What makes a good leader?

In March 2019 I was selected to attend the first Oracle Women Leadership (OWL) Emerging Leader Summit in the EMEA region. Amsterdam was chosen to welcome over 200 women, who were identified as "emerging leaders", from many different cultural backgrounds, career levels and LOBs to get together and explore topics around leadership, transformation and management. I have been so incredibly inspired that I've decided to share my top 15 takeaways as a way to "Pay it Forward" and hopefully inspire many other emerging leaders out there.

  1. Self-Awareness will make you a better leader: Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Talent Scientist at Manpower and Professor of Business Psychology and Columbia University and UCL, took us through the importance of understanding how personality affects not only the success, but especially the effectiveness of leaders. As there aren't objective ways to evaluate business performance, it is absolutely key to develop deep self-awareness and learn how to make the most of one's strength, control the "personality derailers" and work on elements of weakness. Being self-aware allows you constantly review your behaviours, evaluate your responses to certain situations and be reminded that humility makes the best leaders.

  2. Negative feedback is good and necessary: in fact, and contrary to common assumptions, the best leaders are humble and aware that they can always improve. Humility allows you recognise your own shortcomings and accept that there might be things you need to work on. This does not mean eliminating positive feedback, it just means that focusing just on strengths might not be the best, and objective, way to develop. Therefore, always seek feedback and be ready to embrace it with a smile on your face.

  3. Ability, Likability and Drive: To that point, how could we ever be led by someone who isn't strong enough to recognise their shortcomings? As humans, we tend to believe that the best leaders' attributes should be confidence, assertiveness and narcissism, almost confusing strength with aggression. Instead, great leaders should be identified based on competence, humility and integrity. Why is that? Competence is necessary to operate in any specific environment to make informed decisions. Confidence can help you make decisions, however Ability allows you to take the right decisions. Assertiveness might be great to clarify priorities.. however, how can priorities be addressed if nobody is actually listening to you? Likability, humility and being rewarding to deal with is key not only to take the right decisions, but to get the right people behind you. The best leaders know how to adjust their reputation and behaviours to resonate better with people, so be yourself (but a filtered version of yourself, only your family can probably love your real, true self!). Finally, Drive is actually the engine of everything. Passion, resilience and a positive attitude have been proven to be contagious - so identify what makes you get out of bed every morning and do that everyday. Everything else will follow!

  4. Resilience, resilience, resilience!: Drive and resilience go hand in hand. Dr. Tomas' definition of resilience particularly stuck with me - the ability to to be dissatisfied with your accomplishments. Not in a pathological way to satisfy one's inferiority complex, or to prove something to society, but in way to be driven by passion and to work on something that gives genuine purpose. Patty Azzarello, Business Advisor and Speaker, mentioned resilience as the ability to bounce back, elasticity, which makes us fit to go through change and transitions (see point 11). Resilience has three different levels - Mental (write things down to make your efforts more effective!), Emotional (your personal and professional allies) and Physical (taking care of your body to be physically strong) - which have to be coherently and equally addressed in order to always come back stronger and more elastic than before.

  5. Failure is part of the game: Simple as that. What matters the most is about how you react to it. It's not about how many times you fall, but about how many times you get up (resilience!). Focus on what worked, and then address the elements that didn't to develop a more informed strategy moving forward.

  6. Do things that make you uncomfortable: This is probably one of my favourite advice. Go against your amygdala and feel empowered by surviving a situation that makes you worried or nervous. You'll get stronger and more comfortable with situations you're not familiar with. Magic begins at the end of our comfort zone!

  7. Extroverts don't make for better leaders: and introverts don't make for worst leaders. Each leadership style has its own strengths ans weaknesses, which takes me back to the importance of self-awareness to consistently seek to develop. Development intended from a personal and behavioural point of view, but also from a knowledge and ability point of view.

  8. Never stop learning: Lynda Gratton, professor of Management Practice at London Business School, took us through the importance of curiosity as a key trait of a leader - thought shared by Melissa Raczak, Partner at Deloitte. Curiosity for our "outer journey" (=learning about the world we live in) and our "inner journey" (=understanding the crucial importance of intangible assets). The first refers mostly about the world we live in and how the technological changes and advancements will affect the way we work and live. In particular, I absolutely loved learning that in the future social skills will be more and more valuable to lead successfully i.e. emotional intelligence, teaching others as automation will always struggle to replace these skills. From an inner journey point of view, we focused on intangible assets like productivity (knowledge, peers relationships, reputation, constant learning, upskilling and reskilling), vitality and transformation. In particular, Prof. Gratton focused on the importance of vitality (health, balanced living, regenerative relationships) as a key point to focus on in order to lead a successful life. So well done to companies like Oracle that value time and support its employees' wellbeing by promoting work-life balance and flexibility! Finally, we discussed the transformation element in relation to the Theory of Contagion, which means you're more likely to be able to learn how to evolve and change if you're surrounded by high performance people. As people mimic each other in a very contagious way, we can transform ourselves throughout our lives and therefore become more adaptable and "survive" change without losing our minds.

