The Differences Between an Average and Exceptional Leader


This is a post by Dragos Bernat, please check out his blog Selfhabit and connect with him on Twitter.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ – Muhammad Ali

Very few leaders get the chance to become exceptional.

Most leaders are average, and that’s okay for them because they feel they have arrived, are comfortable, and okay with being okay.

I mean if you can do something okay, why bother adding more effort? You’re meeting the requirements, and it’s just enough. It’s enough for you.

Why Exceptional Matters

The journey to becoming exceptional isn’t something that just happens overnight. It takes time, courage, failure, struggle, more failure; patience, and some know that they may never get there, but still pursue it.

Who’s willing to actually put themselves through all this pain and failure when there’s an easier way out?

The ones who aren’t okay with finding an easy way out.

The ones who have a deeper desire for greatness, and personal achievement.

The ones who are exceptional, that’s who.

The Characteristics of an Average “leader”:

1. When things seem to start going well, they settle for good, and don’t take the risk to improve.

2. They correlate change with pain, and don’t see it as a necessary part of growth.

3. Are okay with “okay”.

4. Use the quota of “good enough”. They accept what is working, and don’t look for alternative ways to do something more effectively as it requires time, effort and energy.

5. Relate their technical skills, ability, and performance with the titles given to employers. They don’t look past what’s on paper.

This Is What Exceptional Leaders Do

1. View a company, as a community of like-minded people, and not as a machine. They look at the individual skills each person has to offer to the company, and don’t rely on titles, and what they did in the past; they look at current skills and effort.

2. They don’t see feedback or criticism as negative, but rather as a chance for improvement, and a better way to achieve common goals for themselves and/or their company.

3. When something goes wrong, they don’t go looking for someone to blame, or look at the excuses, but rather at the opportunity that has presented itself to fix the “problem”, and move past it.

4. Are okay with expecting a setback, and know that on the long path to becoming exceptional, there will be multiple failures along the way. This can be used as a motivational tactic or as a way to thoroughly investigate their own failures and work on a solution.

Here Are 4 Ways to Become Exceptional:

1. Work under deadlines. If you never give yourself an end date you will just let it keep going on forever. There will be no inclination to achieve what you are working towards. Also deadlines can increase your personal work ethic, and make you work on your discipline. View each deadline as a step closer to achieving your goals.

2. Look from above. Notice the opportunities that are presented to you, regardless of the situation you’re in. Listen closely, and watch attentively to every small detail.

3. Stay uncomfortable. Don’t become comfortable. You want to pressure yourself so you get the chance to take on greater challenges and obstacles. Otherwise, you step in the realm of comfort, and become okay with mediocrity.

4. Invest, invest, and invest. Always invest in one constant thing; yourself. Each hour invested is time gained towards honing your craft, towards self-mastery.

The Good News and The Bad News

We unfortunately live in a world that is dominated by egos. Thoughts like “I must be first, otherwise I will lose” are common in the workplace.

This is where an exceptional leader, or someone who has taken a deeper interest in his or her own development is susceptible to sabotage.

Those who are average and are staying the same, or even stagnating, will see those as doing better as a danger to themselves. May it be their egos, self-preservation, guilt, anger, or any sort of personal insecurity; they will try and sabotage your own development, growth, and advancement.

In times like these it is important to redefine what you care for, and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Strengthening, and solidifying your “why” will give you an inner motivation to help you continue pursuing your goals. Also, find like-minded friends, mentors, co-workers that will help reaffirm your strengths and qualities that you possess.

The Bottom Line

Some just want to get by, while others will pursue greatness.

The main difference between an exceptional leader and the common “leader” is their commitment. They are willing to put in the time when they aren’t working, brush up on personal skills, strengthen their weaknesses, research ways to improve themselves, while the rest settle with “good enough.”

This is because exceptional leaders know they will NEVER arrive, nor do they have any intention to. They are on a journey towards the pursuit of excellence, and it’s a journey they’ve committed to.

Have you committed?

