Your guide to classic — yet contemporary — leadership: 79 thoughts and ideas for CEOs and leaders

Leaders are charged with various complex responsibilities. On a daily basis, they must ensure the success of their organization within volatile markets while simultaneously meeting employees' demands and making their organizations great places to work.

But great leaders know they cannot run the show alone. There is a wide range of employees whom CEOs and other executives depend on to make their organization successful. In short, business acumen and expertise alone will not enable a leader to excel — he or she must also be people-smart.

This guide includes tips for leaders on managing yourself, building a team and leading an organization.

On leadership personality traits and characteristics

1. Self-awareness, as defined by the Harvard Business Review, is "understanding who we are and how we are similar to or different from others." A main component of self-awareness is accurate understanding of how consistent — or inconsistent — our self-view is compared to how others perceive us, or against objective data. While many companies have training and development programs with some sort of self-assessment designed to increase self-awareness, in practice, self-evaluations are typically far less accurate than objective assessments, according to HBR.

2. Without external data to confirm self-reported evaluations, self-awareness assessments may reinforce peoples' inaccurate perceptions of themselves, which can be harmful to development, performance and the effectiveness of team work, according to HBR. The results of an HBR study on the executive development program at a Fortune 10 company showed when individuals had low self-awareness, teams suffered significantly and were more likely to make worse decisions, engage less in coordination and show less conflict management. When team members overrated their self-awareness levels, chances of team success were cut in half.

3. In contrast, the study found individuals with high self-awareness are 36 percent more likely to make better quality decisions than those with low self-awareness, 46 percent more likely to successfully coordinate with teams and 30 percent more likely to successfully manage conflict.

4. Like self-awareness, emotional intelligence is a critical characteristic of successful leadership. However, climbing up the corporate ladder can lower people's EQ, according to Forbes contributor Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Mr. Bradberry said EQ scores increase up the corporate ladder from individual contributor to manager, but steeply decline beyond middle management. CEOs, on average, have the lowest emotional intelligence.

"Once leaders get promoted they enter an environment that tends to erode their emotional intelligence. They spend less time in meaningful interactions with their staff and lose sight of how their emotional states impact those around them," Mr. Bradberry wrote. However, for every title, the top performers are those with the highest EQ scores. So, while CEOs typically have the lowest EQ scores, the best-performing CEOs are those with the highest EQs.

5. To boost your EQ, consider the following tips from Mr. Bradberry:

  • Show you care about people. "Employees don't want to feel like a herd of cattle, but as people who are being appreciated for their hard work and effort," according to Mr. Bradberry. Emotionally intelligent leaders find a balance between imposing demands on their employees and showing compassion.
  • Show employees they're significant. Leaders with high emotional intelligence focus on motivating their employees by showing how the job can benefit their own lives, not just the company. Leaders should introduce their employees to opportunities that will allow them to produce successful and significant work.
  • Take good care of yourself. Leaders who relate to their employees and colleagues on an emotional level possess an understanding of their own emotions. According to Mr. Bradberry, it's important to pay attention to the way certain situations make you feel so you can understand how your emotions influence the way you act.

6. Despite the potentially negative connotations of an anxious person, anxious leaders are more dependable, agile and better planners than complacent leaders, the other type of leader, according to Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar at Harvard, author of numerous books and former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

7. "There is no question that the anxious leader is much better than the complacent leader," Mr. Sunstein told the Washington Post. "The anxious leader is able to redirect energies, listen to information from employees and won't continue the course of action if it's failing. The anxious leader also will be flexible and inventive, and will foresee things that could go wrong. There's a saying that goes, 'If you make a plan, God laughs. If you make two plans, God smiles.' The anxious leaders are making two plans." In contrast, complacent leaders — though demonstrative of positive personality traits, such as being optimistic, upbeat and confident — risks enacting a sense of infallibility.

8. Some individuals possess an aptitude for leadership, but truly remarkable leaders are made over time, according to Jeff Haden, ghostwriter, speaker and Inc. magazine contributing editor. After learning how to work with different personality types through training, experience and introspection, these leaders learn to nurture, motivate and inspire employees, setting their organizations on the track to success. Remarkable leaders demonstrate more than just an aptitude for delegation and giving occasional praise — they are also uniquely charismatic.

