Top Four Leadership Qualities

Posted on: January 16, 2015

Julienne VanDerZiel, ITS Applications Director, shared a recent article by McKinsey and Company which provides interesting insights into the most important qualities of leadership as defined in their research. In Decoding leadership: What really matters , this new research shows that of 20 leadership qualities, four types of behavior play a significant role in developing effective leaders. While the article does not claim to provide the definitive answer to what makes great leaders, it strongly supports prioritizing these four areas as a good place to start in the development of future leaders. Interspersed with each quality are recent comments from Chancellor McRaven.

  • Solving problems effectively . The process that precedes decision making is problem solving, when information is gathered, analyzed, and considered. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues as well as daily ones. (As Chancellor McRaven said last week, Listen to those with the understanding and experience necessary to solve challenging problems.)
  • Operating with a strong results orientation . Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work. (McRaven again, We must wake up every morning with the goal of making the individual institutions the best they can be. We must add value in everything we do.)
  • Seeking different perspectives . This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone. (McRavens expectations: If you feel a decision is wrong, say so. Make your case. I welcome competing ideas to ensure that all sides of the argument are heard.)
  • Supporting others . Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict. (Chancellor McRaven: The best institutions build the greatest trust among their employees and constituents.)

Excerpted from the McKinsey Quarterly, January 2015

This article is an informative and insightful reminder that cultivating certain qualities-of-self enhances both organizational and personal excellence. It is recommended reading for everyone and a good topic for discussing with your colleagues.

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