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Leaders – the young, the wise and the relentless exert their influence

During the course of our Executive MBA program at Boise State University, we invite leaders from many different fields to speak to our participants. The leaders, probably 50-60 of them, come from business, of course, but also from the arts, health care, the media, politics, law enforcement, sports, education and more. They include entrepreneurs, turnaround experts and people who have changed careers. They are longstanding and emerging, younger and older, and always thoughtful.

So what do those leaders have in common?

Start with the obvious: Leaders lead. That means having a clear direction and the ability to communicate that direction to people both inside and outside of your sphere. Indeed, good leaders say there is no such thing as overcommunication.

Good leaders are confident but humble. They don’t claim to have all of the answers; they know and show they are part of a bigger whole, and they keep in touch with employees by knowing them, walking around and listening to them. Indeed, most are remarkable askers of questions.

They are relentlessly curious and aggressive in their own learning, and expect it from others. They reach beyond their own fields for ideas. And they constantly look for ways to do things differently – both big and small – to get better.

Consistently, they talk about the importance of culture and the way things get done in their organizations. As many said, “It’s easy to find technical experts, but we need people who will also fit our culture.” One applies that to customers, and had “fired” a client who did not value the firm’s culture.

Last, they “stand on the edge” of their organizations. Yes, they know what’s going on inside and manage that well, but they keep an eye on the outside, looking for trends that others might miss.

How many of these qualities do your organizational leaders have?

Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State. nnapier@boisestate.edu.

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