9. Charismatic leaders possess the following traits:

  • They really listen. According to Mr. Haden, charismatic leaders listen more than they talk, and give whoever is speaking their full attention. This means they maintain eye contact, nod or give other nonverbal listening responses while the other person is speaking. They restrain themselves from interrupting the speaker to comment, ask questions or offer advice until the speaker prompts them to or it is an appropriate time. Along the same lines, they put any possible distractions away. You can't connect with someone if you keep glancing at your phone or computer screen, Mr. Haden says.
  • They give genuine praise often. Not only do remarkable leaders give praise to their employees regularly, they make it their job to find out what their employees are doing well ahead of time, according to Mr. Haden. Not only will people appreciate the kind words, they will recognize the fact their leader pays attention to their efforts and successes.
  • They discuss their own failings, but not other's. While everyone likes hearing a little gossip now and then, most people don't respect the person who is doing the telling. Remarkable leaders never discuss the failings of others, unless in confidential or other special circumstances. On the other hand, a sign of a truly charismatic leader is a willingness to discuss his or her own failings. According to Mr. Haden, remarkable leaders instinctively admit mistakes and are quick to take responsibility. This is essential for a culture in which mistakes represent challenges to overcome, not chances to blame others.

10. Successful leaders don't underestimate the competencies and value of their staff, and understand the power of delegation. However, there are several important duties leaders should always take responsibility for themselves, including:

  • Delivering praise and discipline.  While disciplining employees is unpleasant, handing the job off to a subordinate shows a lack of respect to the person receiving the discipline and also prevents the opportunity of having a conversation with the employee on what to do or change moving forward. Similarly, praise and incentives that come from a high-ranking leader is very meaningful and inspiring. Leaders should take advantage of the opportunity to show recognition of good work.
  • Culture and team building. "Perhaps a manager's most important job is building, training and nurturing his or her team, which is why it's vital not to completely outsource these tasks," according to Bernard Marr, an expert in strategy and performance management. Employees think of their managers — especially top executives — as the figureheads of an organization's culture, so it's imperative for leaders to take a proactive stance when it comes to setting the mission and goals, as well cultivating the culture of an organization.
  • Crisis management. It's crucial for the leader to have a presence in a crisis, and to show all parties he or she is monitoring the situation and actively seeking a solution. No matter how big or small, a crisis will inevitably have an impact on employees, their emotional lives and productivity. "It doesn't matter whether your organization is negotiating a hostage situation or trying to salvage your biggest account; a wise leader will be present and involved," according to Mr. Marr.

On transitioning into a new leadership role

11. For those eager to lead, stepping into a new leadership role is a an exciting time. However transitioning is a challenge — for both new leaders and their teams. Here are three common mistakes to avoid when inheriting a team, according to the Harvard Business Review.

  • Trying to be a friend instead of a leader.  Although it's important for new leaders to be empathetic to the challenges their team faces as they adjust to a new leader's preferences and expectations, it is important to not spend too much energy trying to be their friend. This will confuse the power dynamic and can lead to backlash when you start to exert control.
  • Showing frustration with the quality of the team. The team you inherit is the product of your predecessor — team members' habits and strengths reflect the previous leader's expectations of them. If your expectations are different, it is important to offer constructive, encouraging advice to guide change. 
  • Attempting to force trust and candor too soon. While many new leaders want to create a transparent and trusting culture from the beginning, exposing the team to contentious issues too soon can be destabilizing, according to HBR. Teams need time to build confidence working and handling uncomfortable topics with a new leader.

12. For some, a promotion to a new leadership role can be an incredibly stressful adjustment, especially when the person being promoted did not want the new role, according to Richard Wellins, PhD, and Tacy Byham, PhD, who co-authored Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others. According to a survey the Drs. conducted, only 29 percent of newly appointed leaders said being a manager was part of their-long term career goal.

13. Twenty percent of people promoted to a leadership role were moved up to reward technical skills, while 11 percent were chosen because there weren't any other competent individuals to fill the position, according to the survey. Almost half of the survey respondents did not want to be a manager, and two-thirds of new managers were not hoping for a management role when they were promoted. Additionally, 78 percent of people in a management role indicated they would give up their title if they could keep the money and privileges that come with it.

14. Sometimes, when people become the head of a new team, they find their new roles include responsibilities outside of their expertise. This is particularly relevant in healthcare, where executives lead extremely bright minds and individuals who are knowledgeable and passionate about their work. Here are three tips for managing people who know more than you from the Harvard Business Review.

