Published January 21, 2013
Sydney Finkelstein knows a bit about leadership and bosses. In particular, Finkelstein, the author of "Why Smart Executives Fail" (Penguin Putnam 2003) and co-author of "Think Again" (Harvard Business School Press 2009), knows what makes leaders fail. With that perspective, however, Finkelstein can also understand just what it takes to be a good boss.
"Some things are kind of obvious when it comes to leadership," said Finkelstein, professor of management and associate dean for executive education at the Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. "You have to be a great communicator, have very high integrity and have tremendous perseverance and stamina. Being a leader takes a lot of work and a lot of effort, and the higher up you go, the more work you will have."
While those three qualities are important as foundational elements of good bosses, transformative leaders must also possess a number of other qualities, Finkelstein says.
Those qualities include:
They are intellectually honest — Leaders need to face up to the reality that exists around them, as opposed to wishing it were different. Kodak fell apart because leaders there did not face up to the realities of other situations that were going on.
They are self-aware — Leaders need to have an understanding of how to make decisions, what they think and what their implicit biases or preferences might be. The reality is that all of us have certain things we like, certain things we don’t like and certain biases in how we think about the world. Self-awareness is the ability to see a little more than those personal biases and preferences. That allows leaders to be less likely to fall into the traps when making important decisions.
They have a degree of open-mindedness — Leadership is not just recognizing that the world is different, but doing something about that. It is not enough to say the market has changed or the situation has changed. People need to do something about that.
They develop talent — There is not a leader around that is going to be as successful as they otherwise would be if they didn’t have strong talent around them in their team. This is true in any environment and any situation. It may sound obvious, but a lot of leaders are afraid of other people that are smarter than they are or who know more than they do. Leaders sometimes like to surround themselves with yes men and yes women, and that is a disaster.
They have fostered an environment in which talent has an impact— Leaders need to be able to delegate effectively. Delegation really means that you are not just assigning people things to do, but you are holding them accountable and coaching them as need be.
They realize they can only do so much — No matter who you are or what your job is, you can only do so much. Even President Obama, the leader of the whole country, can't do everything. You need to recognize your limits. As a result, you need to develop relationships around you so you can execute on what you need with them.