Five Traits Of Great Leaders

After working with leaders over many years I have found that there are five clusters of traits which set truly great leaders apart. These five clusters are:

  1. Cognitive abilities (vision and strategic agility)
  2. Self-confidence
  3. Results-orientation (unparalleled drive and determination)
  4. Integrity
  5. Sociability






There are proven methods to develop those leaders with these traits to help build a leadership talent pipeline in organizations. These are presented in my recent article in Leadership Excellence magazine (page 18) titled “True Leaders – They Possess Five Traits” and it also includes the seven best practices for developing and retaining great leaders.

Derailing Behaviors And Leadership Impropriety

Why do leaders and other celebrities risk everything they have worked so hard to build – fortune, job, reputation, family, and in some cases their freedom? We now have a group of CEOs embroiled in sex scandals (e.g., Harry Stonechipher, Mark Hurd, Brian Dunn and many more) and illegal activities (e.g., Ken Lay, Dennis Koslowski, and many more). When leaders who appear to have everything decide to risk it all and get caught, it can be quite difficult to understand why they choose to let it happen.

There are some habits and derailing behaviors that develop for some leaders which cause them to go into a downhill spin and lose everything. Research has shown that when power is abused, these derailing behaviors take a toll on them. Sydney Finkelstein outlined five poor habits of leaders who derail that include the following: a deep belief they can control the company, believing they have all the answers, and being overly concerned with their image.

In my recent Leadership Excellence article, I discuss why these derailing behaviors happen and what organizations can do to prevent executive failure and these costly behaviors from happening.

Creating Effective Talent Management Programs

Like it or not, the successes and failures of talent management are still placed squarely on HR’s shoulders. As the economy continues its steady improvement and housing prices return to the pre-recession levels, key leadership performers will again become mobile and start leaving their current employers. So any weakness in a company’s talent management program will soon become exacerbated in the new economy.


One fatal flaw in many HR talent management strategies is the failure to link them to the business strategies and requirements. Once the HR team successfully links their strategies for the talent management process to the business and begins to communicate using vision, strategy and leadership, the company’s leaders will better understand how HR actually adds value to the business (see above graphic for how to do this). When HR doesn’t tie their expense and investment capital to the business, they will continue to suffer from an “expense and cost center” perception and always be resource constrained.

In working with many senior HR leaders over the years to improve HR effectiveness, this type of strategic approach (linking HR talent management goals with business goals) along with better communications has made a step-change improvement in the perception of the HR leader and their functions. Consider using something like the above approach with your key business leaders and you’ll begin to experience the positive impact on your HR department.

3 Top Coaching Tips For Derailers: Skeptical

As part of our blog series 3 Top Coaching Tips for Derailers, we will take a look at each of the 11 behavioral traits identified by Hogan’s research that cause leaders to derail and include examples with suggestions to overcome each derailing behavioral trait. In this blog we highlight Skeptical.


Coaching leaders with this derailing behavior is one that when elevated, gives me insight into how difficult it will be to really make quick progress with the executive.

You see, at the high levels, these leaders tend to scrutinize everything I say and try to determine if there are underlying or hidden messages when in fact there are none. It takes longer to build trust with these coachees who have this derailer.

Recently, I was coaching a leader (VP IT) who had an elevated score on Skeptical as well as serious issues with her boss, the CAO. She was not very supportive of her boss and felt that he was not competent in her IT function, so whenever he would provide her direction, she would question it and decide to do what she wanted to do. As a result, it was important to ensure there were clear, positive and negative consequences for not meeting leadership behavior expectations to help motivate changes from her in the coaching engagement.

In her case, changing her behaviors to build stronger stakeholder relations and having a good relationship with her boss could lead to a desired promotion (CIO) and not addressing these would result in her staying in her current role. It took many tough coaching sessions to be sure she understood and accepted responsibility for the perceptions she had created in the organization. Over many months she changed and dealt with the serious derailing behaviors and, as a result, was later promoted to CIO.