  • Resist the inclination to dive in and master the situation. Leaders who are experts in one area often believe their high intelligence and strong work ethic will allow them to master the information they need to know in their new role. They may be tempted to learn all of the details. However, this can be a road to disaster, for it will be nearly impossible to become in expert in something they have only just started. Instead of "specialist management," which depends on expertise, adopt a "generalist style," which involves using basic leadership principles to handle most cases. Do your best to learn as you go.
  • Shift your attention to relationships, not facts. Instead of focusing on facts, try building relationships with your colleagues and subordinates by spending a lot of time face-to-face getting to know them. Relationships are an important element of the generalist leadership style because you are constantly adapting your approach to fit the individual in the situation, and knowing how to do this is key.
  • Be valuable by enabling things to happen, not by doing the work yourself. When you are the expert in something, you make contributions by making decisions based on your knowledge. As a generalist, you can't make the same kind of contribution, but you can enable things to happen. You can do this by problem solving, mediating conflicts among employees and continually asking for feedback.

15. Whether a rookie or seasoned leader, reflection is key to a successful future. Here are four questions all CEOs should ask themselves each year about strategy, according to Scott Becker, JD, publisher of Becker's Healthcare.

  • Key leadership. Identify your top leaders. Do you have a clear line of communication with those leaders? Are you in regular communication with them? Are they developing and managing their teams? Are you and they actively develop the next set of leaders?
  • Clear goals. Does your organization have clear objectives and goals? How well have you communicated these objectives and priorities for the next three months and the next year?
  • Building around strengths. Reexamine the market and your organization's position. Do you look at what is working well in terms of profits and revenues, as well as other efforts? Should you redouble efforts around those things that are working well? Are there additional opportunities that are adjacent to these efforts?
  • Key threats. Pinpoint the top three or four threats to your organization. How significant are they? What can you do to reduce exposure to these threats? 

On women leaders

16. Although corporate executive roles are primarily held by men, women executives bring strong, valuable leadership qualities to the table that are less prominent among men, such as vision and the ability to convey it convincingly to others, according to The Guardian.

17. Companies with a larger female presence on their boards tend to give more attention to environmental and social issues, according to Kellie McElhaney, PhD, a professor at University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business' Center for Responsible Business. According to her study of more than 1,500 global corporations, companies whose executive teams have an even balance of men and women are more likely to invest in renewable power, low-carbon products and energy efficiency. 

18. According to a study by Credit Suisse, there is a positive correlation between female leadership and financial performance. Between 2005 and 2013, companies with at least two women on their boards returned a compound of 3.7 percent each year over those companies with no women on the board. However, female participation in top management roles (CEO or directors reporting to the CEO) in the end of 2013 was just 12.9 percent.

19. Kip Tindell, CEO of the Container Store, said in a recent CNBC article that he believes "women make better business leaders than men." He credit's the Container Store's 16-year run on Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list to the 70 percent of women who work for the company. Mr. Tindell cites two traits women are more likely to possess that enable them for leadership roles.

  • Communication skills. Mr. Tindell believes women have innate skills — such as empathy and emotional intelligence — that make them better communicators than men. Although less than 5 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies are women, Mr. Tindell believes women's communication skills are the key pillars of conscious capitalism.
  • A tendency to work in teams. According to Mr. Tindell, women are more mutually supportive and communicative than men, which make them better suited to work in a team.

20. In an analysis of Fortune 500 CEOs, Harvard Business Review found commitment is the key to the C-suite. This is especially true for women, who spent a median of 23 years at one company before landing the job as CEO. That's 50 percent longer than the median 15 years it takes men to get to the top. Of the 24 female Fortune 500 CEOs analyzed, 70 percent spent 10 years or more at their current company. Seventy-one percent of the female CEOs were promoted from within, compared to 48 percent of males. The average age of a female CEO is 56.

On pitfalls

21. Communication is an important determinant of an executive's success — just as much as more business-specific skills, according to the Harvard Business Review. The vast majority of polled employees — 91 percent — say communication issues can lower an executive's standing.

