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Leadership

Successful leaders are often credited with having high social intelligence, the ability to embrace change, inner resources such as self-awareness and self-mastery, and above all, the capacity to focus on the things that truly merit their attention. These are desirable skills for everyone else, too.

"Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality," said Warren Bennis, a pioneer in leadership research, and it is generally a leader’s responsibility to develop a vision for the people and institutions they direct. They also need to effectively communicate their priorities to others and inspire them to commit to those goals as well. Leadership does not depend on one’s title. Leaders can emerge at any level if they can motivate those with whom they collaborate to strive toward a common goal.

The Qualities of Great Leaders

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Effective leaders likely share some key personality traits, including sociability, ambition, and curiosity—and these traits may be more relevant to the role than intelligence. Genetics appear to influence leadership ability, due to inherited personality traits, but environmental factors such as education and opportunity play a significant role as well.

Are good leaders born or made?

Researchers estimate that leadership is about a third born and two-thirds made. Some inborn traits such as extraversion, assertiveness, empathy, and social intelligence are important elements of leadership, but training, education, self-development, and experience are at least as important.

How do good leaders inspire others?

Leaders cannot focus on tasks and strategies alone; they must also pay attention to relationships and morale. One of the best ways to do that is to foster a culture of gratitude, praising and thanking colleagues for the work they do and the ideas they contribute. Research finds that employees in such environments are more productive, and treat customers more courteously.

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Becoming a Better Leader

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Ineffective or irresponsible leaders can sink an organization, and yet individuals who reach positions of power often fall prey to the same errors and pitfalls. Nearly 40 percent of CEO resignations are prompted by failures of integrity such as fraud and corruption. When leaders put their personal vision ahead of ethics or practical realities, they put their positions and their organizations in jeopardy. The remedy, experts suggest, is creating cultures of openness.

What is the most common error leaders make?

Attaining power can make people overconfident about their abilities and judgment, leading them to take irresponsible risks. Compounding the problem, in many organizations few people feel emboldened to challenge leaders’ decisions. This combination is often cited in analyses of failed organizations. Management experts suggest that leaders actively seek out critical comments, either from within their organization or from third parties, and consider that feedback without bias.

How can leaders create a healthy work environment?

Surveys find that as few as 1 percent of employees feel confident about airing their concerns. Organizations that welcome “employee voice”—upward communication that is constructive but challenging—have fewer errors and higher staff retention. Leaders can foster such a culture by staying open to others’ perspectives and through practices such as speaking last at meetings instead of first.

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