Written by David B.

Today’s business environment has become more and more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Through my 30 plus years of running high performing teams and analyzing the emerging supporting research from the neuroscience community, I’ve identified 5 attributes that can absolutely be developed in existing and emerging leaders. The impact on the financial performance of an organization and individual success are astounding. CEOs who developed some of these characteristics performed at nearly a five-time rate on return on assets. There’s been exhaustive work and study on this subject from reputable sources like Daniel Goleman and Korn Ferry.

My recent work has led me to certification in the Burke Learning Agility Inventory assessment tool. I’m also engaged as an advisor in developing a concept called “Third Space Thinking” at USC. All of these “soft skills” advocates have their on take on what attributes are worth developing to become an effective leader. I have the luxury of cherry-picking my favorites and tell you how you can make the necessary changes in your habits to produce outstanding results.

  • Flexibility: In this fast moving world, leaders need to be open to new ideas and new solutions. If you have a passion for new strategies and tactics you are on the higher end of this spectrum. If you are less facile in this area, you like when things are settled. You honor tradition by collecting and analyzing lots of data to be sure of success. People, of course, can overuse this attribute by seeking change for change’s sake when a tried and true method may suit the situation.
  • Speed: This is another characteristic that came out of Dr. Burke’s work. Acting on ideas quickly so that those that are not working are discarded. Other possibilities can then be accelerated.
  • Empathy: In his Third Space Thinking white paper, Dean Wilson of USC, identified this attribute as the most important of the five essential leadership characteristics they unearthed. In his article, “Why Startup Leaders Need To Use “Third Space Thinking”, he references a survey done by the Lady Geek consultancy firm that found the 10 most empathic businesses generated 50% more profits than the 10 least empathetic firms.
  • Cultural Competency: This really focuses on two areas. The world is shrinking and the marketplace reflects that. That doesn’t mean, however, that we all think and act the same. Marketing a product in Japan requires a completely different approach than marketing the same product in France. Likewise, as the workplace becomes more diversified, we need to understand that what motivates a Brazilian employee is different than what inspires an employee raised in Germany. It also means that organizationally, there’s a growing value in collaborative projects between divisions. Marketing should be more sensitive to the goals coming out of finance and so on.
  • Self-Reflection: Recently, I watched a presentation at Columbia University by David Peterson, head of Google’s leadership development program. He stressed the importance of journaling in maximizing your abilities as a leader, in fact, as a human being. His techniques include a daily 1-minute check-in where you ask yourself: What new thing did I do today? What worked well? What didn’t? What did I learn? What one thing will I do differently tomorrow? He continues his self-examination recipe, by adding weekly 2 minute drills, monthly 5 minute exercises and up to one-day self-interrogations every 5 to 10 years.

In my own research, I found that self-awareness is one of the few character traits that are highly correlated to a company’s financial performance. In Korn Ferry’s report “ A Better Return On Self-Awareness” they found on average that poorly performing companies had 20 percent more blind spots. We’ll look at other ways of building self-awareness in future writings, but reflection is a powerful vehicle to get you there. I plan to do another blog that shows you evidence that adding a practice of meditation can help you develop many of these attributes naturally.

There are several assessment tools that can help you understand which of these characteristics are your signature strengths. I want to emphasize that wherever you are these tools can be developed on your own, using 360 feedback or working with an executive coach.

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