Influential Leaders Possess Eight Key Characteristics


The Dean’s Executive Leadership Series (DELS), which comprises in-depth interviews with today’s leading business practitioners and thought leaders, has been sponsored by the Graziadio School and Farmers’ Insurance Group for the past few years. The topic of effective leadership has come up in many of these debates. With the Wall Street scandals, the housing crisis (hyperlink no longer accessible), widespread suspicion of politicians and government officials, and the inability of too many media channels to offer trustworthy and balanced news, strong, values-driven leaders are urgently needed.

Eight critical characteristics of influential leaders are listed here, along with advice from other DELS speakers on why they are so important.

1. Character, not charisma, is required of leaders.

Former Medtronics chairman and CEO William George is the author of True North: Discover Your True Leadership Style:

The more traditional approach is to look for someone personable, stylish, and well-presented. This is rubbish, in my opinion… It’s incompatible with the type of leaders we require. We need leaders with character, integrity, and substance rather than flair. CEOs aren’t naturally charismatic in the traditional meaning of the word. They are, however, cut out to be highly empowering leaders of others, and I believe that businesses that recognize this cultivate those types of leaders from the start. However, this implies that you have leaders who are committed to their beliefs and can be themselves. They know their principles and put them into action daily, especially while under duress. They form long-term bonds with others and see that they must lead with their hearts, not just their heads, which means they must lead with compassion, empathy, and courage. And while they are all attributes of nature, they distinguish a great leader.

2. Integrity, not compliance, is required of leaders.

Former US FederalU.S.rade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras:

First and foremost, an organization’s leader must establish the tone for how decision-making will be carried out… One thing I expect is that we make judgments based on their merits rather than on which direction the wind is blowing… That is crucial, in my opinion. I believe you must have the honesty to gain the respect of your peers and the respect of your constituencies on the outside.

McKesson Corporation’s U.S. PharmU.S.tical Group’s senior vice president of human resources, Priscilla Stewart-Jones:

Because my father was a clergyman, I grew up in a household where values were valued. “Do the right things,” it was always said. Do unto others not only as you’d like them to do unto you, but also as they’d like to be done unto them. Respect others by doing what you claim you’re going to do. “Integrity, integrity, integrity,” says the speaker. Integrity entails being open and truthful, as well as sharing… It’s not business as usual anymore, and it’s not leading as expected either. A strong leader is genuine and assertive while remaining true to their ideals.

3. Leaders must serve rather than be served.

Jelly Belly Candy Company’s president and COO, Robert Simpson:

You must be willing to put up the effort…

Our proprietor has established a culture where he picks it up if a paper falls to the floor. If something is broken, he will immediately fix it. If there’s a mess over there, he’ll put down his work and clean it up. He isn’t going to beg for assistance. He isn’t expecting anyone to rush over to assist him. That sends a powerful message to the rest of the organization, implying that no one is under them.

4. Leaders must form teams rather than silos.

Jelly Belly Candy Company’s Robert Simpson:

It’s all about your firm, intimate relationships with one another. The most enjoyable aspect of my job is dealing with people and exceeding their achievement goals. I’m not an expert, and I’ve always made it a point to hire a lot of clever people…people who are far more intelligent than I am. But it’s all about the team, the business, and what we can accomplish together…one thing I bring and insist on is that working together is not an option; it’s what we do, and we all win together.

5. Leaders must express a vision rather than ambiguity.

Kathryn Karlic, GE Asset Management’s (GEAM) president of institutional sales and marketing:

If you’re a leader, you’re the one who establishes the vision, and that’s your duty, I was told a long time ago. Because so much data comes at you from so many directions, you must be a clear thinker to define vision. There’s a lot of noise out there, and people are counting on you to be a clear thinker who can articulate that and then communicate it again. It needs to be reinforced.

DineEquity, Inc. chairman and CEO Julia Stewart:

As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that people understand and believe in the vision. And so, in this unprecedented climate, we as business executives had to sit down and ask ourselves, “What types of things should we be doing differently and what should stay the same?”

6. Courage, not popularity, is required of leaders.

DineEquity, Inc.’s Julia Stewart:

Did you stay at a $450 Ritz Hotel or a Marriott Courtyard? Did you take a taxi or a private driver? Did you eliminate items that you believed were critical to your or the company’s success? Did you make decisions that favored a select few or all? … Employees are looking at leadership more than ever before, asking, “What are you doing for me, and what are you doing to assure our fate?”… And what that tells you is employees want that vision and direction and leadership, but they also want you to make the hard choices and the right choices for the business. It’s probably the most challenging thing we do as leaders because you’re not going to make everyone happy on any particular day, moment, or decision. However, you must do what is best for the firm and what you believe will ensure its long-term viability.

7. Instead of sycophants, leaders must cultivate future leaders.

Priscilla Stewart-Jones of McKesson Corporation, U.S. PharmU.S.tical Group:

For me, one of the things that you do as a leader is to identify talent and identify potential individuals within your organization. They may be on your team or in other parts of the organization, and at times they can even be peers. Then, quite frankly, volunteering, going to them, and proposing ways to help them. On the is to identify talent and identify occasions that might be a candid conversation to say, “I’d like to help you with your career, let’s talk about that. What can I do to assist you? What are some opportunities, what are some issues or concerns that you have, and how can I support you in that regard?”

8. Leaders need a sense of vocation, not just a career

To the above comments, I would add that a leader needs to have a vocation, a calling beyond personal and career goals, beyond training and skills. Domain brings a sense of purpose and meaning to bear on the work and enhances the leader’s value. A leader needs to have the will and passion for creating a better company, organization, and society.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Share this post with your friends