Eight Key Attributes of Effective Leaders

Words of Advice from Top Business Executives

Over the past few years the Graziadio School and Farmers’ Insurance Group have sponsored the Dean’s Executive Leadership Series (DELS), which features in-depth interviews with today’s top business practitioners and thought leaders. Many of these discussions have been on effective leadership. With the Wall Street scandals, the housing debacle (hyperlink no longer accessible), the mistrust of many politicians and government leaders, and the failure of too many media outlets to present factual and unbiased news, there is a critical need for strong, values-driven leaders to emerge.

Below are eight key attributes of effective leaders along with words of advice from various DELS speakers on why they are so important.

[powerpress http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/fall2009/editorial.mp3]

1. Leaders need character, not charisma

William George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronics and author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership:

The more traditional view is to find somebody who is charismatic, who has a great style, has a great image. I think this is nonsense…it’s counterproductive to the kind of leaders we need. I think we need leaders with character, with integrity, not image, and with substance, not style. CEOs are not cut out to be charismatic in the classic sense of the word. I think they are cut out, though, to be very empowering leaders of other people, and I think organizations that understand that develop those kinds of leaders from the outset. But that then means you have leaders who are true to what they believe in, that can be themselves. They know their values and they practice those values every day especially under pressure. They build long-term connected relationships and they recognize they lead with their hearts, not just with their heads, and by that I mean they lead with compassion, empathy, and courage. And those are really important those are all qualities of the heart, but that’s what makes a great leader.

2. Leaders need integrity, not conformity

Deborah Platt Majoras, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:

First and foremost, a leader of an organization has to set the tone for how decision making is going to be accomplished… One thing that I demand is that we make decisions on the merits and without worrying just about which way the wind is blowing…I think that is absolutely critical. I think you’ve got to have the respect of your folks and the respect of your constituencies outside so you have to have integrity.

Priscilla Stewart-Jones, senior vice president of human resources for McKesson Corporation, U.S. Pharmaceutical Group:

My father was a minister, so I grew up in an environment where values were important. It was always: “Do the right things. Do unto others not only as you would have them do unto you, but as they would want to be done unto them. Be respectful: Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Integrity, integrity, integrity.” Integrity also means being transparent, it also means communicating…it’s no longer business as usual and it’s no longer leading as usual. A strong leader is both authentic and bold while always being grounded in true values.

3. Leaders need to serve, not be served

Robert Simpson, president and COO of Jelly Belly Candy Company:

You’ve got to be willing to do it…our owner has built a culture and he’s done it by if there is a paper on the floor, he’ll pick it up. If something’s broken, he’ll fix it right then. If there’s a mess over there, he’ll stop what he’s doing and clean it up himself. He won’t ask for help. He won’t expect anybody to run over and help him. Now, that sends a very powerful message to the rest of the organization [that] there is nothing beneath anyone there.

4. Leaders need to create teams, not silos

Robert Simpson of Jelly Belly Candy Company:

It’s really all about your own personal relationships you have with each other. I enjoy interacting with people and helping them achieve beyond their accomplishment goals that gives me the greatest sense of pleasure. I’m not the expert and I’ve always made a practice of hiring a lot of smart people…much smarter than I am. But it’s all about the team, it’s all about the business, and it’s all about what we can get accomplished together…one thing that I do bring and I insist upon is [that] working together is not an option that’s what we do and we all win together.

5. Leaders need to communicate a vision, not ambiguity

Kathryn Karlic, president of institutional sales and marketing for GE Asset Management (GEAM):

I was advised long ago if you’re a leader, you’re the one that sets vision and that is your job. To set vision you have to be a clear thinker because there’s a lot of data that comes at you from so many places. There is so much noise and individuals are depending upon you to be a clear thinker, being able to communicate that, and communicate that, and communicate that again. You’ve got to reinforce it.

Julia Stewart, chairman and CEO, of DineEquity, Inc.:

It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to make certain that people not only understand the vision but they believe in it. And so what really happened to us in this environment that is unprecedented is that we as business leaders had to sit down and say, “What kinds of things should we be doing differently and what should stay the same?”

6. Leaders need courage, not popularity

Julia Stewart of DineEquity, Inc.:

Did you stay at a Marriott Courtyard or a $450 Ritz Hotel? Did you take a cab or did you take a driver? Did you cut things that you thought were important for you or for the company? Did you make choices that benefited a few or benefited all?… More than any other time, employees are looking at leadership and asking, “What are you doing for me and what are you doing to ensure our fate?” …And what that tells you is employees want that vision and that direction and that leadership, but they also want you to make the hard choices and the right choices for the business. It’s probably the toughest thing I think we as leaders do because, in any given day, or time, or choice you make, it’s not necessarily going to make everybody happy. But you have to do what’s right for the company and what you believe will sustain you into the future.

7. Leaders need to develop new leaders, not sycophants

Priscilla Stewart-Jones of McKesson Corporation, U.S. Pharmaceutical Group:

For me, one of the things that you do as a leader is really have the responsibility of identifying talent and identifying individuals that have potential within your organization, and they may be on your team or they may be in other parts of the organization, and at times they can even be peers. And then, frankly, volunteering, going to them and offering ways that you can support them. On occasion that might just be a candid conversation to say, “I’d really like to help you with your career, let’s talk about that. How can I help you? What are some opportunities, what are some issues or concerns that you have, and how can I support you in that regard?”

8. Leaders need a sense of vocation, not just a career

To the above comments, I would add that a leader needs to have a vocation, a calling beyond personal and career goals, beyond training and skills. Vocation brings a sense of purpose and meaning to bear on the work and enhances the leader’s value. A leader needs to have the will and the passion to create a better company, a better organization, a better society.

Author of the article
Linda A. Livingstone, PhD
Linda A. Livingstone, PhD, , has served as the first woman dean of Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management since 2002. She oversaw a $200 million expansion of the business school's regional campuses, increased the school's international partnerships to 30 business schools around the world, and led the school to membership in the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative and as a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Management Education. Under her leadership, the business school launched the Dean's Executive Leadership Series, a high-profile lecture program that brings to campus leading business innovators. An award-winning teacher, Dr. Livingstone's research focuses on creativity in organizations as influenced by the fit between the individual and the organizational environment. She is the author of business textbooks and numerous scholarly articles that have appeared in Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Management Education, and the Journal of Management.
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