The X Factor in Leadership

Many of us follow the popular The X Factor series from the United States. The theme of the show is to seek out exceptional singing talent, hence the term X Factor.

Viewers are often amazed at the talents that are manifested in the show. The focus of this column is on leadership and over the years we featured some superb leadership profiles and principles relating to leaders that possessed the leadership X Factor.  These are exceptional individuals that move barriers to potential and excellence of performance.

We are constantly made aware in our leadership quest that there are many X Factors in leadership practices that bring about amazing results. The performance of some leaders staggers the imagination. What are some of these so-called leadership X factors that empower leaders to move mountains? We want to isolate two major factors: attitude and unity. This article will discuss the first and we will follow up in a future article on the second.

The Attitude X Factor

In the process of commentating on leadership performance we keep on getting back to the immense impact that attitude has on performance. In a previous article we commented on the definition of leadership as opposed to management. We stated that leadership kicks in when we run up against a wall.  In other words, it is when we encounter obstacles, barriers and oppositions on a regular basis that our real leadership instincts and passion kicks in. Leadership is as much about faith and belief in worthwhile values as it is about knowledge and skills. This amounts to a positive attitude and our experience is that such an attitude is the major X Factor in exceptional leadership.

During the past two weeks I have had personal leadership conversations with at least 20 leaders at different levels in several organisations. Each of these conversations embraced frank discussions of their personal and organisational challenges. Those leaders who stood out in terms of their approach to their jobs and life in general were all stamped with one core attribute – that of a fighting positive spirit. 

Martin Dreyer

On occasion I have been in contact and conversation with Martin Dreyer, the extremely impressive and world class super athlete. He is mostly known locally as the winner of seven Duzi river canoe titles but has gone from there and become one of the leading athletes in the world across a wide variety of extreme sporting disciplines. 

Amongst many amazing attributes such as courage and tenacity, the attribute that stands out for us the most in Martin is his ‘never say die’ positive attitude.  For example, on occasions involving international team competitions he was confronted with extremes of snow and far below freezing conditions. In one such competition he experienced such freezing conditions that he was without feeling in his legs and feet for several months afterwards. When confronted with such dire conditions his comments to his team mates were: ‘This is great! By being positive about the situation we will have a distinct advantage over our competitors!’  Martin has proven time and time again that this kind of attitude is not a flash in the pan but is the foundation of his extraordinary success as an international professional athlete. He has also invested considerable time and energy and means to share his experience and winning attitude with others.

The something extra factor

A positive (seamless) attitude is the foundation of the X Factor in leadership. Who really knows what miracles can follow a positive attitude with the courage to endure? A positive attitude, backed by an honest value system, is the key to excellence. ‘Something extra’ happens to people who pursue a positive and values driven approach to life. This ‘something’ is beyond, way beyond, mental logic alone. It is when we are confronted with barriers that momentarily appear to be insurmountable that our X factor leadership instincts kick in.

Most of us (including myself) do not really want to be super athletes challenging almost inhuman conditions. But what we want as leaders is to embrace the positive attitude that separates people like Martin from the crowd. I believe that the leadership challenges facing the modern leader is just as difficult in their own way as those facing extreme sports competitors. 


Valuable insights into principles governing our attitude

Attitude can be defined in various ways. One of the definitions of the Oxford Dictionary is: ‘A settled opinion or way of thinking’.

  1. Attitude is a choice. From years of experience in researching attitude we find at Leadership Platform that attitude is the principle cause of our perceptions and feelings in life. The importance of attitude in determining either our success or failure in life is generally recognised all over the world and throughout history. In Christian doctrine as well as in other great faiths, the overriding importance of attitude is reflected in the teachings of the power of faith to overcome all obstacles in life. Faith is an attitude. So also are fear and doubt and arrogance.  
  2. Attitudes are probably the most important manifestations of humankind’s power to choose. Choice comes first and our attitudes follow. The above Oxford Dictionary definition of attitude may be supplemented with ‘a settled emotional directional intent or way of thinking and feeling’. All things in life have a directional intent, so also do our attitudes. It embraces our expectations, negative or positive. If something does not have motivation, direction and supporting structure, it cannot move (Law of movement). We choose our attitudes.
  3. Our prevailing attitude is a manifestation of our choices and desires and believed values. Our attitudes have a tremendous impact on the depth and nature of our desires and passions and moods. Our inborn ability to determine our own attitude is a remarkable gift that we are born with. This gift is so powerful that we even have the power to ignore God in our decisions and desires! We can override all the reason and good sense in the world if we desire to do so. Attitudes drive the fate of humankind.
  4. Our attitude and creativity are interconnected. If we possess a seamless positive attitude that all things are possible, then we will be more open to creativity or innovation. Creativity or innovation may be defined as acquisition of concepts and ideas that are ‘new’ in terms of our own reference world. If we have a negative expectation attitude then it is almost impossible to receive creative or ‘new’ ideas. Our minds and hearts will simply refuse to embrace anything that is ‘new’ and disruptive to our settled attitude. Creativity often is the root cause of power to move mountains. It is all about attitude.

We may not all be able to be super athletes, but we all have the opportunity to determine our own X factor attitude to the environment around us.


This article appeared in the:

The Workplace





Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

Follow Us

Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


By subscribing you will be updated with the latest insights and news from us. We never spam.