22. An Interact/Harris Poll of roughly 1,000 U.S. workers identified the following seven communication sins leaders commit most:

  • Not recognizing employee achievements — reported by 63 percent of respondents
  • Not giving clear directions — 57 percent
  • Not having time to meet with employees — 52 percent
  • Refusing to talk to subordinates — 51 percent
  • Taking credit for others' ideas — 47 percent
  • Not offering constructive criticism — 39 percent
  • Not knowing employees' names — 36 percent
  • Refusing to talk to people on the phone/in person — 34 percent
  • Not asking about employees' lives outside of work — 23 percent

23. Executives can remedy these issues by focusing on improving their communication with employees. HBR suggests these strategies:

  • Give specific praise.
  • Give both personal and public thank yous.
  • Ask employees for their opinions and ideas.
  • Be transparent, especially during periods of change.
  • Give feedback on an ongoing basis, not once a year.
  • Admit your mistakes and share what you've learned from them.
  • Address your employees by name.

24. Body language is a facet of communication that is often overlooked. However, your body language could be sending people the wrong signals, impeding your ability to influence and lead. According to Forbes, TalentSmart, a top provider of emotional intelligence tests, training and consulting, found the highest performing employees and leaders are high in emotional intelligence. Individuals with high emotional intelligence actively monitor their body language, preventing them from sending negative unspoken signals.

25. Consider the following body language blunders to avoid, according to Forbes.

  • Slouching. Sitting slouched over conveys disrespect because it signals to whomever you are speaking to that you are bored and have no desire to be there. On the other hand, standing or sitting up straight maximizes the amount of space you fill and projects power. Having good posture commands respect and stimulates engagement from both people in the encounter.
  • Being positioned away from someone who is speaking. When your body isn't directly facing the person who is speaking or you are not leaning into your conversation, it tells the person you are unengaged, uninterested or uncomfortable. Leaning in toward the speaker shows you are paying attention and interested in what they are saying.
  • Crossing your arms and legs. Crossing your arms and legs creates physical barriers that communicate to the person speaking that you are closed off from what he or she is saying. Even if you are also smiling and participating in the conversation, the other person may still get a sense you are not fully receptive to his or her remarks.
  • Too much nodding. Nodding along the whole time somebody is speaking shows you are anxious about getting his or her approval. Additionally, exaggerated nodding may come across as an attempt to show you understand or agree with something you really don't.
  • Intruding on others' personal space. Standing too close to someone — nearer than one and half feet — communicates you don't understand or respect his or her desire for personal space. This may make people uncomfortable around you.

26. In healthcare, hospitals and health systems are always looking for innovative ways to expand their marketability to consumers and engage technology to gain a competitive edge. In the age of consumer-run healthcare, failure to successfully implement innovative ideas can prevent organizations from reaching their full potential. Leaders will have a better shot at developing and executing innovative ideas if they are aware of these four pitfalls to avoid, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

  • Believing innovation is too costly. Many organizations retreat from efforts to develop innovative ideas because they perceive the process as too time-consuming, complicated and expensive. However, organizations that invest time and money into a structured and thorough process for vetting and implementing these ideas can create profound returns in various forms. Additionally, once an organization understands and becomes acclimated with this process, the generation of creative ideas will become a daily occurrence.
  • Leaving team members out. Failure to involve the entire team in innovation efforts is a big mistake, as everyone in an organization has difference perspectives and experiences they can lend to the development of new ideas. Many business leaders have a tendency to involve just a select number of people — such as developers or founders — during innovation development efforts. However, employees outside of this core team can offer fresh insights and are not tied down by fixed thinking on how things were done in the past.
  • Not having a system in place for identifying innovative ideas. The most successful businesses have systems for identifying creative ideas. These systems usually start by finding ways to develop solutions to problems or fill market gaps. Although they are innovative, many of these ideas are "incremental changes, not revolutionary new products," according to the report. To establish a system, identify problems, unsatisfied needs and market gaps and delegate these issues to team members who are best equipped to devise appropriate solutions. This problem solving should lead to the generation of innovative ideas.
  • Failing to celebrate. Creativity is a fun, exciting way to engage people from across the organization. Additionally, rewarding and celebrating innovation will encourage more innovation and creativity and will help the business grow. Innovation contests, brainstorming sessions and other activities are a great way to encourage innovative thinking and collaboration among employees, according to the report.

On the importance of physical fitness

27. When it comes to priorities, exercise often comes second to work. professionals justify their lack of exercise by saying they don't have enough time with all of the work that has to be done, but physical activity can be a very important component of success. According to Michael Hyatt of Your Virtual Mentor, regular physical activity "is a Godsend" for entrepreneurs for several reasons.

