he turned around with a vision and the consistency to fulfill that vision. During Dr. Qubein’s time with High Point University:

  • Their economic impact went from $160 million to over $1 billion
  • 28 buildings grew to 122
  • 385 employees grew to over 2,000
  • Their operating budget went from $38 million to over $400 million
  • 10 new academic schools were founded
  • 99% of graduates have found fulfilling employment within 6 months after graduation
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Professional success vs. career significance

No matter what you are leading, your actions as a leader should positively impact the people you serve, the people your actions affect, and so forth. Your interactions with people should incorporate trust and dignity no matter what.

This all goes back to the focus of significance over success that both Dr. Qubein and I believe in.

Yes — we all want to be successful, but success is defined differently with different people. For some, success is financial well-being or a certain level of wealth. For others, success is making an impact, teaching underprivileged children, or providing food for the needy. This intricate difference is what extraordinary leaders find between success and significance.

I have talked about significance in the past, and I have loosely defined it as what we hope to achieve for others instead of just focusing on our own personal gain. I view significance not necessarily as something that you should prioritize over success, but as something that must come before success.

The way both Dr. Qubein and I view the connection between significance and extraordinary leaders is those individuals’ ability to look further ahead than everyone else and attempt to turn the impossible to possible. They focus on wants, needs, goals, assumptions, and fears of their stakeholders and customers to take significant actions now by being an Anticipatory Organization.

Conversely, many traditional leaders and organizations are only inclined to stay ahead of the competition, gaining every inch of profit and margin they can while staying in the same lane indefinitely. By focusing only on achieving some type of success over your competition, you are putting yourself in a reactionary mindset where you merely react to adversity and client needs as they come your way. But by the time you solve them, you have already let the future pass you by.

An Anticipatory mindset of an extraordinary leader puts significant actions and the impact we have on others at the forefront, with a confidence that success is sure to follow.

As Dr. Qubein stated in our recent discussion, “The value of our existence on this Earth will be defined not by the accumulation of our achievements or acknowledgments, but rather it will be defined by who we’ve impacted and influenced in the world.”

How to shift to being an extraordinary leader

Dr. Qubein and I agree that no matter the type of organization you are leading, there are three P’s to running a business: Product, Process, and People.

While the product and process may be slightly different depending on the industry, how you influence and project values and significance on the people the product and process impacts is fundamental.

To shift to the life of an extraordinary leader, it is time to ask yourself: 

  • What is your vision for your company? 
  • What is your vision for your customers? 
  • What is your vision for your employees? and most importantly, 
  • Are yours and their visions aligned?

The essence of an extraordinary leader is expressing a vision to the employees and customers alike with extreme clarity. Even if they do not necessarily agree with you, if you put forth effort to respect them with fairness and justice, people will respect what you are doing.

Here are some steps to consider, brought forth by Dr. Qubein and myself:

  • First, be Anticipatory: Never wait for problems to come your way and react to them with feverish crisis management. Instead, use Hard Trend future certainties to anticipate the known future and pre-solve any issues before they become issues.

  • Create clarity in value: No matter what you are trying to achieve with the strategy you are attempting to implement, if employees do not recognize value in it, they will not work with you toward a common goal. Be sure to clearly identify the value for all involved in your strategy!

  • Interpret that value: Value must be interpreted from the perspective of the other people involved, not just you alone. In Dr. Qubein’s case with High Point University, this meant interpreting the value that parents (the market), students (the customers), and stakeholders (campus faculty, alumni, donors, and more) observed.

  • Remove irritants: There are many fears and hesitations within the market and between both customers and stakeholders. The only way to fully gain acceptance into what you are trying to do is to remove these fears, or minimize them as much as possible. This goes back to pre-solving problems by paying attention to Hard Trend future certainties shaping the industry and thus impacting your vision.

  • Never stop learning: The best leaders never stop learning while continuously honing their craft. That is how they stay at the top of their game and remain extraordinary. They hire coaches, consultants, and other leaders to continuously learn from to be able to take risks based on facts, analysis, and a healthy abundance of valuable information.

  • Create trust: Trust is based on honesty, transparency, and vulnerability. Tell both your customers and employees what you are going to do, why you are going to do it, and why it is important to do it the way you intend. Also, if something does not go your way, own up to it and ask for input! Charisma is important in leadership, but authenticity always wins it all.

  • Find the “wow” factor: Finally, show everyone why your vision has merit, but do it in a way that instills confidence and acceptance. By doing this, you are encouraging positive word-of-mouth advertising, obtaining advocates for your business.

The paths to becoming both an extraordinary leader and an Anticipatory Leader are quite similar.

You must first have a clear vision added to the ability to interpret that vision and passion to create value from that vision to whom you serve.

This will equate to a product or service that people want to be a part of, and one that creates positive disruption to help further the betterment of your industry and society!

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