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.

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.

4 Tips To Improve Your Listening Skills


Effective communication skills are one of the most important skills to develop and one of the hardest to achieve. Most people think they communicate well, but very few people actually understand how to do it effectively.

It’s easy to think we’re listening to someone when they talk, but do we really understand what they’re saying? Almost without exception, what we are really doing is listening to hear the pause in their conversation so we can interrupt them and give our perspective. It’s more important to us to show others that we have the knowledge, share a similar story or defend our position, than it is to truly take the time to hear what they’re actually saying. We make the conversation about us instead of about the other person and the point they’re trying to make.

Here are four ways to improve your listening skills and thus, improve the relationships you have at work.


It most conversations, we are more interested in getting our point across or explaining our side of the story than we are in truly listening to the other person’s perspective.  If we want to become better listeners, we must first seek to understand what the other person is trying to say. Are they expressing a concern or stressed out about something? Do they not understand their role on the project? Solutions can only be found after we have a clear understanding of the situation. We have to take the time to listen to what is being said instead of reacting to it.


This is probably the hardest listening skill to develop. In our chaotic world where we are constantly attached to our electronics, it is hard to simply be present in the conversation. Provide your complete attention and focus on your audience with eye contact to indicate your sincere and complete interest. Suppress the urge to check your smartphone or computer while someone is trying to have a conversation with you.


Think of active listening as a muscle you need to constantly exercise in order to make stronger. Ask a different peer or employee a question about the details or progress of a project, the company culture or just what’s new in their life. By constantly exercising your listening skills, not only will it help you to discover potential problems and solutions, but it will build trust and positive relationships in your work environment.


Clarify and validate what you hear the other person saying. Be patient and remain quiet while the person makes their point and asks for your opinion or solution. Then take a deep breath and say, “What I hear you saying is…”. Or if you are still unclear of their perspective, ask for more clarification on the subject until you can repeat what they said. By clarifying and validating what they said, you’re showing that person how much you value them by clearly understanding their point. This builds mutual trust and is a key building block to developing better relationships.

Listening is a skill that can be learned by anyone. It simply takes the desire, knowledge and practices to do it well. Use these tips to develop your listening skills and watch how it creates better personal and professional relationships.

Leadership skills development

Why Do Leaders Fail?

why do leaders fail

A colleague, Eric Holtzclaw recently published an article in INC about why leaders fail. The main reason was inaction or failure to get feedback. When I shared the article with a few senior leader LinkedIn groups, there were several comments that suggested other reasons which are all valid since they relate to each contributor’s experience.

They included:  “wrong” values and questionable ethics, leaders who were more interested in “I” and not “we,” displaying the attitude that they are better than others, arrogance, and creating a culture that stifles collaboration.

There are many other factors that cause leaders to fail beyond this list and I thought this would provoke your thinking about the reasons for failure. In an interesting recent case Mozilla terminated its CEO, Brendan Eich for donating $1k in 2008 to support the ban of same sex marriage in CA. That’s an error in judgment so add that to our list of reasons leaders fail. Unfortunately, these errors in judgment occur frequently at all levels, with the CEO being most visible casualties.


When leaders don’t seek, apply, verify and exercise (SAVE) feedback, they do so because they either believe their way is the right way; they are invulnerable, insecure, or lead in ways that blunt their approachability for upward feedback. Even if a leader seeks feedback from direct reports and managers, getting feedback from peers and customers is also helpful, especially when done in ways to generate direct and candid comments.

Don’t become one of those failing leaders who believe they have nothing to learn. I challenge you to create the list of key stakeholders critical to your success and find time to ask them for feedback and help. People will help only if you ask.

Preventing executive failure

How Do I Get Promoted? – Career Advancement Case Study

how do I get promoted

Do you feel you are often overlooked for a promotion? Have you ever asked yourself or your boss how you can get promoted? Most people feel stuck in their job at some point in their career and wonder how to get the next promotion. Consider the following case study:

Chris was a senior manager in Management Development and Training for a global consumer products company. She joined the company six years ago as a manager and was promoted after 2 years into the senior role. She was responsible for the development of talent in her assigned functions (i.e., sales, Marketing, IT, HR, R&D, and Engineering).

During her tenure with the company she developed and implemented several company-wide programs that were new and very successful. She created a sales representative selection program, a District Manager selection program, an individual development plan process to help all employees with skills and career development, and improved the performance management system that was in place. One of the programs she developed was a goal setting and feedback process for sales representatives that increased sales in the pilot division by 5%. This accomplishment was rewarded with a promotion to Senior Manager. Besides the Director she reported to, Chris had the most tenure in the organization and had a lot of respect and support from the Training and Development and HR functions. She thought she was doing everything she needed to do to advance her career.

