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  • Writer's pictureFred Petito

The Leadership Attributes That Separate the Great From the Good


You emphasize the importance of cultivating an authentic leadership style. Can you explain why authenticity is crucial for success as a leader?

To answer that question, I’d like to first define what leadership is. The way I see it, leadership is ultimately about creating an environment for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.

That involves a lot of things, such as being clear about your guiding principles, clarifying your values, creating a vision that inspires, and finding your voice as a leader But leadership is also a relationship – and people look for certain things in people they relate to…it’s a basic human impulse or instinct especially when it comes to a person that they have to willingly follow

One of the most important things people look for in a leader is whether they are honest, truthful, principled, and authentic – which is a synonym for honesty. I saw a definition of authenticity as an alignment between someone’s internal values and beliefs and external behavior. So when leaders act with authenticity they act in a way that’s consistent with their values and that generates trust and confidence in the leader.

In today's fast-paced world, adaptability and agility are critical. How can leaders become more adaptive and agile in their approach to leadership?

Great question – well I think there are really 2 questions here because being adaptive is different from being agile. When I think of being adaptive, I think of it as more of a mindset and way of being…the concept of an adaptive mindset comes from the work of developmental psychologists such as Robert Kegan.

What these developmental psychologists have shown us is that our ability to make sense of the world can become more nuanced and sophisticated and ultimately equips us to better adapt to volatile, rapidly changing, and uncertain situations. However, developing this adaptive capacity requires an ongoing commitment to being more self-aware about our own thoughts and the patterns behind them (i.e., cultivating your being mind, versus your doing mind)

Improving your adaptive capacity is not about getting smarter in the traditional IQ sense. It’s about increasing awareness of our thought processes, thinking more critically, and solving problems with an independent frame of mind – it’s the shift from a reactive to a creative mindset

Increasing Leadership Agility

When I think of agility I think of both mindset shifts and behavioral shifts – but let’s focus on two mindset shifts

Mindset Shift One – From Certainty to Curiosity - one of the most important mindset shifts to being more agile, is from being certain about the world around you to being more curious. Being more curious helps you see emerging opportunities and threats sooner and with more clarity, because your mind is open and fertile.

A more curious mindset is also more adept at developing original and breakthrough ideas, and bringing a more opportunistic approach to challenges and opportunities that is guided by a ‘play to win’ versus a ‘play not to lose’ attitude

This is important because the most pressing business challenges are often complex and related to forces that are difficult to identify. Traditional leadership mindsets that play it safe with narrow technical solutions and one-dimensional strategies don't usually work with multidimensional and dynamic challenges.

Mindset Shift Two – From Fixed to Growth - this is more about developing a positive frame of mind that is open to new ideas and opportunities. A mindset that is not limited by unfounded fears and doubts, and is brings an expansive win-win approach to business challenges and opportunities

This is contrasted with traditional leadership mindsets that view the world in zero-sum terms where growth comes at the expense of competitors. This fixed mindset results in a finite worldview that misses growth opportunities. More agile leaders approach their business with a mindset of growth and abundance based on a belief that there are always alternative avenues of growth to be discovered.

Can you explain what executive presence is and share some practical strategies and tips for developing an executive presence in the context of leadership?

Executive presence is a complex cluster of attributes, attitudes, and behaviors. One of the most important attributes of executive presence is influence – there are many aspects of executive influence that can be coached, including:

  • Developing a valuable expertise or area of knowledge

  • Being a thought leader

  • Strengthening relationships up, down, and across the organization

  • Building on a talent or strength (e.g., see StrengthBuilders by Gallup)

  • Improving social and interpersonal skills

  • Developing a more positive mindset

  • Being authentically passionate and enthusiastic

  • Demonstrating greater confidence

  • Being willing to engage in influence conversations to achieve wants and needs

Talking about influence, how do you work with a client to help them increase their leadership influence with their team or in their organization?

It really starts by setting a clear goal around the topic or situation that they want to be more influential about. So first I seek to understand the situation and the other person or people that my client wants to influence.

I really like following Kouzes’ and Posner’s five practices of exemplary leadership – this is the best roadmap I have seen on how to build influence as a leader:

  1. Model the Way - Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (team members, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way they should pursue goals. Leaders create standards of excellence and set an example for others to follow. They put up signposts when people feel unsure of where to go or how to get there. Leaders create opportunities for victory.

  2. Inspire a Shared Vision - Leaders passionately believe they can make a difference. They envision the future and create an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

  3. Challenge the Process - Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. Since complex change threatens to overwhelm people and stifle action, leaders set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. Effective leaders unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action. And, because leaders know that taking risks involves mistakes and failures, they accept occasional disappointments as opportunities to learn.

  4. Enable Others to Act - Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect sustains extraordinary efforts. They strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

  5. Encourage the Heart - Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize the contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.


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