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Leadership Characteristics

Posted 04-28-2010 at 07:11 PM by 95th Annual
In her session this morning, “Leadership Characteristics,” Lara Nichols, senior director at Tyco International, asserted that strong leaders — whether they’re positive or negative influences — share common characteristics in two realms: practical skills and inner convictions. For example, she cited some contentious examplesof leaders, including Jim Jones and Hitler. “They were influential, regardless of whether we agree with their positions or not,” she said. “We can’t argue that.”

To this end, Nichols asserted that practical skills are simple to spot, measure and discuss. Among these are focus (including listening and being present); diligence (asking questions, always following through, being responsive); and openness (asking for favors, forming bonds, being adequate versus greater or less than, initiating relationships and practicing self-disclosure – in other words, being a person as much as you are a professional).

Inner convictions, on the other hand, are more difficult to discern, but they are what noticeably sets apart the most effective leaders, she continued. “Many people think leaders are born,” she told attendees. “But, just like athletes, the world’s best leaders perfect their practical skills and inner convictions to improve their leadership ability.

Several common inner convictions of effective leaders cited by Nichols were: engaged listening, empathy, self-control (of body language, especially), integrity, vision, solid judgment, investing in others, respect and time management skills.

“But, the best leaders have something more,” she added. “It’s something intangible – something that draws in others.”

To this end, Nichols asserted that leaders and managers are two different things. Whereas managers focus on delivery, maintenance, acceptance, perfection and controlling the outcome, leaders will focus on people, development, challenges, innovation and motivation. “Leadership is kind of a natural relationship,” she explained. “It’s human nature to want to follow them.”

Personifying leadership requires us to exemplify unfailing integrity, create positive change, allow the change to belong to others and create excitement in advance of change. It also involves ensuring comfort (understanding what’s important to people and making it important to you, too) and shaping the experiences of others.

“The biggest question is, ‘Can you develop others to lead?’” Nichols told attendees. “You can avoid rookie mistakes by finding common ground, giving AND receiving and engaging fully. What you don’t want to do is pass the buck, forget your friends and family, betray anyone's trust or give up.”
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