The DNA of Great Leaders

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Here are my impressions of what makes a leader great.

Their effectiveness has little to do with personality factors or the school they attended. Great leaders can be extroverts or introverts. Unlike many presidential candidates they are not all graduates of Ivy League schools but they are passionate lifelong learners, always practicing new skills, and humbly recognizing that they could be much better leaders.

What sets them apart from other leaders is that they have:

1. Very definite ideas and strong opinions of how to take their organization into the future. Such a strategic mindset goes well beyond quarterly profit statements. They understand the life cycle of their business, see trends within their industry as well as the world economy, and in collaboration with their key leaders position their organization to be successful in the future.

2. The capacity to inspire everyone in their organization to accept the vision as well as perform at very high levels. They do this by reaching for sources of inspiration within their people like appealing to the desire to make a contribution or serve the greater good.

3. The skill to consistently and clearly communicate their vision both verbally as well as in writing. Above all, they have a powerful story that touches and convinces their people at an emotional level.

4.  A will to succeed (very competitive) combined with a deep humility that realizes that they cannot achieve their goals alone. They also are big enough to admit that they have failed their way to success. This principle is captured in Jim Collins book on Level 5 Leadership.

5. The discipline to stay focused on what is important. They are not derailed by emotional turbulence both within themselves as well as within their organization. They have a grip on their emotions and do not import strong emotions from one context (a recent battle with a board member) into a meeting with their executive team. They have the discipline to “be here now” (mindfulness).

6. The ability to draw on the expertise of other team members. They don’t feel compelled to be “know-it-alls”. For instance a senior leader may come from a technology background and not have much domain depth in the area of sales and marketing. He/she knows enough to ask powerful questions but relies on others to advise him/her on the important issues that have relevance to key business goals.

What top qualities do you find in effective senior leaders?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to The DNA of Great Leaders

  1. Jeff West says:

    Speaking purely from experience most managers have only 2 or 3 of the characteristics from your list. Unfortunately, many of them don’t seem to care about developing their skill set, only their income. Most companies I have worked for are more concerned about profit than developing people. I know – poor choices on my part. Maybe so, but I have worked for a couple of the largest IT companies in the world and they truly do not (or did not) care about customers or employees.

    As a senior manager I often find myself in the position doing damage control to save situations where owners or top level managers have verbally abused employees simply because it is their “style” and makes them feel superior. Because they get away with being rude and abusive they fear no reprisals for their actions. This happens in companies of all sizes.

    I believe people need to have a desire to manage effectively, develop their employees and continue to educate themselves. That’s too much work for most managers and companies to deal with. Getting the job done takes precedence. In today’s work environment everyone seems to be doing more, earning less for it and giving in to the easy way out because they don’t have the time to spend getting it right.

    Short term view isn’t it? Not the path to long term success but few companies today seem to take a long term view of anything. We are the instant gratification society and waiting isn’t part of the equation. I would hope for change but I have been in the workforce for 54 years and it isn’t going to happen on any large scale. Yes, I am a cynic.

    Jeff West

    • cedricj says:

      What you say Jeff is so sad but so true. Many workers live lives of quiet desperation. I am very fortunate to work for companies, including some of the tech giants, that have a deep commitment to develop their leaders. The qualities I have outlined are the qualities they seek for in their leaders. In this way they do well (profitability) as well as doing good (concern for their people) I hope there is another life for you in the future where fulfillment will outweigh frustration. My best wishes to you in such a quest.

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