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The Intangibles of Leadership

For my book, “The Intangibles of Leadership,” I set out to uncover patterns in the attributes that truly distinguish those who succeed at the top levels. I found that extraordinary leaders possess certain characteristics that fall between the lines of existing leadership models, yet are fundamental to executive success. Development of these “intangibles” can mean the difference between being a good senior executive and a great leader.

Knowledge gleaned from previous experiences does not become wisdom until it is consciously applied to new circumstances. Great leaders don’t just think about what happened, they think about why it happened.

TIP: Build wisdom by designating time for self-reflection. Reserve an hour each week to think about the “Big Stuff.” What decisions did you make? What have you learned in the last 7 days?

Social judgment is the ability to analyze people and situations, then making good decisions based on that information. Leaders who possess this intangible have a deeper appreciation of what is motivating the person across the table.

TIP: Step back and observe meeting dynamics. The pace and flow of the discussion provides important clues as to: what the group cares about, topics that are uncomfortable, and which issues will require the most guidance.

No leader can maintain steady performance at the top levels of business without his or her decisions being anchored by a consistent set of values. This stability and steadfastness affects every relationship.

TIP: It may seem basic, but stick to “doing the right thing.” Be nice to people, let others win occasionally. Be thankful, polite, and respectful. People will notice these positive characteristics and define you as having integrity.

People with presence are not easily forgotten. It isn’t simply because they have power; it’s because they know how to use it. Understanding the impact of your presence is crucial to running a successful team.

TIP: When you step into a room, look people in the eye and offer a firm handshake. Let the conversation unfold and then create a strong impression by pulling together the main discussion points.

Self-insight is the primary tool for growth and development. If you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you can become the most effective type of leader: strong and focused, yet adaptable.

TIP: Do you have trusted advisors you can talk with? If necessary, look outside the organization. Include people you can trust to give honest feedback, no matter how difficult it may be to hear.

Awareness of your emotional patterns and triggers, and the ability to manage those feelings, are paramount to fully formed leadership. Many business leaders have similar skills, but only a remarkable few master their emotions.

TIP: Executive maturity depends on your ability to recognize not only your own signals about how you are really feeling, but also those emitted by others. See if you can spot subtle hints in your team.

People aren’t looking for their leaders to be ineffectual, but they do want to see a willingness to take risks and fail. Leaders who admit when they are wrong are perceived more favorably.

TIP: A very important part of being fallible is being, simply enough, real. Let people in. Show them a bit of the real you. It will make an enormous difference in the way they trust and invest in you.

Some leaders exercise their influence so delicately that those around them happily follow without questioning why. Others are more insistent, forcefully staking out their territory at the front of the pack. Both methods require will.

TIP: Will requires “stick-to-itiveness.” You can’t quit. When obstacles keep getting in your way and it seems that you’ll never meet your objectives, remember this: You are probably just a hair’s breadth away.

In a study of world-class performers, few had been considered prodigies. The most accomplished subjects had worked hard for years to succeed. The conclusions are powerful: Drive, energy, and persistence propel people to the top.

TIP: Do you shy away from “big” issues? Don’t! Take them on. See what you’re made of. The more you force yourself to invite such challenges, the more confidence you’ll develop in your own ability.

Leaders need an underlying belief in their ability to attain a set of objectives. Those lacking this tend to make safe decisions, adopting a CYA approach. Extraordinary leaders know their boundaries of competence and masterfully exploit them.

TIP: Seek the help of a mentor or role model. Spend time with someone you look up to build confidence through osmosis. Extraordinary leadership is contagious and you need to get the bug.

Careful attention to these “Intangibles of Leadership” can bring tangible results to your leadership style and your organization’s bottom line.

Dr. Richard Davis is a management psychologist and partner at RHR International. He is author of “The Intangibles of Leadership: The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance” (Jossey-Bass, 2010): http://www.intangiblesofleadership.com.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Richard Davis published on August 23, 2011 8:30 AM.

Finally! Realistic Writing on Work-Life Balance was the previous entry in this blog.

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