  9. Learn something very well, but work on your ability to talk about everything: this was quite an interesting point of debate. Prof. Gratton discussed the importance of becoming experts in a couple of specific elements as that is what is going to make us valuable (supporting the idea of T-shaped knowledge). However, she also mentioned the importance to try and find time to watch/learn/speak outside of our domain - perspective shared by Andrew Sutherland, SVP Oracle Systems and Technology Business. In particular, he reinforced the idea of learning more about what's going on in the world as a way to scan the horizons around us. This will enable us to think and lead with broader knowledge and perspective around our topics of expertise - besides, it would also lead to more compelling conversations with a diverse audience.

  10. Biases still exist, but things are changing: Another interesting aspect of change that Prof. Lynda Gratton explored is how technological transformation and societal transformation have impacted traditional way of doing things, moving us from a 1950s concept of career+carer (when the roles in a relationship were clearly defined and therefore divorce rates were quite low!), to a more recent career+career approach during which people have to review their role in their relationships to make them work. How did that happen? Technology has brought women out of the house with the introduction of -drum rolls - the washing machine. And what does that mean? Since then, women have moved from taking a clear carer role in the household to finding a job to contribute to the family income (destabilising quite a bit the traditional approach that lasted for so many centuries, leading to increased divorce rates!), to fully developing their careers on the same level of their partners. We are therefore living in a society in which, for the first time, usually both partners work and pursue their own career - we are social pioneers! And guess what, divorce rates are also decreasing as we are learning to navigate through the transitions.

  11. Change is the only constant - embrace the transformation: we live in a time during which the speed of change has never been faster and more disruptive. In fact, Andrew Sutherland mentioned that because there are changes every day, threats come from every direction and leaders will have to cope with change and innovation on a regular basis through improved predictions and correct use of information. According to Amanda Jobbins, CMP EMEA and JAPAC, it is extremely important to develop the ability to survive transformation through; constant learning (curiosity - see point 8), getting used to managing transitions (internal changes) and networking. All these elements require us to constantly work on ourselves, it requires us to develop skills that might not come natural to us and therefore to become courageous (inner journey) - otherwise we won't be respected. Ultimately, leading through transformation requires us to take full accountability for the decisions that are being made, which is obviously more difficult (because it's easier not to do it!), but that is the magic of leaders! (Values+Purpose)+(Vision) is the leadership equation for full accountability.

  12. Find a mentor: and make it a mutually-beneficial relationship. Navigating change can be quite challenging, and a mentor can guide you through options you might have not considered before (Imagination), however you can also add value to the relationship by bringing new ideas and energy that can be beneficial to your mentor. Mentors are key for development and as Patty Azzarello said, always seek help - never fail by yourself! However, mentors are not there just for Air Cover or Imagination, but also to help with Reality Checks (we all need those from time to time, especially if and when a sense of entitlement creeps up!), Connections (as they have more experience than you, they will probably have a more developed network than yours) and obviously for Learning purposes.

  13. Know how to use your network: when I lived in Silicon Valley myself, networking was at the very base of any human activity. Having experienced a start up environment, natural networkers were everywhere and that is why I very much support what Patty Azzarello highlighted as key when networking. Networking is for giving, not for taking. That is something I was thought back in 2010 by Sally Pera, former CEO of ACG Silicon Valley, and it stuck with me since then. When speaking with people, actively listen to their stories and try to focus on what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you. If a relationship of trust is established, help will come your way without even having to ask for it.

  14. Are leaders born or made? There are no scientific or empirical proofs that there are specific DNA genes or in-born characteristics to determine the likability to become a leader. However, Dr. Tomas mentioned that there are some signals in nature that can predict the things that will come e.g. passion and drive. This means that prediction eclipses development, because we cannot manipulate the environment as as much as we would like e.g. changes in personality are often tough to affect. That said, heritability can change with time when there is a lot of effort to suppress the effect of nature, meaning that if one isn't born with certain traits these can still be worked on when there is enough "psychological capital" to do so.

  15. The top 10 skills in 2020: According to the Future of Jobs Report (World Economic Forum), there will be a clear shift in the top 10 skills a leader should have in 2020, with an emphasis on Emotional Intelligence as the latest new entry:
    1. Complex problem solving
    2. Critical thinking
    3. Creativity
    4. People management
    5. Coordinating with others
    6. Emotional Intelligence
    7. Judgement and decision making
    8. Service orientation
    9. Negotiation
    10. Cognitive Flexibility

    I am so pleased to see EQ and Creativity have ranked up the list, simply because I very much appreciate leaders with given skills. To me, the ability to connect with people is of utter importance because without people's support and vision, even the best leaders would not be able to move things forward.

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