Leadership lessons made easy

February 06, 2016

Leadership lessons made easy

I read a lot of leadership articles but this one made a whole lot of sense to me. It was written by Ron Carlucci of Navalent and is based on a longitudinal study of executives that isolated what it takes to be an exceptional top executive. The 10 year study comprising nearly 3,000 leadership interviews isolated the skills of best of breed using IBM’s Watson content analysis to arrive at four key dimensions. I was fascinated that Watson was able to take all this qualitative data and make sense of  all the nuances. Just yesterday I was in a meeting with a colleague who was wondering how best to analyze thousands of interviews he had just done for a client. This might just be an answer. But most importantly to me, the four dimensions of leadership are so exactly right, learnable and applicable:

1. They know the whole business. “Exceptional executives have deep knowledge of how the pieces of the organization fit together to create value and deliver results.” This is not easy to do but when you meet an executive who has the big picture and can connect the dots, it is astonishing to see how they put all the pieces of the puzzle together. It can be magical.

2. They are great decision-makers. “Exemplary executives have the ability to declare their views, engage others’ ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call, and communicate the decision clearly.” The author mentions here that the exceptional leader is able to weigh intuition with analytics. I was glad to see this because sometimes gut reaction provides the deep insight that data masks. The article also cites a McKinsey survey that found that 60% of executives thought that bad decisions in their companies occurred as often as good ones. Only 28% said that good decisions were made often. That does not speak highly for the quality of good decision-making in companies today. Thus, if an executive at the top is able to sort out all the noise that comes with nailing down an important decision that impacts an organization’s strategic direction, that is exceptional.

3. They know the industry. “Their natural contextual intelligence lies at the intersection of insights into how their organization uniquely competes and makes money, and what is most relevant to the customers they serve ─ even when customers may not know themselves.” This description resonates because there is a lot of talk in my industry — public relations — about how we are morphing into other adjacent industries. I think you have to know what customers are actually thinking — not just what we believe internally — to be able to determine where the trajectory of public relations is headed.

4. They form deep, trusting relationships. “These executives form deep connections with superiors, peers, and direct reports, studying and meeting the needs of key stakeholders. They communicate in compelling ways and reach beyond superficial transactions to form mutually beneficial, trusting relationships.” This is where our research on leadership humility fits in. It’s about the collective, not the individual, and the best leaders live and learn by this principle. It sounds easy but it the character of the individual and where most leaders fail.


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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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