Cultivate the 5 Attributes of Effective Leaders

Cultivate the 5 Attributes of Effective Leaders

IBM’s study, Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study, is part of a bi-annual series of interviews with 1500 senior leaders to get their perspective on the most pressing challenges to which they must respond in today’s competitive and economic environment. The need for innovation, often #1, dropped a notch in this study, as the leaders focus on a new issue: complexity.

Almost 80% anticipated greater complexity ahead. This includes disruptions as well as new opportunities made available through increasingly interconnected economics, enterprises, societies and governments. Significantly, over 50% reported that they feel ill-prepared for today’s more complex environment!

Cultivate the 5 Attributes of Effective LeadersTo help today’s leaders and the next generation of leaders to handle the issues, we recently delivered a webinar at HR.com’s Conference on “Developing Organizational Leadership Capabilities” on the attributes leaders will need. Here, we’ll summarize the presentation.


The 21st century offers new challenges that leaders must be able to meet. These include:

  • A significantly more diverse workforce. Today’s workers come from a larger number of geographic, demographic and societal cultures than ever before. They pose challenges in forging teams, collaborating and aligning themselves to meet strategic objectives.
  • A virtual workforce requires new organizational models to achieve the strategy. In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the USA to send a man to the moon and return him safely by the end of the century.

As Leonard Sayles and Margaret Chandler showed in Managing Large Systems, a new organizational model was created (e.g., matrix management with temporary project teams) to enable the goal achievement in July, 1969.  Today, we are witnessing the growth of a new organizational model: “network management”.

By recruiting people committed to the vision and mission, and then controlling communications by network members, terrorist organizations, like Al-Queda, are achieving their goals regardless of location.

  • Instant communications create pressures for speedier decision-making. In a world where all the facts cannot be had at all times, leaders need to build structures to facilitate the best possible decision-making with what’s available. They also can enable greater collaboration for partners, regardless of where they are located.
  • Innovation no longer is the domain of a selected few in R&D. Harnessing the creative energy of all potential stakeholders, including employees, customers and strategic partners is critical to developing innovative solutions to process, service and product challenges.


The next generation needs to cultivate these 5 attributes to become effective leaders:

  1. Authenticity – Leaders inspire the team to pursue the vision and mission by demonstrating integrity, trust and courage. They need to show personal commitment to the leadership theme they currently are championing for the organization, e.g., customer centric, talent management, design elegance, globalization, etc. Think of the authentic leader presence of Steve Jobs and OprahWinfrey.
  2. Articulation – Always be communicating. In an increasingly complex world, the need to address key facts and emotions, content and style, becomes most important. Given differences in people’s communication styles (e.g., Neuro Linquistic Programming and Myers-Briggs) as well as impact differences by media (e.g., email, face-to-face and Twitter), leaders must articulate clearly and frequently what the audience needs to build trust and spur action.
  3. Alignment – The leader sets the example by creating and demonstrating a strong culture that aligns people to key value, behaviors and strategic priorities. The importance of this attribute increases the more diverse and distributed the global workforce.
  4. Accountability “What gets measured gets done.” Demonstrate the standards to which you’re accountable and the processes used to meet them. Empower others to hold themselves and their co-workers accountable by adopting appropriate systems (e.g., Execute To Win and Vistage Inside), and celebrate the accomplishments!
  5. Agility – With shifting priorities based on changing conditions affecting supply, production, distribution, investments, etc., leaders need to have the courage to face the new realities and take new actions. As Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express notes “in a crisis you can’t manage by a manual; you have to manage by values and beliefs”.

Develop Your NextGen Leaders.

Identify your NextGen Leaders early and fast-track them. Engage them in “deliberate practice” through LD programs (e.g., Vistage Inside). Cultivate their decision-making capabilities and ability to tackle the challenges of complexity. Remember, first you must cultivate these attributes for yourself!

What are your experiences with these challenging changes in our world and the ability of leaders to handle them? Please share!

Category: Leadership


Jerry Cahn About the Author: Jerry Cahn

Jerry Cahn, Ph.D. J.D.  chairs Vistage CEO and Trusted Advisor groups in New York, is a Vistage Workshop Speaker on a number of topics, including a new one for Vistage groups and corporate clients called “Job #1: Build a Culture that Unleash…

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