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LEADERSHIP IS A PROCESS OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE, WHICH MAXIMISES THE EFFORTS OF OTHERS TOWARDS THE ACHIEVEMENT OF A SHARED GOAL.
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Ever wonder what it takes to become a successful CEO? Adam Bryant has interviewed dozens of outstanding leaders for his New York Times column, "Corner Office." In his recently released book Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers (Business Plus), he distills the lessons he's learned from the best business people in the world. He has uncovered five essential qualities that determine who makes it to the top, all of which he says can be acquired by developing discipline, proper habits and a positive attitude.
The first trait possessed by top executives is that they have passionate curiosity. While they publicly project an air of authority and confidence, they have a different decorum when they are in their inner sanctum with their right-hand people. In that setting they encourage people to share their stories of success and failure. CEOs are intensely interested in finding out what works and why, as well as wanting people to learn lessons from their mistakes.
Chief executives want to understand the big picture and are constantly questioning how their organisation can improve. Through relentless questioning they spot new opportunities, see who's an outstanding performer, and gauge how well their team is working together. Rather than imagining that they have all the right answers, CEOs recognise that their greatest contribution comes from asking the right questions. By discovering what the employees in the organisation believe will lead to greater success, top-notch leaders are able to harness the collective energy of those people who will need to make it happen.
The second quality, says Bryant, is battle-hardened confidence, an inner resilience that CEOs develop by having learned how to deal with adversity. The best leaders embrace challenges, even relish them, and their track record shows that they always find ways to overcome the problems that they encounter. The defining characteristic of resilient leaders is that they take ownership of the issues they face rather than making excuses.
The battle-hardened component comes from the strong work ethic that CEOs develop as they're making their way up in an organisation. They develop the attitude that while there's always something they can do to overcome an adverse situation, they may not get it right on the first attempt. They learn that when they fall down, they can get up, dust themselves off, and continue forging ahead until they achieve their objective.
The third attribute of a chief executive is their uncanny ability to understand how teams work, which enables them to bring out the best in their people. It's typical that in their youth CEOs were active in sports, Boy Scouts and other group activities. In their professional development they learn to recognise whom they can rely on, who has the right reactions under pressure and who the star performers are.
In today's fast-paced business environment, organisations increasingly operate with ad hoc teams. The ability to put the right players on the right team to achieve a common goal is an essential leadership skill. CEOs recognise other managers in the organisation who are also able to recruit the right team and manage them well, and they promote those people into their inner circle.
A fourth element of extraordinary leadership is a simple mind-set. CEOs want people who present to them to be concise, stating the problem simply and offering a straightforward solution. They have little time to deal with subordinates who are unfocused or overthink problems, or worse, want to explain all of their research and analysis. Sometimes they'll ask someone to give them a 10-word summary of their idea. CEOs want people around them who can synthesise information, connect the dots and present practical action plans.
The fifth quality common to CEOs is fearlessness. They are comfortable being in uncertain situations where there is no map or compass to guide them. As soon as things get settled in their organisation, they want to shake it up and make the operation work even better. The best leaders understand that maintaining the status quo will enable their competitors to leave them in the dust, so they constantly want to keep their company on the cutting edge rather than allowing it to become complacent.
Chief executives look to hire people who not only have a track record of managing change, but an appetite for it. They love hearing stories of success involving an individual who sees an opportunity and goes for it based on the courage of his or her convictions. Like the other four factors, fearlessness is a characteristic people can develop.