The leader should continue: thinking about and analyzing others’ motives and intentions; challenging others’ assumptions

The leader should stop: arguing with others

The leader should begin:

  • Developing the capacity to trust at least some other people
  • Keeping their doubts to themselves
  • Praising instead of arguing
  • Asking a trusted colleague for feedback on how critical and argumentative they are

Leaders can be assessed using the Hogan suite of assessments which are very helpful to leaders by increasing their self-awareness and gaining a better understanding of why they are not getting the results required in their roles.

Look for our blog series to continue with coaching tips for the other derailing behaviors identified by Hogan. Next time we’ll offer tips for Cautious derailers.

Welcome Our New Talent Management Expert

Executive coach atlanta Lisa Lewen

We are pleased to announce that Lisa Lewen has joined our company as Principal Consultant. She has 13 years of experience internally and as an external consultant.

Her focus is on delivering technically sound and impactful business solutions that enable organizations to identify, hire, and retain top talent, as well as promote and develop top performers. Her emphasis on assessment design maximizes organizational legal defensibility, reduces employee turnover, and has included assessments such as: Work Simulations, Structured Behavioral Interviews, Employee Engagement Surveys, Computer Adaptive Testing, and Job Knowledge Tests.

Most recently she was with Aon helping in the development and implementation of employee selection processes that improved their Fortune 50 client’s retention and productivity. She graduated from Georgia Tech with a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

As we expand our leadership and organizational effectiveness assessment and development service offerings, Lisa brings additional expertise for our clients. You can see her full bio here. You can reach Lisa at We are excited about our expansion and hope we can be of service to you in the future.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Identify Your Advocates

cps how do i get promoted 004

In my previous blog, I discussed why it’s important to build your followership. The next step is to identify those advocates who can help you in your career. Advocates are those internal and external stakeholders that have some interest in your success and can influence your success.

For example, your direct manager should be easy to picture meeting these two criteria. Let me stretch your notions of advocates and suggest your boss’ boss with whom you may not have a lot of day-to-day contact. Or, the CFO or CHRO of your organization. Their interest in your success or failure is not as relevant to your boss’ interests, but they do have some level of interest in your success. The reasons for this are:

  • As a senior leader of any organization your responsibility is to ensure that there is a strong bench of talent and talent pipeline to help meet business goals.
  • Turnover is very costly to organizations. So losing a leader, especially a high performer, could end up costing your organization 2X to 6X your annual compensation depending upon your job level.
  • Having a high performing leader go to the competition is not very desirable and retaining talent should be in their best interests.

One special circumstance where identifying your advocates is critically important to your success is when you get promoted or hired into a new role. It’s essential during the first 90 days of your tenure to identify and spend time with your advocates to ensure you are successful.

Your Team and Peers

It’s really important not to lose sight of advocates you work with day-to-day. Your team members and peers can play key roles in your success or failure, so start with these individuals and build effective and trusting relationships.

For example, your direct reports have a lot to do with your success in general. In particular, if there is “noise” coming from your team that you are a poor leader, then that starts to make its way through formal and informal channels and can be devastating to your career. If your company conducts employee engagement surveys or uses 360 degree feedback for development or appraisal, there are ways the positive and negative of your leadership come out.

Peers are helpful if they advocate your leadership and contributions. To be realistic, if your manager wanted to promote you, would he or she get unanimous support from the team or a mutiny? It often happens where peers become bosses. So building and maintaining strong working relationships with your peer group is very important to your success.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Build Your Followership

how do I get promoted

Why is this important to career advancement? Simply stated, you need to get some help to move ahead in the organization. Most leaders rely on their immediate manager to represent them to senior management and help them with their career development. For many managers that is great leadership.

However, we often encounter the “selfish” leader who hoards all of his/her great performers. During my 30 years’ of HR experience, there have been numerous times I have approached a senior leader and asked to move one of their key performers to a promotional role. These have been some of the responses: “She’s too critical to let go.”  “Okay, but in 6 months after he completes this mission-critical project.” “He is my backfill and I have to keep him in my unit.”  “He’s not ready for that assignment yet so give me another year to work with him.”