One day her Director called her in the office and told her he was getting promoted. When she asked about his job, he looked at her and said, “Chris, I tried to get you promoted, there is just no support for you in my job from the senior leaders in HR.” When she asked the Director why, he said because Chris didn’t have the intangibles needed to advance into that role. This was a demoralizing meeting for Chris who was ambitious and felt ready to lead a bigger part of the business. It took her several weeks to get back to normal but it was clear her career was stalled at the company. A short time later, Chris received a call from a former colleague about a senior role in his organization and eventually Chris left to advance her career elsewhere. The company ended up losing a very productive and loyal employee because they didn’t see that Chris had the leadership skills necessary for the next level.

how do I get promoted

Frequently, the competencies that helped us get promoted the first time or two, are not the same skills that are needed to continue moving up the career ladder. If Chris had understood what “intangibles” her company expected and then took the initiative to develop her skills and abilities in those particular areas, then she could have stayed with the organization and advanced her career there.


  • What leadership skills do I need to develop to be considered for the next promotion?
  • How can I better display and demonstrate these skills in my current position?
  • What other types of “intangibles” can I focus on?

If you don’t know what you are truly lacking to advance your career then you have a very low chance to succeed in terms of getting the very few job opportunities at the most senior levels of the organization. And, it’s easy to become complacent or believe that there isn’t anything else that you need to develop. However, great leaders know that there is always something they can improve in order to reach their next goal.

Advance Your Careerto the Next LevelComplimentary eBook

Should We Tell Employees They Are High Potential?


Does your company have a policy for identifying, informing and developing your high potential employees? Sometimes it can be as simple as a boss/manager informally mentoring one of their team members. In other situations, there can be a formal high potential leadership program the company uses to identify high potential employees and selecting them for leadership training. Either way, I think it’s more important to ask:  Is it beneficial for employees to know they have been labeled by the company as someone who has “high potential” for development and advancement?

Recently I posted this question on several Executive and HR groups on LinkedIn. The responses were varied and informative but most respondents agreed that announcing someone as high potential in a public setting was like the “kiss of death”. Nobody likes to be labeled, especially in front of other people, since it usually creates stress and difficult working relationships with those not chosen. Jealously, resentfulness and other negative behaviors can enter the picture when it’s obvious certain people were selected as high potentials while others were not.

A better way to handle high potential employees is through “intentional time”. This means a boss/manager should spend time with the high potential employee to help them further their growth and development. If the company does offer a leadership training program, be sure to include high potentials, as well as other employees who request leadership opportunities.

One consideration to keep in mind with high potentials is the importance of recognition. Regardless of whether an employee knows they are a high potential, anyone working to get promoted will want to be recognized for their efforts and hard work. If one of your high potential employees feels they aren’t receiving the proper recognition, then they will be tempted to look for a job elsewhere.

The important factor to remember is to find the balance of identifying and recognizing the efforts of those employees you want to develop into future leaders in a way that doesn’t ostracize them from the rest of the team. Most of the nurturing of high potentials can occur one-on-one and the intentional time a leader takes to grow the high potential.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Were you told you were a high potential employee? Did it change how you worked? Share your personal experience and opinion on high potentials. I look forward to hearing from you.

Propel Your CareerTo the Next Level!

Lessons In Leadership: Become More Strategic

During your performance reviews, how many times have you heard that in order to advance your career you needed to:

  • Demonstrate you can think and plan for the future?
  • Become less tactical and more strategic?
  • Focus less on the day-to-day and more long-term in your planning?

lessons in leadership

The problem is that most jobs below the VP level are designed for you to be very tactical, day-to-day, and to focus on the details. This varies to some degree by industry, but generally organizations are designed for the VPs+ to do the planning and strategy while everyone else’s job is to execute and implement the necessary tactics.

There are number of ways to build that strategic agility competency required to advance, even when you are in a tactical role. Here are some practical tips:

  • Conduct your own SWOT analysis on your company. Going through this process will be similar to what you would do when you are developing a strategic plan. It will get you used to the methodology and also give you a useful tool. By using this as part of your day-to-day vocabulary you’ll start getting noticed for your longer range planning.
  • Create a mission statement for your department or function. While on a smaller scale, you’ll be able to use the steps to develop your mission later when you get the bigger jobs requiring strategic agility.
  • Volunteer to participate on a taskforce or temporary team that has been assembled to work on a strategic initiative for the company. You get exposure to other great colleagues and learn parts of the strategic planning process.
  • Don’t shy away from strategy or long range planning. It is not a waste of time if the strategic plans are created and executed flawlessly. It’s not perfect, by definition since we are anticipating the future and other external factors outside of our control.
  • Seek outside programs to help you broaden your perspective, especially if you have been resident in one function in your career. These range from earning an MBA or EMBA to a 3-5 day university based course on strategic agility.
  • Schedule time to spend one-on-one with senior execs who are responsible for the strategy. Ask several questions about their approach, factors considered, tough choices made, and plans.
  • Get the foundation of strategy through books available including Michael E. Porter’s classic Competitive Advantage, a great book to think about business and strategy using the balanced scorecard foundation. Also, Strategy Maps by Robert S. Norton and David P. Kaplan about converting intangible traits into tangible outcomes.
  • Also, an article by Jeanne B. Liedtka titled “Strategic Thinking: Can It Be Taught?” gives you the framework and tools necessary to build your strategic agility leadership competency.

Take the initiative if you are in a tactical role and start expanding your dormant competency: strategic agility. It should pay off for you when you get the next promotion.

