4 things leaders need—and 1 they don’t, based on 525 CEOs

Leadership styles may come in different shapes and sizes, but there are a few key similarities that unite the most successful executives, Adam Bryant writes for the New York Times.

After a decade of interviewing executives across a variety of backgrounds and industries, Bryant ranks the four things every leader needs—and the one thing they don’t.

1: Trustworthiness

To be a great leader, you need the trust of your employees, Bryant writes. And people only trust executives who have integrity, says James Hackett, the chief executive of Ford Motor Company.

Employees build trust for their leaders by observing how management handles difficult situations, mistakes, and their direct reports, Bryant writes.

2: Strong values

Leaders who want to build culture through organizational values should keep the list short, Bryant writes. If leadership can't remember every value, their employees probably can't either, he adds.

A memorable set of values highlights specific behaviors that unite employees, says Michel Feaster, the chief at Usermind. Ambiguous values like "courage" can spawn conflicting interpretations that foster tension, she warns.

Also see: Your team is overworked and overwhelmed. Here's how to lessen the load.

3: Smart hiring practices

Many executives create questions that can surprise potential hires into departing from their carefully rehearsed answers, Bryant explains. Drawing out a candidate's genuine answer in an interview may tell you more about how they'll really act in the office, says Bob Brennan, an executive director at CA Technologies.

Most importantly, great leaders bring organizational values into their hiring and promotion processes, Bryant writes. When executives award those who embody firm values, the "culture [becomes] like a religion," says Robert Johnson, chairman of the RLJ Companies.

4: Risk-taking

Leaders should be willing to "play in traffic," says Joseph Plumeri, vice chairman of First Data. If you keep stepping out of your comfort zone, you'll stumble across something good, Plumeri adds.

Any aspiring leader needs to be open to every experience and be prepared to act on each opportunity, says Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University.

Related: The community college leader's guide to overcoming 'new initiative' anxiety

One thing that doesn't matter: Gender

After a decade of interviewing executives, Bryant can definitively say that individual people do lead differently, but not because of their gender, he writes. Factors like individual levels of introversion or creativity play a larger role in shaping a person's leadership style, he adds.

While women face greater challenges reaching an executive spot, the demands of leadership remain the same, regardless of gender, he argues (Bryant, New York Times, 11/2).


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