January 23, 2012

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Article

Top 10 Leadership Traits

Candace M. Little

January 23, 2012

Do you know what makes a good leader? Can you name the most important trait that a leader can have? Do you think you’re a good leader? We went behind the scenes with six Utah executives who share what they consider to be the top-10 leadership traits successful leaders need today. As different companies and industries require different leadership skills, each executive brings a unique perspective to the list. But despite the differences, each executive in the lineup agrees that an effective leader must possess traits like integrity, determination and courage. These traits, along with a few more, make up our top-10 leadership list. Our Executive Lineup… Rick Bartholomew, CEO, A Plus Benefits Jack Sunderlage, President and CEO, ContentWatch David K. Williams, CEO, Fishbowl Kevin K. Cushing, CEO, AlphaGraphics Inc. Alan Hall, Founder and Chairman, Marketstar Inc. Michael Weinholtz, President and CEO, CHG Healthcare Services 10. A leader uses perspective to adapt. “As a leader, you need to help all maintain clarity of purpose and a sense of calm when storms brew. Also, you have to ‘lighten up’ on yourself sometimes as you'll never get ‘there.’ You'll always have customers or employees that aren’t as happy as you'd like. Just keep in mind that you have 95 times more that are happy.” -Cushing “A leader needs to be able to see and take opportunities for improvement individually and organizationally, and survive and recover from mistakes.” -Bartholomew 9. A leader surrounds himself or herself with great people. “I noted once in a management meeting of over 100 people that a third of the people we had on staff, I had personally recruited based on their talent, and had then developed them into successful managers. By developing talent like this, we created an atmosphere where individuals knew they would have opportunities for growth and development within the company. As a young manager, I was told that the most important thing I would do is surround myself with good people. That sage advice has proven to be consistently accurate.” -Sunderlage 8. A leader never stops learning. “Never stop learning, never stop growing and provide the same opportunity for your time. Challenge yourself to stay out of your ‘comfort zone’ and in your ‘learning zone.’” -Cushing “No matter how long you have been in business, you need to be willing to learn new things. After having spent over 40 years in our industry, I still find myself learning new techniques and ways to improve our business. I consider myself a lifelong learner and continue to attend leadership training and conferences to glean the best new ideas and remind myself of the best old ideas. Life’s lessons are not just from successes or failures, but from life’s experience.” -Sunderlage 7. A leader is passionate and determined to succeed. “I think people are looking for a leader to follow and will rally behind the example of their leader. I believe that if, as a CEO or leader in a company, I have a determined will and am committed to complete a project at any and all costs my employees will take on these same characteristics and adapt the same determination. If everybody in the company incorporates this determination our chances of success increase, clients are happier and the opportunity for individual growth and personal success and satisfaction increase.” -Bartholomew 6. A leader is humble and transparent. “After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity. To be willing to show your weaknesses, be transparent and say ‘I don’t know’ is a sign of a true leader. I believe [learning this principal] comes with age and maturity. For me, it was the realization that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was and there were a lot of things I could learn from the talented team working for me.” -Williams “I've included ‘openness/transparency’ on my list because I believe people become more committed and engaged when they know what their leaders are thinking and feeling—especially in times of crisis or uncertainty. Last year, the economic crisis caused us to undergo serious cost cutting to align our cost structure with the new realities of the business. We openly explained the situation and engaged all 1,200 of our people in brainstorming sessions with their teams to help us come up with cost-saving ideas. They came up with over 1,000 ideas that resulted in over $3 million in cost savings for the company. Moreover, they felt valued and respected for being asked to be part of the solution. The trust that we built with that approach was probably more valuable, especially in the long-run, than the $3 million we saved.” -Weinholtz 5. A leader creates a healthy company culture. “The culture you create can foster passion and growth in your employees they never knew they had. We have seen people with no experience grow into leaders. By cultivating your own team for growth, you open up opportunities for others to recognize their own potential as well as step into roles they may not have realized they could fill.” -Williams “The culture has to be set by the CEO and that culture has to be communicated to the employees about how we treat and behave with one another. Every CEO can take a different approach, but when you have an organization that focuses on making sure you have happy customers, happy employees, there’s honesty, there’s integrity flowing throughout the organization, then people will want to stay with the company, clients will want to stay with the company, and you’ll be successful. There are companies that fail all the time because they don’t have a good culture.” -Hall 4. A leader has courage to take measured risks. “We are a growth-oriented company and recognize the need to reach out into the global market. We had an opportunity to do business in Turkey but due to differences in culture and business practices, we had some uncertainty as we entered negotiations. Negotiations were rigorous and time-consuming. There were times we weren’t sure it was going to work. However, we knew in order to achieve our overall growth goals, we had to take the risk. We pressed forward, completed the deal, and the account is currently our single largest customer.” -Sunderlage 3. A leader empowers others. "[Leaders] are more interested in empowering the people they lead to make a difference than they are in power, money, or prestige for themselves. By empowering my staff to not only do what they are skilled and trained to do, but to step outside of their comfort zones and try new things, we have been able to build the business and promote personal growth. By doing so, our employees are achieving more than they ever thought they could and that has translated into overall company success. We recognize our success is not because of just a handful of executive employees, it is attributed to every single person and their individual contributions. I always tell our executive team that we are in “the people business” and we happen to create, sell and support software.” -Williams 2. A leader is strategic and leads with a purpose. “Vision is having a clear idea of where you want the company to be and how to get it to that point. I believe that in business, the vision has to be about the company and not the individual. If the vision is about the company and not the individual a lot of the problems associated with egos and other self-serving traits can be avoided and the company, and in turn the employees, will be successful and prosper.” -Bartholomew “Anybody who is going to lead has to have a view of where they’re going. And that really constitutes the vision. And that vision comes about because we perceive a need. Whether you’re in government, not for profits or running corporations, somebody has to say ‘here’s who we are, here’s who we’re going to take care of, and here’s how we’re going to do it,’ which then constitutes that vision. And everything plays from that. If people miss it, if they don’t have it right, if they somehow don’t execute it as well, things aren’t going to work out to the success level they’d hoped for.” -Hall “One of the greatest risks for a leader is trying to do too much, and take the company in too many different directions. Some people believe the way to be a good leader is to be all things to all people. Unfortunately, this typically ends up diluting effectiveness and creating more chaos. Creating too many ideas can distract from the basic mission, and distract from core strengths that form the foundation of success. As Peter Drucker once said, “To be efficient is to do things right, but to be effective is to do the right things.” -Sunderlage 1. A leader has integrity. “Trust is the most important asset on your personal balance sheet. People will do more than you have a right to ask for if they trust you and you are genuine with them. Integrity in leadership beats smarts, pedigree and heroism every time. People lacking integrity can undermine the great work of others.” -Cushing “I believe the most important quality a leader can have is integrity. People want to know that their leader can be trusted; and that they will be treated with fairness and honesty. Leading with integrity fosters trusting relationships that inspire people to do their best. The importance of this leadership quality gets reinforced every time I have to make a tough decision that might otherwise be met with skepticism. If people believe that you're always going to do the right thing, they'll trust your decision even if they don't immediately agree with it.” -Weinholtz
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