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So, You Want to Be a Leader?

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When it comes to the best business leaders in the modern age, a very diverse set of people come to mind. Take Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi, who has guided Pepsi through various challenges to become second largest food and beverage company in the world through her strategy of diversification. There’s Bob Iger, of Disney, who faced internal conflicts head-on and ended up sacrificing corporate relations for the acquisition of Pixar, which ended up saving the company’s animation department. There’s James Sinegal of Costco, Meg Whitman of HP, Larry Page of Google, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Apple’s Steve Jobs... and the list goes on.

Although these CEOs lead very different kinds of companies operating in a very diverse set of markets, they all tend to have a few unifying leadership qualities that have allowed their businesses to achieve the successes they have. In this article we will explore what qualities separate a great leader from a good one, and discuss how you can exhibit such traits in the workplace!

The best leaders should….

Have Integrity

“We learned about honesty and integrity - that the truth matters... that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square.” -Michelle Obama, first lady

Integrity can be defined as always interacting with others ethically and honorably. Those with integrity place a high importance following their moral compass and invest faith in others to do the same. According to Michael Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, ethical leaders “believe the following statements: it is more important to say what I believe than to be popular; things tend to work out when I tell the truth; I would never lie just to get something I want from someone; my life is guided and given meaning by my values; I always follow through on my commitments, even when it costs me.”  

One particularly transparent and honorable leader is Ann Mulcahy, the previous CEO of Xerox, who immediately after attaining her role denounced Xerox’s business model, saying it was “unsustainable and that the company would confront reality then make the tough decisions necessary to restore the Xerox’s competitiveness.” A leader who both practices and encourages high moral standards influences employees to do the same; this cultivates a proactive, positive, and trustworthy corporate atmosphere.

Be Self-Aware

“The first step towards change is awareness”- Nathaniel Branden, psychotherapist

The best leader is aware of him or herself, his or her weaknesses, and the impact they may have on the company as a whole if not acted upon. According to an article by Forbes, a study conducted in 2010 by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations,  “examined 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion,” and found that high self awareness in executives was the strongest overall predictor of a company’s  success. This, according to the article, is because “executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen...and are more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”   

A leader can become more self-aware by drawing on the opinions of his or her workforce through regular check-ins, surveys, and in-person interactions. 

Practice Patience 

Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience.“ -Hyman Rickover, U.S. admiral

Patience means According to an Entrepreneur article, benefits of practicing patience in the workplace include “smart decision-making, building a reputation, self-possession, tolerance, hope, and a positive team culture.”

One study by Pew Research Center sums up a “recent study about people under the age of 35 and the dangers of their hyperconnected lives with what sounds like a prescription drug warning: ‘Negative effects include a need for instant gratification and loss of patience.’” With instant gratification becoming a prominent aspect of modern society, it is important as a leader to recall that good things come to those who wait--that those who maximize on opportunities even if the first seems amazing are truly the best off.

Stimulate Conversation & Encourage Feedback

"Leaders who make it a practice to draw out the thoughts and ideas of their subordinates and who are receptive even to bad news will be properly informed. Communicate downward to subordinates with at least the same care and attention as you communicate upward to superiors." -L.B. Belker, Author

The best leaders drive communication across all company departments, from top down to bottom up. Making sure the thoughts, ideas, and goals of executive are understood by employees and vice versa is essential in garnering an overarching sense of workplace understanding.

This can be done by regular check-ins, corporate and department meetings, and sessions designed specifically for brainstorming and expressing concerns to gain honest feedback.

Delegate

“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit”- Andrew Carnegie, American Businessman

As a CEO, you have the privilege of authority, and the privilege of a workforce. While it is essential to be ambitious as a leader, it is also important to not be overly ambitious, and to recognize what you have the time or expertise to do.

In this Harvard Business Review article titled “Why Aren’t You Delegating?”, Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management writes, “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.” A great leader recognizes that delegating tasks, and providing workers with the resources to effectively carry out these tasks are key in increasing levels of productivity.

Exhibit Passion

"There is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." - Nelson Mandela, Politician

Emotion is oftentimes contagious, so when a boss is unable to control how much they love what they do, it tends to catch on. Passionate leaders that believe so much in their company’s purpose and the ability or their employees that they give up time in a busy workday to move obstacles and provide feedback for their workforce, are more likely to see a reciprocal effort.   

One such example of a passionate CEO is Mark Zuckerberg, who “has always been fascinated by building systems that connect people...and making the world more open.” To this day, if you look at “Facebook's mission statement, its core hasn't changed since inception: ‘Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.’

VII. Be Innovative and Encourage Innovation

"Capital isn't so important in business. Experience isn't so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn't any limit to what you can do with your business and your life." - Harvey Firestone, American Businessman

A good leader welcomes new ideas constantly, and is driven by discovery of diverse concepts. An article in Fortune magazine explains that at the birth of of the internet, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, took the statistic that read the “Internet was growing 2,300% a year” as an opportunity.  He then “deconstructed a traditional business process for delivering goods and ‘The Earth’s Biggest Bookstore’ was born.”

By constantly questioning your company’s traditional strategies and asking how they can be improved upon, and by sourcing the opinions of all employees, you are in turn stimulating creativity and an open corporate culture.

Constatntly Adapt to the Times

"When you're finished changing, you're finished."- Ben Franklin, Founding Father

With technology shaping most aspects of the modern business world, as a leader, it is important to constantly adapt to the times and to the latest technology; without modernizing, you are setting your company at a serious competitive disadvantage to your competitors.

This means understanding the role of social media in advertising and publicity, apps and tools that help you gauge the thoughts and ideas of your workforce in real time, and encouraging your employees to constantly be learning and taking to the “new”.