Exceptional is the New Black! - Proteus Leadership
1300 219 903

Exceptional is the New Black!

Over the past months I have had the privilege of travelling around Australia presenting on Exceptional Is The New Black to over 1500 breakfast attendees.

It is a topic that is very close to my heart, as I believe the changes that are happening in the marketplace will demand nothing less than exceptional in the future.

In my last article on ‘The Shift Is Happening’, I highlighted my concerns about a false economy that I believed had to burst and unfortunately we are now seeing that happening around us with businesses closing down and individuals losing jobs.

But it is not all bad news! At the same time as places are crumbling, amazing innovation is taking place, exciting businesses are commencing and individuals are shining in a crazy marketplace.

There is no doubt that a SHIFT is happening. Not just change, but a total SHIFT in how we think, behave and operate in the business world and if we take the glass half full approach, then we realise that this is in fact one of the most exciting times to be alive. We can do almost anything we want if we put our minds to it however, the results we see will be in direct alignment with the work that we are prepared to put in.

In 2003 I attended a conference where I heard a business futurist speak on what the business world would look like in 2013. He believed that up to 70% of the jobs that people would be employed to do in 2013 had at that time (2003), not yet been invented. I found this hard to believe at the time – but he was certainly correct. The world has changed as we know it and we must adapt to those changes.

If we are not prepared to be exceptional then we will be replaced!

Bregman – the author of the book ‘18 Minutes’ says this:

“The world changes – we change – faster than we tend to notice. To maximize your potential, you need to peer through the expectations that limit you and your choices. You need to see the world as it is – and yourself as you are.”

But to be able to do this we must first understand what is happening around us.

Here is my take on why people and businesses are struggling at the moment in this crazy marketplace. I simply don’t believe that people are changing at the same pace as technology and business expectations. However, their expectations of others are changing faster than they are prepared to change themselves. So no wonder there is conflict!

It is like two worlds colliding. A world of the past that has brought us to where we are today and the world of what the future requires of us.

Unfortunately the world of today has left us with an entitlement mentality that just cannot survive in the future. This means that the gap between those that are succeeding and doing innovative things and those that are living on what they currently are, is getting wider. Somehow we need to bring these two worlds into harmony.

As the author Jack Collis says, “We must innovate or die!”

I like to talk about reinvention, which is the same thing really. However, reinvention starts with us. Just recently I was thinking about this for my own life and business and came up with the following quote;

[testimonial authorname=”Des Penny”]“Life works with the material you give it; so if the material is shoddy then so is the finished product. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t knock it down and rebuild something amazing at any time. You just have to want to.”[/testimonial]

When was the last time you stopped and reinvented who you are and what you do? Nothing will change unless we do.

So what does exceptional mean? The dictionary describes it as: outstanding, unusual, extraordinary or incomparable. My definition is this:

[testimonial authorname=”Des Penny”]“Exceptional is a display, through our behaviour, of the inner qualities that we have taken the time to develop.” [/testimonial]

The interesting thing is that it does not describe exceptional as being perfect. Exceptional people are flawed, they make mistakes and they make wrong decisions. The difference is that they understand their purpose and always strive to make a situation and themselves better.

What staggers me is how many people do not understand their purpose. These people tend to revert to blame and people who blame will never be exceptional. Exceptional people know!

It is important to understand though, that exceptional will mean something different for every individual and every business and there is no one-size that fits all however, I do believe that there are characteristics that exceptional people display and they can be measured.

Whenever we talk about measuring people we get into the objective/subjective argument. The fact is that all ‘people management’ tools have some degree of subjectivity and that is good, because people are not robots, they are complex, involved and interesting creatures that always keep us guessing.

Measuring people is simply a way of organising your thoughts, feelings and observations and creating a picture. Once you create this picture against clear expectations you can then make the decisions you need to make.

It is imperative that we know the limits, the potential and the desire of our people outside of just their operational skills.

10 Measures That Identify Exceptional People:

Measure #1
Passion & Enthusiasm

Exceptional people display passion and enthusiasm. It is important to understand that passion is not a starting point; it is something that grows, often through tough times. Many people confuse being interested in something as being passionate about something, then six months later when things get hard, they lose their passion. It probably wasn’t passion in the first place.

Exceptional people understand that passion grows, not diminishes in tough times.

Measure #2
Attention To Detail

Attention to detail is not necessarily about spreadsheets or over governance of everything we do; it is about seeing and dealing with the small things that make a huge difference. In fact attention to detail can be directly associated with our level of care.

Exceptional people see the little things and do something about them.

Measure #3
Long-term & Big Picture Outlook

So many people believe that they are Big Picture People but do not understand that real Big Picture People have more than just the idea, they make the ideas become reality. People with lots of ideas are great as long as they are prepared to work on helping the idea get legs. If not, they can actually be a real hinderance.

Exceptional people have strategy to go with their ideas.

Measure #4
Pain & Celebration Mentality

Exceptional people feel the pain of non-achievement and also understand the joy of celebrating achievement. They understand the pain and privilege of leadership and celebrate their own successes and the successes of others.

Exceptional people put their head, heart and gut into what they do.

Measure #5
Do What They Say They Will Do

There is a great saying that says, “Your I CAN is more important than your IQ”. So often we work with ‘Gonna People’ who are always going to do something but always have a reason when they do not deliver. We spend most of our time chasing them and in fact they actually create more work for you.

Exceptional people not only deliver but they take pride in completing a task.

Measure #6
Innovation Thinking

Innovation thinking is very different than creative thinking. Innovation thinkers have great ideas but they keep their feet on the ground and implement those ideas as well. Innovation thinkers are solution-focused people combining their ideas with suggestions on how things can be achieved.

Exceptional people are constantly looking for new and better ways, but they also want to be a part of making them happen.

Measure #7
Take Ownership

This is where accountability and responsibility meet. When these two meet then entitlement disappears and ownership becomes the norm.

Exceptional people take responsibility and are also accountable.

Measure #8
Accept & Act On Feedback

It is not only important to be able to accept feedback, we must also be aware enough to process it and do something about it. One of the characteristics of great leaders is to be teachable and have a servant heart. This comes from being open to feedback from others.

Exceptional people understand the difference between feedback and negativity and process it accordingly.

Measure #9
Leads By Example

Robin Sharma wrote a book called – ‘The Leader Without A Title’ – where he explores the concept that everyone is a leader and leaders are people that others follow. People who lead by example don’t ask others to do what they are not prepared to do themselves. Their behaviour is noticed by others without having to be stated.

Gandhi said – “we must become the change we wish to see”. This is what exceptional leaders do.

Measure #10

For me this is probably the missing link in leadership today. We have many educated and intelligent people in senior roles, but insight is lacking. Insight is the ability to step back and see what is really happening, rather than just reacting to the obvious.

Exceptional people live and lead with insight and they just know what to do!

These are my measures, but you need to create your own. Sit down with your team and ask them what they think exceptional looks like in your environment and then identify the measures that you need to put into place to make exceptional a reality.

Robin Sharma says, “Make your life matter. Be of use. Serve as many people as possible. This is how each of us can shift from the ordinary into the extraordinary and walk amongst the best that ever lived.”

Remember; if we do not strive to be exceptional in everything we do then we will be replaced. These are not my rules; they are the rules around doing business in the future.

The great thing is that we still have the ability to make choices as to whether we want to bring our two worlds together in harmony, or we are satisfied with those two worlds constantly colliding.

So I wish you every success in discovering what exceptional looks like for you and your organisation.


Des Penny


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”

Leave a Reply

Leadership Speak
Look at me