 Questions: What skills do you notice in average leaders? What skills do you see in exceptional leaders? What does it take to become exceptional? How are you working towards becoming an exceptional leader?

P.S I’ve put quotations around Average “leader” as it’s clearly an oxymoron.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Exceptional leaders are good listeners, risk takers, not afraid to praise others, teachable, honest to a fault, always looking for ways to improve themselves, avid readers and looking for average leaders they can help be come exceptional. I desire to be an exceptional leader among women, I am a work in progress. Good post brother.

    • Great additions Betty!!! Thank you for adding to the topic.

    • Thank you for the kind words Betty, and I couldn’t agree any more. I’ll have more posts on my website soon! :)

    • Agree with every word, Betty! So, so true. If I had to boil it down to just two words I’d say exceptional leaders are ‘learners’ and ‘givers’. Both of which you unpack perfectly. I’m desiring and striving along with you.

  • I would add that an exceptional leader does just that: lead. He doesn’t “push” people to do things – he pulls them along with encouragement and providing a means of success.

    • YES! Great point Joshua, thank you for adding it.

    • Well if I was to edit this post, I’d definitely add that in there – fantastic point!

  • Floyd

    I’ve been around enough to know a voice of experience when I hear it. Well said.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this guest post! Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you for the kind words Floyd, I took a little creative break from writing but will begin in full force on soon enough! :)

  • Juan Cruz Jr.

    Exceptional leaders build a team around them that complement his or her skills. Average leaders don’t hire the best talent for fear of losing their position.

    • Great addition Juan, it’s great to hear from you. Thank you for reading and sharing.

    • When you put it that way Juan, I have no choice but to agree! Awesome point

  • Alan Allard


    Thanks for some very excellent insights into average and exceptional leaders. As you stated, most leaders are average. The challenge is that most average leaders would not rate themselves as average, but as above average.

    Exceptional leaders have exceptional self-awareness, in large part because of what you point out–they are receptive to feedback, including feedback on their skills, communication and more.

    • I agree with that, we tend to rate our skills and self higher than we actually are. Having self-awareness is so essential. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

    • Glad we’re on the same page Alan, thanks for sharing your thoughts! But I agree with you and dan, Self-awareness is the biggest part of it!

  • Like I shared in my post today, the best leaders – exceptional leaders – aren’t afraid to use the provocative “c-word.”

    • Can’t wait to read your post! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Always love your posts Paul! Keep em’ coming

      • Thanks Dragos! Appreciate your support man.

  • “Average” leaders focus just on getting the job done. Once the task is complete they are done. They have no big picture view of the future. They will also tend to play it safe. – Exceptional leader are always pushing themselves and in a positive way they push those they lead. – They can see the exceptional potential in others and work to bring it out.

    • Great additional thoughts Jon! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.

    • Completely agree with you here Jon! Happy you contributed

  • This is well thought out Dragos. There is no question about it, exceptional leaders invest a lot in their own personal development.For an exceptional leader, learning never stops. Thanks for sharing my friend. Good stuff.

    • Glad you liked it Lawrence, thanks for commenting!

  • Nice post, Dragos!

    When you say, “most leaders are average, and that’s okay for them because they feel they have arrived, are comfortable, and okay with being okay”, I think: these people are NOT leaders. Maybe they were once, but no longer. You recognize this, of course, with the quotes and that it is an oxymoron.

    I especially like your comment about the “comfortable.”

    • I totally agree, once you get into that mindset you stop leading. Thank you for sharing Skip!

  • I like the concept of staying uncomfortable, Dragos. I think it’s quite easy to achieve some base level of success and then rest on our laurels – but that’s certainly not exceptional.

    • Those who remain uncomfortable will remain moving forward. Thank you for reading and adding your thoughts to the topic.

  • I really like this, Dragos! So many great points. And all true. I do believe in essence, that in almost every walk of life and in particular when it comes to leadership – being exceptional is rooted in the desire to be so. It’s what we have an appetite for that defines us.

    • YES, desire is huge. Thank you for adding that Micah!