The Top 3 Attributes of Successful Leaders
UC Berkeley professor, Jenny Chatman is shifting the debate about what makes effective leaders
Much debate on the subject of leadership has centered around whether leaders are born or made in the attempt to isolate the traits indicative of leadership effectiveness. Not anymore, says Dr. Jennifer Chatman, UC Berkeley-Haas professor of management and faculty director of The Berkeley Executive Leadership Program. Traits like dominance, assertiveness or even intelligence are not predictive indicators of success for leaders or their organizations. Rather, through her award-winning research and decades of experience consulting with Silicon Valley leaders, Chatman has uncovered what she considers to be the three key attributes -- the learned behaviors people exhibit -- that are consistent hallmarks of successful leaders.
Effective leaders take a diagnostic approach to situations. They have an evolved situational awareness and read social cues quickly and astutely. They rapidly assess and evaluate situations and ask themselves “how can I add value at this particular moment.” This sophisticated awareness and deliberation enables leaders to anticipate how others will likely react to them, helping them better determine the right course of action.
Leaders engage a broad set of behavioral styles, depending on the situation. They demonstrate an enormous amount of flexibility in their responses, they don’t just draw from the same reserve of behavior patterns. So if a leader asks, “how can I add value,” most likely they will tap into a broader set of behavior styles to respond most effectively. “Great leaders push beyond reflexive behaviors and respond dynamically in a broad set of situations,” says Chatman.
Leaders are committed to improvement. The best leaders take stock of events and ask “how could I have approached this situation better?” They understand that becoming exceptional is a lifelong learning process. “They are courageous and ambitious about leadership development,” says Chatman. “They recognize that developing as a leader takes specific attention and effort.”
Leadership styles to avoid
Chatman notes that effective leaders engage with a variety of different styles depending on the situation, but if one particular style becomes overused it can become problematic. For instance, a coercive leadership style can be very effective when applied in crisis situations. However if a coercive style is overused, it places too much ownership in the hands of the leader, and decreases the level of engagement and decision making across the rest of the team. The consequences of this are that people feeling less empowered in their own work. “It’s a universal truth,” says Chatman,”the more decisions you make yourself, the more you own the decision rights, and the less accountable other people will feel about the results.”
The importance of visionary leadership
A particularly crucial leadership style to engage for long term success, Chatman notes, is a visionary style. Having a vision and communicating it consistently to their team “sets the context for your team so they can make independent decisions and good judgements,” say Chatman. “That’s when you get people firing on all cylinders. If they understand how the work that they do connects to the larger objectives of the organization people are more likely to make good decisions and be inspired by those decisions as they work.”
Effective leadership is one of the most discussed yet elusive topics in business. Jennifer Chatman applies her decades of research on the subject and one-to-one coaching with executives in The Berkeley Executive Leadership Program. Learn from her in the program or watch her interview as part of the UC Berkeley Executive Education InFocus podcast.