Why would a seemingly good manager resort to this type of behavior? Simple, it is self-preservation. As a key contributor, you are likely performing at a level much greater than your peer group and to lose you would hamper your manager’s success in the organization. That’s why it is so important to expand the network of people that are going to help you move ahead in the organization and avoid any “career log jam” that might exist above you.


When I have recommended building your followership as a goal to high potential leaders, they often respond, “That’s too political and politics are offensive.” Yes, this development goal is offensive for your career, helping you become more well-known and recognized for the work and contributions you make in the organization. After all, the competition for the few senior leader openings is typically intense and many leaders have lost the opportunity to internal and external candidates. I see politics as a reality in any organization and used in the right and ethical way you can help yourself and your organization succeed.

By taking the “high road” and not engaging in any form of selling yourself and hoping your results speak for themselves is a naïve approach to get noticed and promoted today. Learning to index in both sides depending upon the situations will help you advance your career, garner the resources you and your team need to be successful, impact the organization in greater ways, and increase the likelihood of success for your department, unit and organization.

Increase leadership effectiveness, improve leader performance

How Do I Get Promoted? – Develop Your Talking Points

how do I get promoted

Most managers and Directors don’t get the exposure to senior leaders who are making the decisions for promotions to VP+ roles. It is clear that these senior leaders form perceptions of you through what they hear from their leaders and the brief times they may interact with you. These brief interactions or “moments of truth” are critical to showing them your ability to take on a new role, thus improving your opportunities for career advancement. So how can you do this? Develop your talking points for these “moments of truth” and try the following:


Typically, when interacting with senior leaders the topics are about product, people, process, policy issues or problems. When you are called in to the meetings your role may be very tactical and specific to help solve a problem. That doesn’t leave much room to have conversations about strategic topics. What you’ll want to do is to prepare for these planned and impromptu interactions and have your key points ready as the opportunities come up in the meetings and conversations.


One thing to remember is that senior leaders are expected to develop and mentor talent. As a result, they should not be opposed to having meetings with managers and Directors to discuss the business. I recommend that you seek out 1-2 senior leaders per quarter and schedule time on their calendars. Many people at first feel like this would be an imposition for these busy senior leaders, remember this is an informational meeting and that the senior leader likes being asked important questions to demonstrate their capability and perspective. So, a typical agenda for these short informational meetings may be:

    1. Introduction and establish rapport
    2. Ask about the business challenges and opportunities
    3. Describe your vision, mission, goals and how these relate to the business
    4. Ask if they would be willing to mentor you with periodic meetings
    5. Close with a big thanks for their time and perspective
Once you develop your talking points and meet with senior leaders, you will increase your visibility for promotions and improve your chance for career advancement.

How Do I Get Promoted? – Develop Your Vision and Mission Statements


Regardless of where you sit in the organization there is an opportunity for you to develop and communicate your direction and to demonstrate your strategic agility. By developing your Vision and Mission statements, you will go through the steps a senior leader is responsible for completing for a function or segment of the business.

The vision statement is a vivid description of the future for your organization or function. It defines the direction (i.e., Strategic Intent) for the organization or your function. The mission statement is why you are in business today. It helps define the purpose or reason for existence for your organization or function. Be sure that what you develop supports your company and function’s direction. Going through these steps will help prepare you for your VP+ role and give you a chance to get more exposure in your organization.

Your Vision Statement

In the most concise terms, your vision represents where you want your organization or department to be in a point in the future. A good time period for this step is 3-5 years in the future. To develop your vision statement, utilize this technique:

Imagine you are in a helicopter and flying over your operations in three years. In as much detail as possible, please describe what you see in of these areas. Be as detailed and creative as possible.