28. First, exercise refines competitiveness. "Not only does completing a tough workout instill confidence and a positive sense of accomplishment, but to maintain my exercise regimen, I've had to sharpen my self-discipline and increase my capacity for self-sacrifice. These traits are directly applicable in a business environment," said Mr. Hyatt. Exercise also helps people establish a healthy work-life balance. Even though people who don't exercise say it is because they don't have enough time, research shows that incorporating exercise into your daily activities actually enhances a work-life balance. It also lowers stress and anxiety levels.

29. There is a direct link between exercise and problem-solving capabilities, creativity and planning, according to the Washington Post. Just one workout can boost higher-order thinking skills, which in turn makes you more productive and efficient.

30. For leaders in particular, exercise can be a valuable means of strengthening important leadership skills. According to Carmine Gallo, Forbes contributor and author of Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, one executive's personal trainer told him, "A proper training program will help you have better posture, exude more energy and prepare you to handle the demands of a busy professional life. Without energy you'll look and sound like a dud. The executive who exercises regularly looks and feels energized. They radiate passion, vitality and energy."

31. Many executives even believe physical fitness is necessary for success. According to a survey conducted by online job resources TheLadders.com, 75 percent of executives said good physical fitness is "critical for success at the executive level," while just 4 percent said their physical condition was irrelevant to their careers. Additionally, 75 percent of executives said being overweight is a "serious career impediment."

32. Interestingly, researchers found firms with top executives who had completed a marathon to be valued 5 percent higher on average than those that had executives who had not, according to measures by Tobin's Q, which gauges company value, according to Inc. magazine. Tobin's Q drew their findings after identifying CEOs of S&P 1500 companies who had completed a marathon in each year between 2001 and 2011. Researchers found the association between firm value and CEO fitness was even more pronounced for CEOs over the age of 55, those who had longer-than-average tenure, or those who were exceptionally busy, with two or more external director roles. 

On engagement

33. Managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units, according to Gallup. Only 30 percent of U.S. workers are engaged at work. Of the other 70 percent, 52 percent are not engaged and 18 percent are actively disengaged. According to Gallup, the disengaged are more emotionally disconnected from their organizations. They could be less productive and are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, be absent and drive away customers, according to the report.

34. Disengagement is often the symptom of subpar leadership, but there are several actions and behaviors leaders can adopt to improve their employees' engagement.

  • Show employees how they can achieve their goals. Someone who doesn't have clear goals will find it difficult to be engaged in their daily tasks, which can amount to poor performance. However, setting goals shouldn't be the employees' responsibility alone. Leaders who take an active role in helping craft their employees' goals have the best chance of improving engagement. 
  • Personify the organization's vision. An organization's vision statement should "inspire, motivate and align employees toward a common goal." It should include goals for both the short- and long-term, as well as how the organization aims to achieve them. Leaders who serve as an example of the vision inspire employees to follow it, which is much more effective than simply directing them to follow it.
  • Be transparent. It is important for employees to see and understand the challenges and opportunities their organizations face to ensure their goals and work are on the right path. Additionally, when employees can see how their individual work contributes to the overall success of the company, they will be more motivated.

35. Even though 86 percent of workers reported being "very happy" or "somewhat happy" at their jobs, 53 percent of workers feel burned out at work, according to a survey by Staples Advantage. Burnout can have a severe impact on employees' engagement. Here are four tips for leaders to help relieve or prevent burnout.

  • Eliminate excessive time demands. Don't give employees more work than they can handle during paid hours — people who take their work home do not have time to recharge and refresh.
  • Offer more flexibility. Leaders who allow their employees to construct their own working arrangements — such as when and where they complete their work — will more effectively avoid conflicts with other responsibilities.
  • Waste less of workers' time. Ensure meetings are as focused and concise as possible, and only include necessary recipients on emails. Over one-third of Staples' survey participants say they experience email overload.
  • Make work less exhausting. Encourage employees to moderate the pace of their work and take occasional breaks.

On culture

36. Job-seekers are leveraging more bargaining power now that the economy has turned around, and company culture is one of the most important factors prospective employees consider during the recruitment process, according to Forbes.

37. "Culture" was the most popular word of 2014, according to Merriam Webster. Many organizations define culture as what people do when no one is watching. Josh Bersin, a principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte and Forbes contributor, defines culture as the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems and rituals that make up an organization. "You can 'feel' culture when you visit a company, because it is often evident in people's behavior, enthusiasm and the space itself," he said.

