Behind the Executive Door

Where personality meets leadership.

Recognizing a Remarkable Leader

Is your boss a remarkable leader? Are you?

When Dr. James T. Harris III became the ninth President of Widener University in 2002, he inherited a proud but relatively unknown institution of higher learning. He inherited the benefits of being at the urban edge of a thriving place called Philadelphia. And he inherited the location of struggling-to-survive Chester, PA, one of the most poverty-stricken cities in the state. Crime and joblessness were high, optimism and morale were low. 

In his inaugural speech Jim Harris said, "To paraphrase Dickens, we have the best of times. We have the worst of times. But this is more than the tale of two communities. This is a tale of how a University can use its resources, energies, and influence to bridge the gap between those two communities." Clearly, he saw the futures of Widener and Chester inextricably linked—not divided as they'd been, and he worked hard to forge his relationships with community leaders. 

Harris began the pursuit of his leadership vision by launching an inclusive strategic planning process that included Chester community members, as well as his talented senior administrators, deans, faculty members, and students. A rolling set of strategic objectives guided his presidency through community partnerships focused on the employment, education, physical health, and psychological well-being of people living in Chester.

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A decade later, Widener's exemplary community engagement effort has helped distinguished it nationally as a vibrant metropolitan university. Harris has consistently provided feedback to all Widener and Chester stakeholders and he's recognized their ongoing efforts.

Based on my research and writing, the Widener University/President Jim Harris story serves as a template for gauging whether or not your organization is being run by what I term a remarkable leader. If you can check more than four of the factors listed below, you're in good—and remarkable—hands.

REMARKABLE LEADER FACTORS

___  Total brain leadership (TBL)—the leader makes decisions based on both facts and people factors (Harris's focus on Widener's location and the need to engage Chester community members in his vision)

___  Emotional intelligence (EI)—the leader is aware of his/her emotions, as well as those of others and uses this emotional awareness to forge strategic alignment (Harris's relationship-building within both Widener and Chester)

___  Productive narcissism—the leader's talents are focused on achievements that are  in the best  interest of the organization versus undue self interest (Harris's community outreach and recognition of the efforts of both Widener employees and community members)

___  Strategic thinking—strategic planning is inclusive, timely, and sets specific objectives with realistic timelines (Harris's strategic planning process)

___  Managing people—the leader populates his/her leadership team with "A" players, provides sufficient direction, empowers and acknowledges their successes (the essence of Harris's management style)

___  Driving results—the leader sticks with strategic objectives, expects the full accountability of others, and gives timely feedback (how Harris leads)

___  Executive credibility—the leader consistently "walks the talk," is fair, credible, capable, and can inspire others with his/her has excellent communication skills (the power of Harris's leadership vision)

If you do not have a Remarkable boss, you could:

  • Give him/her candid albeit constructive feedback on the most relevant factor(s) as cited above
  • Influence another way of such feedback being provided like Human Resources arranging his/her getting 360 feedback from a neutral outside resource
  • Assess how the leader reacts to candid feedback—you might be surprised by a positive reaction that involves his/her efforts to improve.

Or, there might be an angry or otherwise defensive reaction. That would be a signal for you to consider other options including; (1) transferring to another boss, (2) seeking experience in another functional part or region of the company, (3) suggesting the leader work with an executive coach, (4) seeking a senior executive (in the company) as a mentor, and/or (4) exploring what your career options might be elsewhere.

  • Meet with a career management professional to assess whether you are well-suited for the work you're doing. If not, it may be time for you to go to grad school, change industries, or maybe even go entrepreneurial.

The consideration of what type of leader we have—or perhaps wish we had—reminds me of these words from the Welsh poet David Whyte, "The split between what is nourishing at work and what is agonizing is the very chasm from which our personal identity emerges." 

Dr. Karol Wasylyshyn is a licensed psychologist, executive consultant and author of Behind The Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss and Career.

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