  • People, Products and Services
  • Processes
  • Customers
  • Work Environment and Culture
  • Leadership Team
  • Skills (hourly, staff, professionals, supervisors, managers, top management)
  • Core competencies
  • Quality and Safety
  • Competitive Advantages

Take this information and form a description of the future. Vision statements are typically one or two concise sentences. The vision statement should meet these criteria when completed (Nanus):

  1. Realistic. A vision must be based in reality to be meaningful for an organization. It must create a mental image of the future state.  It also has to be idealistic so that it is a stretch to achieve it.
  2. Credible. A vision must be believable to be relevant to your key stakeholders.
  3. Attractive. People must want to be part of this future that’s envisioned for the organization. It serves to inspire and motivate stakeholders. It can be a stimulus for change showing the future state is better than your stakeholder’s current state.
  4. Future. A vision is not where you are now; it’s where you want to be in the future. It can help create meaning in your employees’ lives by helping connect what they do to the vision.

So evaluate your vision statement along these criteria and continue to develop it until you are satisfied it meets all of these effectively. Then take the vision statement and seek input from your key stakeholders and continue to refine the work.

Your Mission Statement

how do I get promoted

The next critical component for developing and demonstrating your strategic agility is the development of your mission statement. Like the vision, the scope of the mission statement is a function of your role in the organization. As a manager or Director your mission should encompass your department. As the CEO your mission is for the entire organization. Unlike the vision statement, we recommend that you involve key people on your team to help develop the mission statement. You’ll need to reserve several hours for a robust discussion since you’ll need to make choices along the way to develop a laser focus on your value proposition.

Follow these steps to complete your mission statement:

  1. Review the current state within your organization and ensure you fully understand the broader mission of the company and function. Your mission must support the organization’s mission and direction.
  2. Answer these questions:
    • Who are your customers?
    • What are your customers’ key needs?
    • How do you perform the work?
    • What do you value in the organization?
    • What are the key gaps that exist in the organization or department that you want to address and incorporate into the mission statement?
  3. Take the output of Step 2 and form your mission statement. Here are the criteria of good mission statements:
    • Mission statements are short and concise.  Usually 1-2 short sentences. The means each word is significant.
    • Your mission statement should indicate the value of your organization or department and why you exist.
    • Your mission statement should be focused and separate you from the competition. A generic mission may be able to be applied to any of your competitors and won’t distinguish you to customers.
    • Your mission statement should be energizing to your employees.
  4. Seek broad input to the mission and don’t surprise your employees. Meet with all levels of employees and get their input about your mission statement. Use the feedback to refine your mission.
  5. Communicate the mission broadly within your organization. It has to be a constant communications element for your leadership going forward.
create compelling vision statements

Best And Worst CEOs In 2013


Every year Sydney Finkelstein, professor of management at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, releases his Worst CEOs and has added a list of the Best CEOs. It is very interesting to me to see what separates the best from the worst and it provides some lessons for all senior leaders.


Ron Johnson – formerly J.C. Penny. He tried to take a winning strategy from Apple and apply it to the retailer. He pushed it in spite of critics and failures. This is a classic mistake of applying a poor strategy to a company that was completely different.

Thorsten Heins – formerly Blackberry. He couldn’t execute his strategy and plan and ended up moving to other phones and applications.

Eddie Lambert – Sears. He took a winning strategy from hedge funds to the retailer. It just didn’t work since he overlooked merchandising, customers, and operational excellence.

Steve Balmer – Microsoft. Under his leadership the company’s stock has declined by 35% while Apple stock has appreciated 1900%. He had the company that could change the future but going with Zune for music, Windows-based phones and Bing for search let his new competition take their marketshare.


Jeff Bezos – Amazon. His relentless pursuit of the customer, coupled with innovation, has led their stock to increase 220X since 1997.

John Idol – Michael Kors. He is a strong marketer and a great leader who practices best management approaches.

Akido Toyoda – Toyota. He is a visionary leader who has enabled the company to retake the #1 position as automaker.

Successful CEOs create winning strategies for their particular markets that work in their companies. Executives who fail take strategies from previous companies and try and apply them to a new company. This losing strategy inevitably flops because the leader fails to take input from the external market and internally when their direction goes awry. I don’t understand why Boards of Directors continually hire CEOs with a questionable track record and allow them to try again to be successful. It just goes to show how there is a dearth of great leaders to run our complex global companies.