38. Companies can identify how to improve their corporate culture by asking the following questions.

  • Do we have the right leaders? Culture is driven by the way leaders behave and display their values. According to Mr. Bersin's analysis of the Glassdoor database, the factor most correlated with an individual's recommendation of their company as a place to work was "quality and trust in leadership."
  • Are we hiring the right candidates? Once culture is established, it is important to hire candidates who will fit in. Even if a candidate possesses the right skills and experience, he or she may not be successful at a company if he or she won't be compatible with the company's culture.
  • Does our performance evaluation system drive empowerment? Many companies are moving away from "forced ranking" and "up or out" systems of performance evaluation, as these can induce anxiety and pressure on employees, which can be a significant detriment to both their attitudes and work performance. 
  • Are our values and culture too complex? "If you can't write down your values and culture down in a few words, it's probably too complex to understand," said Mr. Bersin. Many companies have realized this and have taken steps toward "simplifying" their companies.

39. The majority of global executives — 81 percent — believe external CEO engagement is now a mandate for building company reputation, and 45 percent of survey respondents believe their CEO's reputation contributes to nearly half of their company's reputation, according to Weber Shandwick and KRC Research's recent executive study called The CEO Reputation Premium: Gaining Advantage in the Engagement Era. Forty-four percent believe CEO reputation influences the company's market value.

40. According to the study, the most highly regarded CEOs have a clear vision for the company, inspire and motivate others, are honest and ethical, are good communicators internally and externally, focus on customers, have a global business outlook and are decisive. Notably, humble CEOs are perceived as better communicators. For example, executives rated humble CEOs nearly 20 percent better in internal and external communication than average CEOs, 28 percent more open and accessible and 12 percent more comfortable talking to the news and media.

41. A strong corporate culture depends on trust. Here are 10 things for leaders to consider in building an organization on a foundation of trust.

  • Follow through on what you say you will do.
  • Demonstrate reliability through consistent performance over time.
  • Model your company's behavior after people you admire.
  • Look for good values and good hearts in the people you hire.
  • Stay true to your values, even during arduous times.
  • Trust others to give you honest feedback and ideas when you don't have the answer.
  • Be an effective change manager.
  • Consider developing a code of ethics.
  • Do not overpromise, lie or spin the truth, deliver a difficult message poorly or engage in a personal conflict.
  • Be transparent in your actions and communicate openly.

42. Transparency is an important element of a healthy culture. In addition to its importance to establishing a foundation of trust, leaders are transparent because of its link to accountability, collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and productivity among employees. However, too much organizational openness has the potential to undermine these things, according to an article by Ethan Bernstein, PhD, in The Wall Street Journal.

43. To achieve the balance between smart transparency and privacy, consider the following suggestions from Dr. Bernstein.

  • Maintain an "open door" office policy — sometimes. Some organizations have created open offices and taken down walls and doors with the hope of producing more "random collisions" and collaboration among employees. However, too much openness can be distracting and reduce productivity.
  • Monitor information constructively. More transparency means workers — executives and staff — are held more accountable for their individual work. According to Dr. Bernstein, transparency of individuals' contributions can lead to anxiety that the information will be used against them in performance reviews, instead of openly disclosing errors for learning and development. 
  • Performance requires private practice. "With total transparency, everything is a performance. But in the workplace, depriving employees of private practice spaces can substantially undermine performance," according to Dr. Bernstein. While transparency is good sometimes, it isn't effective all of the time because employees are often less productive and innovative if they know they are always being observed.

On competition in the workplace

44. Although we are generally conditioned to regard competition as a source of motivation, it easily distorts the social relations that increase collaboration, productivity and profitability. Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur, former CEO of five companies and author, said in a TED Talk that a culture of helpfulness routinely outperforms individual intelligence.

45. According to a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, the groups of people most successful at solving very difficult problems were not those with one or two members with extraordinarily high IQs, or even groups with the highest aggregate IQ. The most successful groups were those that showed the highest degree of social sensitivity to one another. More specifically, these teams had high scores on empathy tests, were mostly women (which could be a doubling down on the empathy factor, as women typically score higher on these tests) and gave each member of the group equal time to talk so not one voice dominated, according to Ms. Heffernan. The key to success in this experiment was social connectedness.

