6 Virtues That Make Great Leaders a Rare Breed

Six months ago, my co-founder Ashleigh Hansberger and I gave a lecture to a full house of next-gen entrepreneurs. During the Q&A, a spry young woman in Warby Parker’s stood up and asked: “How do I make my company extraordinary?”

I answered, “Be rare.”

In our leadership-obsessed world, we need rare and remarkable leaders who are more than run-of-the mill bosses. What does it take to break the status quo and lead an extraordinary company? I’ve spent the past decade studying a diverse range of rare leaders like Elon Musk, Malala Yousafzai, Steve Jobs and Blake Mycoskie and the organizations and brands they lead to find out.

These extraordinary leaders, which I call Rare Breed, don’t think, act, or communicate like the rest. They are the change makers, rule breakers, rebels, the wild ones, and the ones who do things differently.

Here are six uncommon leadership virtues that make great leaders rare breeds in their categories:

1. Don’t be a slave to the ordinary

None of the old rules can apply if you want to break the status quo.

Take fashion icon Iris Apfel, for example. Apfel has captured the world’s attention with her signature owl-like glasses and gigantic costume jewelry. Her flamboyant, one-of-a-kind style and quick wit gave rise to her bold brand, and her unapologetic message of individuality inspires legions of fans.

The world doesn’t notice the average, the ordinary, or the common. Don’t be afraid to be a standout and disrupt your category. It’s those who do things differently that make our hearts beat faster.

2. Have an unusual dream

Take kids out of jail and teach them to play with knives and fire? Impossible, unless you’re like Chad Houser.

Houser, founder of Dallas-based Cafe Momentum, had a big vision to open a restaurant that gives at-risk youth chances to turn their lives around. He created an internship program where teens learn immersive chef, management, life and social skills following their release from juvenile detention.

Since 2011, Cafe Momentum has packed the house with sold-out events. Houser was honored as one of the country’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans, joining the ranks of Elvis and JFK.

Pay no mind to the vision stealers and dream crushers. Impossible is only an opinion.​

3. Obey your instincts

In today’s world, we’re taught that research and data enables better decision-making. We crunch numbers, conduct focus groups, achieve consensus, and ask permission–but facts and figures are often flawed measurements of the way forward.

Before launching WeWork, the hottest co-working space in the world, co-founder Adam Neumann encountered considerable opposition pitching the idea at a business plan competition at Baruch College. Neumann complained to the Dean who said, “There’s no 23-year-old, or any inexperienced real estate person, who will ever be able to raise enough money to do anything like ‘concept living.'”

After chasing businesses he wasn’t passionate about, Adam returned to WeWork to try again. It’s grown like wildfire with over 65,000 members in 90 locations across eight countries. In March, WeWork was valued at over $16 billion and the world’s 6th most valuable private startup.

It all boils down to one question: How much do you trust yourself?

4. Be obsessed and obsessive

Good enough is the enemy of greatness. When obsessive tendencies are channeled into highly-productive habits, they take your work from ordinary to extraordinary.

90-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, considered to be the world’s top sushi chef, has spent his entire life studying the art of sushi and striving for perfection. He massages octopus for up to 50 minutes to ensure its perfect softness. Where others chefs might spend 15 minutes on the same task, Jiro continuously goes above and beyond.

Mediocrity is not acceptable.

5. Love the company like a religion

Rare breed leaders love their work in a way that is sacred and deeply personal. They kneel at the brand’s altar, and even downright worship it. Passionate leadership begets passionate teams, and in turn creates faithful followers.

Steve Jobs was the epitome of devotion and Apple was his altar. Despite his deteriorating illness, Jobs still showed up to give his last presentation at the WWDC 2011 keynote.

What is the source of all that energy? One word: love.

6. Leave your ghost in the halls

Legacy is about touching lives and being such an influence that people turn to you for advice and wisdom even after you’re gone.

Consider barbershop owner turned hotelier, Alex Calderwood of Ace Hotel. After his passing in 2014, tales of his leadership, creativity and energy came pouring out.

In an open letter from his team, his staff wrote about his unforgettable flare of love, gumption, and creative genius. His spirit lives on, forever embedded into the fabric of Ace Hotels.

Rare Breed leaders aspire to first build companies that need them like oxygen but then can live on without them.

Sunny Bonnell

Described as a visionary thinker, Sunny Bonnell is co-founder at Motto. Sunny was named GDUSA's Top 25 People to Watch and has been featured in AMEX, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc. and more. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.