The Qualities of a Leader

Let’s revisit a post featuring leadership qualities during Women’s History Month. #takemebacktuesday

Here we are at the end of Women’s History Month and it’s fitting that March featured many well-run, well-attended events at women’s organizations across the country. I had the pleasure of attending the Young Women in Digital event in Boston and most recently a Step Up Women’s Panel on Women of Character, Courage and Conviction.  The panel featured Kathy Callahan, VP & CIO at Prudential Financial, Lucy Kaylin, editor in chief of The Oprah Magazine and Susan Lyne, CEO of AOL Brand Group. Step Up CEO Jenni Luke moderated. Their insights prompted me to reflect on the core competencies of a leader and the most talked about leadership qualities in the candidates we work with.

Power of Persuasion
Good leaders can get others excited about what they are excited about. They can rally their team around an idea or a cause and open their minds to new possibilities. The character a leader displays either supports or compromises this effort. On a daily basis, if you demonstrate a genuine interest in developing the people you manage, a passion for the mission of the company or the project and a readiness to admit your own uncertainties, you position yourself to be taken seriously when the time comes to win others to your way of thinking.

Ability to Make Decisions
The candidates who demonstrate decisiveness rise to the top. What new ideas did you implement in your last role? Do you have a history of being a change agent? Interviewers often ask about a crossroads moment you may have faced. The ability to make decisions shows up again and again in leadership assessments. In 2011, consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman analyzed leadership-effectiveness through a series of surveys and came up with 16 competencies top leaders exemplify most. Many of these highlighted the leader’s ability to act: “takes initiative,” “drives for results,” “champions change,” “solves problems,” “innovates.” You need not always be certain, but leaders learn to manage their uncertainty and move forward.

Ability to Admit When You’re Wrong
In an interview with Forbes, Susan Lyne said, “It’s human instinct not to want to show any vulnerability. As a result we play along. How many times do people let something pass when they could raise their hand and say I don’t get this? In business, it just happens constantly. We take for granted either that we will get it over time, or that it’s not seemly for someone who is in a senior position to say I don’t know, help.” We assume that admitting our mistakes or confusion will render us weak and stupid. But it is far worse to continue in blind support of a flawed plan for the sake of our pride. Good leaders can humble themselves before a team and, in doing so, will earn their trust and respect.

Of course, there are as many important qualities of a leader as there are leadership styles. I’ve highlighted other skills, such as mentoring and branding, in the past and I will continue to identify the traits I observe in the men and women who are leading effectively.