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Influencers

Three CEOS weigh in on winning leadership traits

Ahead of the pack

What does it take to be a great leader? Three CEOs weighed in. (Thinkstock)

Leaders. They set the tone for organisations, companies, governments and more. That’s one key reason why finding the right leader— with valuable personality and personal traits as well as the right skills— is vital for carrying an organisation into the future.

As business school professor and author Sydney Finkelstein wrote in his column this week, companies are not always good at choosing leaders because they overlook certain traits . The characteristics of good leaders is a topic several LinkedIn Influencers — chief executives themselves — weighed in on this week. Among their priorities: building trust, listening and consideration for a new generation of leaders.

Marillyn Hewson, chief executive officer at Lockheed Martin

“Building trust has always been my top priority,” wrote Hewson in her post The First Things a New Leader Should Do to Build Trust. For the aerospace and defense company CEO, that has meant visiting hundreds of customers, meeting with investors and analysts and holding large meetings at dozens of the company’s offices.

But the most important meetings, she wrote, are those with employees. “Employees drive our success. If they don’t know you, understand where you’re trying to take the business and trust in your leadership, you’ll have a hard time keeping them engaged,” she wrote. “Whether you’re a CEO or a first-line manager, face-to-face communication with your team is vital to your success as a leader.”

Hewson has five principles for building trust with employees. Among them: affirm your values and show employees that you embrace those values; share your vision and strategy using examples that are relevant to their areas of work; be open, honest and transparent — especially when “times are tough,” she wrote.

“If you don’t have a bond of trust with the people who can help you succeed, business comes to a screeching halt,” Hewson wrote.

John Ryan, president and chief executive officer at Center for Creative Leadership

“These days, the price of poor listening as a leader is steeper — and more immediate — than ever,” wrote Ryan in his post How to Be a Chief Listening Officer. “Social media has created an ‘instant referendum’ in companies on everything that leaders do.”

Then, when difficult or controversial decisions are made, he wrote, “poor communications... can spark a rapid backlash that jeopardizes the ability to implement even the best ideas. In this environment, it seems to me, there’s a leadership skill that every leader needs to master: the art of listening — before decisions are made and also afterward when reactions start to come in.”

Leaders can get better at listening with “effort and practice,” Ryan wrote. He offered six steps to better listening as a leader. Among them:

“Pay attention. Set aside your iPad and maintain steady eye contact. Smile or nod to show you’re fully present. Every time you sneak a peek at a text, you risk killing the conversation. If you’re having a virtual exchange, read e-mails the whole way through at least twice to make sure you’re really getting the message.”

“Suspend judgment. Hold back your own criticisms and the need to show you’re right. Let others explain how they view a situation. You don’t need to agree; just show some empathy.”

Reflect. In person or on email, as the conversation proceeds, occasionally recap others’ points to make sure you’re really hearing them. Often it turns out that you missed something important.”

Olaf Swantee, chief executive officer at EE

Swantee, CEO of the UK telecommunications company that offers T-Mobile and Orange in the country, examined the advantages of three leadership styles evident in the millennial generation in his post The 3 Characteristics of Tomorrow’s Leaders.

“These future leaders, currently aged 33 and under, will transform British business and bring about a digitally driven sea change in organisational culture,” Swantee wrote. “They think differently, more digitally. The connected world is the only world they've known, and that means they come with an embedded attitude that's naturally more social, open, and focused on working together to solve problems and generate ideas.”

Swantee pointed to three traits a new Deloitte report found in the leadership characteristics of this generation of workers — inclusive and collaborative decision-making, fostering a more flexible and human working environment and persistent challenging of the status quo. In other generations, early ideals and traits can be lost as people move up the leadership ranks, Swantee wrote. But that may not be the case going forward.

“Evidence from the [Deloitte] report suggests that Gen Y leaders carry their experiences as employees into senior roles. They do not adapt their style to that of the previous Baby Boomer generation in order to conform to the management group they have joined.”