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[Review] Unusually Excellent

Are you an unusually excellent leader? Leadership expert John Hamm‘s book, “Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership” delves deep into the key aspects that defines a great leader and sets a framework for helping you apply these leadership principles. And Hamm should know something about leadership – he’s led investments in many successful high-growth companies as a partner in various venture capital firms and named as one of the United State’s top 100 venture capitalists by AlwaysOn in 2009, and teaches leadership at Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.

To give you an idea of what you can find in “Unusually Excellent“, here is a snapshot of Hamm’s nine precepts to being a successful leader:

1. Being authentic: the courage to be yourself.

Knowing who we are at the core, Hamm asserts, is a “project of awareness, courageous introspection and thoughtful reflection” – but it is a thoroughly necessary step towards leadership greatness.

2. Being trustworthy: the consistency of integrity.

Unusually Excellent leaders build a track record of honesty, fairness, and integrity that creates a leadership “equity” within their constituency. Trustworthiness, according to Hamm, is the most noble of all of the attributes of leadership.

3. Being compelling: the commitment to winning.

Great leaders compel followers – in fact they are able to find and inspire followers to commit their minds, hearts, time and energy towards a cause. And there is nothing more compelling than seeing a leader’s complete commitment to a vision – and towards winning.

4. Leading people: talent to teams.

The best leaders are those who take hiring seriously and personally. But it’s not just about finding the right or the best people; you’ll need to get them into “their power alley”, where they can best contribute.

5. Leading strategy: ideas to plans.

A plan, says Hamm, is not a strategy. A strategy is bigger than a plan. Unusually Excellent leaders know that a good strategy establishes the right priorities and can then put together plans – with committed resources – that points towards the organization’s goals.

6. Leading execution: action to results.

Leaders not only need to formulate a grand strategy, they need to lead the execution of plans. They also need to measure what matters to winning.

7. A leader’s communication: open, honest dialogue.

Communication, notes Hamm, is the core to leading – in fact the very definition of a communicator is embedded in the expectations we have of a leader, and is essential to leadership effectiveness. Leaders know when and how to get feedback and give praise.

8. A leader’s decision making: values-based choices.

The final judgement of how effective you are as a leader depends on the quality of decisions you make over the course of your career as a leader. As Hamm puts it, it is “the series of decisions made under pressure, in the heat of battle, that makes careers and sets legacies”.

9. A leader’s impact: the transfer of influence from leader to follower.

According to Hamm, the most complex, elusive and unpredictable aspect of leadership is working with people – managing relationships, transactions, conversations, interactions, conflicts, shared victories, etc. And yes, while the most obvious ways to have an impact are through decisions and successes, another not quit so obvious one is your reputation.


Unusually Excellent” makes for rather heavy reading – it’s not Leadership 101, and Hamm doesn’t make it out to be. Instead, it’s a tome that clearly articulates the fundamentals of leadership and, as Hamm describes it, an “operating manual” for leaders at any point in their careers. If you are in any leadership position, do check out “Unusually Excellent“.

Just don’t expect to complete it over a weekend.

You may also be interested to read Hamm’s contributed articles about leadership:


Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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