Leadership skills development

Goals To Develop Your Leadership Effectiveness


There are steps you can take to understand your blind spots and increase your self-awareness. Most leaders do not take the time to solicit feedback from their stakeholders on their leadership effectiveness and as a result, operate without management perceptions. Use these 4 steps to create your action plan for success.

1. Solicit feedback and suggestions from two peers and two direct reports.

If you have areas you are interested in developing, ask for suggestions to help you. For example, suppose Susan wanted to improve her performance management of her team. She can approach a peer, Tim, and ask him to provide her with specific actions she could take in the next 30 days to help her improve her performance management of her team members. If you don’t ask, your peers and team won’t offer advice. If you ask them, they will help!

2. Develop 2-3 goals and actions you would want to take to increase your leadership effectiveness. 

Use the SMART method of goal setting for development goals. For example, suppose Robert wanted to “Build a highly effective team” as one of his goals. Here is how he could create his action plans:

Development Goal – Build a Highly Effective Team

Key Actions 

    1. Develop standards and competencies for each key role and evaluate/select future leaders based on these factors. Upgrade the hiring profile. Complete by 3/1
    2. Complete the talent evaluation, identifying where we have skill gaps or mismatches, and take appropriate actions. Complete by 4/1
    3. Develop a competency development plan for each direct report. Ask each direct report to complete a development plan on their team members. Provide my evaluations as input to their plans. Review their progress in the plan implementation quarterly. Complete by 5/1
    4. Implement a monthly lead team meeting that will focus on performance and goals, helping the team members hold each other accountable and creating expectations for teamwork. Complete by 5/1
    5. In team meetings, assign the roles of timekeeper, facilitator, and scribe. Publish the notes and use these to follow up in the next monthly meetings. Complete by 5/1
    6. Conduct mid-year review with lead team and evaluate all talent in the organization, high potential development, and performance issues.  Leave with plans to improve. Complete by 7/1

3. Seek feedback and suggestions quarterly about your leadership effectiveness and opportunities to improve your performance.

Review and revise the development plan as required based on the feedback you receive. If possible, contact HR regarding the possibility of taking a leadership assessment. These effective leadership development tools are a great way to solicit anonymous feedback for leaders.


4. Identify and attend any company-sponsored or external training that is relevant to your ongoing development.

Some companies offer leadership development training or the ability to hire an external executive coach. Take advantage of these company sponsored programs, even if the program is one you’ve participated in before, because it is always good to review the material and focus on new areas to develop. If your company does not offer any leadership training, consider hiring an executive leadership advisor yourself. Working with an executive coach, even for a short time, will help you focus on improving those blindspots and learning the techniques necessary to be successful.

In addition, seek challenging assignments and volunteer for special projects and task forces which provide you exposure to different parts of the business and senior leaders.

By taking these steps you can improve your leadership impact and performance and help build your career potential. As long as you subscribe to the fact that development is self-motivated you will do well throughout your career.

Best Practices for an Effective Talent Management Program


How do companies continue to cultivate and grow a strong crop of leaders to keep up with their business successes? It is tough to do this these days with limited time for leaders to devote to their own development, cost containment initiatives, and a belief by some CEOs that leaders are born not made.

It’s helpful to look at role models for great leadership and P&G stands out with their success over the decades. In a recent interview, Bob McDonald, P&G’s CEO, commented on why they have been so successful over the years in developing great leaders. According to McDonald they:

  • Seek to hire the best from college campuses around the world. Bob spends time on campuses throughout the year.
  • Create a “promote from within” culture where leaders are rewarded and promoted when they have groomed their successors.
  • Take steps to ensure hiring experienced workers is rigorous. They go to great lengths to hire the best. Only 5,000 new hires are made from an applicant pool of 900k.
  • Have line leaders lead the process with HR as an enabler. These leaders are personally accountable for producing the necessary bench strength to keep pace with the business requirements.

There are many examples of companies who do not develop leaders or create an effective talent management program: Best Buy, HP and others. They fail to take advantage of this business opportunity and lose momentum, shareholder value, and the public’s confidence. Would you rather have your legacy be associated with developing future talent, creating successful leaders and improving employee engagement? Or would you prefer your legacy be connected with the alternative?


Assessment Tests: Helping Leaders Make Optimal Decisions


Often times I am asked by leaders how to make optimal decisions day-to-day. One helpful leadership tool comes from the MBTI research on problem-solving and decision-making. Essentially, it uses the Myers Briggs typology in gathering information (Sensing – Intuition) and decisions (Thinking – Feeling) as the way to make sure all aspects of the problem and decision are covered.
In other words, it is important to look at the details, big picture, logic and human elements of a leaders’ personality. Myers Briggs has developed a tool that poses questions for each of these four elements that are useful to reference since most leaders have preferences for particular types and often don’t ask all of these questions based on their leadership style.

By using this leadership tool, you will increase the quality and accuracy of your management and day-to-day decisions. MBTI is one of several assessment tools Corporate Performance Strategies offers as part of our work transforming leaders, teams, and organizations from ordinary to extraordinary.

Sample leadership development plan