5 Questions For Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant Jackie Sloane

Are Leaders Born or Made?

An age-old question! Certainly, leadership comes more naturally to some people, but leadership is definitely something we can learn. Great leaders are often great learners, and cultivate an aptitude for learning around them. Life often presents us with unexpected opportunity to take on a leadership role, in an emergency, for example. Or, to stand up for what’s right. That soldier who turned in the Abu Ghraib images, for example, found himself in an ethical dilemma, and listened to what his heart told him was the right, yet difficult thing to do. That took leadership, and courage.

What are the common traits of good Leaders?

Leadership is a fairly new discipline, and our understanding of leadership is evolving, as our needs for leaders evolve. We used to think of leaders more as warriors or generals. People who would tell us what to do and when. Fearlessness continues to be an important leadership trait, but other critical traits include curiosity, superior listening and observation skills. The ability to recognize and surround yourself with excellent talent becomes more important all the time, as is the ability to bring out the best in people and to create a sense of community in which people work together to shape a desired future. The authors of Good to Great found that the companies they studied that had been significantly more successful than other firms in their industries all had leaders who shared a unique combination of strong will and humility.

Who needs to think about Leadership?

Everyone. Your career success will be shaped by the leaders you work with. Choosing the right people to work for is one of the single most important decisions you can make. You can learn a lot from both good and bad leaders, but good leaders can give you the support, mentoring and connections that will accelerate your career. When you are in an organization, the choices you make on a daily basis impact those you work with, your organization, your clients, and your opportunities, so the more you learn about leadership, the better. In recent years, we saw the downfall of the nation’s largest, most respected accounting firm, largely due to critical choices made by two individuals.

How can we help those who lead us (particularly our bosses) be better managers and leaders?

Think strategically, and holistically. What really matters to your boss? What is he or she working to achieve? What really matters to the leadership of your organization? If you aren’t sure, find out. Then position yourself as a driver of those initiatives. Think ahead. With whatever task you have been assigned, what might thwart success? What simple detail could blow implementation? What are the potential obstacles to achieving what really matters to your boss? How can you creatively address them? Share what you see and want to do with your boss for buy-in, always first positioning any conversation with your current understanding of what is important to what really matters to him or her. What relationships within or outside the firm are critical to driving the achievement of what matters to your boss and the leadership of the organization? Cultivate those relationships, and keep your boss apprised of how what you are doing is forwarding the agreed-upon agenda. Realize that most of our leaders or managers are not ideal bosses, and may not have had ideal bosses, so you will be more successful and satisfied if you learn the art of managing up, and take it on as part of your job.

What are the most common mistakes made by people in positions of leadership?

Surrounding themselves with people who agree with them and won’t challenge them. Not listening. Not encouraging others to challenge assumptions. Lack of curiosity. Arrogance. Profound change happens more frequently now than in the past, so effective leadership now and into the future requires flexibility and ongoing learning. As long as you are arrogant, you can’t learn.

About the Author – Jackie Sloane writes the Executive Coach column for Executive Travel, and on leadership and communication for Chicago Examiner She coaches leaders to achieve significant results and greater well-being through how they engage others, navigate challenges, communicate, and cultivate relationships, and leads programs on Generative Communication.