46. In addition  to reducing competition among employees, the reliance and interdependency that builds trust. Social capital is what gives organizations momentum and makes them robust. To grow social capital, one must invest time. Teams that work together longer are more successful. The trust and relationships required for real candor and openness develop over time, not overnight. When one company decided to synchronize office coffee breaks so people could have time to talk to each other, profits increased by $15 million and employee satisfaction went up 10 percent, according to Ms. Heffernan.

47. In some cases, team members may develop an unhealthy sense of competition against one another, even if the leadership does not encourage this. To remedy this, leaders can use the following three tactics to help team members see the value in collaboration and a "team mindset."

  • Model the "team mindset" behavior you're hoping to inspire. Leaders can demonstrate curiosity and interest in those they work with by asking them questions, responding thoughtfully and showing they value others' input and ideas.
  • Assign value on successful teaming and reward it more than individual performance. A little competition not always a bad thing, but rewarding individual performance too often can result in a zero-sum game, in which one employee's success depends on another's failure. By doing so, team members may channel their competitive energy into a desire to outperform other organizations in the industry. Instead, show employees there will be a bigger payoff if they work together.
  • Frame the challenge ahead as something in need of diverse perspectives and skills. Help each employee see the unique talents, knowledge and expertise that he or she brings to the table. Show your team that success can be greater when people work together for the sake of a larger prize.

On communication

48. One of the most important qualities in a leader? The ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. This includes one-on-one settings, as well as delivering information and ideas to employees across the organization. Although many people believe public speaking and communication skills are innate, Darren Hardy, an entrepreneur, public speaker and publisher of SUCCESS magazine, insists these skills are largely cultivated through practice.

49. Mr. Hardy told Forbes, "My belief is that for any leader or influencer of any consequence, the number one trait that is necessary to succeed is their ability to speak, to communicate. If you cannot speak and communicate effectively — for instance, in staff meetings, funding pitches and recruitment — leaders will find it much more difficult to achieve their goals." Mr. Hardy uses strong body language, humor and thought-provoking questions to engage the audience and deliver messages effectively. These skills can be cultivated through practice, as refining public speaking skills is a process of trial and error.

50. In addition to public speaking and general communication skills, asking questions fearlessly is an important trait of effective leaders. As markets across all industries continue to undergo rapid change, issues become increasingly complex — even the most qualified leaders can't possibly possess all of the experience, knowledge and strategies to solve every problem on his or her own. Instead of seeking to always provide an answer, the most effective leaders recognize the power of asking questions.

According to Sanyin Siang, executive director of the Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics at Duke University's Business School, strong leaders use questions as a tool in several different ways, including:

  • Conveying their point of view and understanding of a situation.
  • Arriving at the core of an issue.
  • Shifting people's focus from the negative reality to the potential for change.
  • Encouraing teamwork.
  • Creating a more positive dynamic.
  • Helping others realize their leadership potential.

51. Although communication is an important pillar of strong leadership, it is important to be conscientious of when you are communicating with employees and they shape their behaviors around your expectations. For example, even if a leader sends a late-night email to their employee simply because the topic was on his or her mind at the moment, the employee might feel pressured to respond immediately, meaning the time the employee spends working is encroaching into his or her personal life too much.

52. According to Maura Thomas' article in the Harvard Business Review, a productivity trainer specializing in attention management, connecting during after-work hours during busy periods is the sign of a high-performer, while never disconnecting is the sign of a workaholic. There is a big difference. Leaders have a strong influence on producing both.

53. After-hours emails have a profound effect on corporate cultures, resulting in lower creativity, innovation and productivity. A frantic environment where employees adhere to the expectation — actual or perceived — that they must answer emails at all hours increases business and distraction. Additionally, constantly being "on" means employees aren't allowing themselves proper downtime, which is necessary for new ideas. Ms. Thomas suggests the following tips for leaders to help their team preserve their downtime and refine their attention management abilities.

  • Replace the phrase "time management" with "attention management," and make training this important skill part of your staff development plan.
  • Refrain from after-hours communication. If you are worried you will forget something that you want to send in an email, save the message as a draft and then send it in the morning.
  • Demonstrate "attention management" across the work environment — put away devices when speaking with your team, especially during meetings, to promote complete engagement.
  • Create remote work options for employees for high concentration roles, tasks and projects.

54. People pay close attention to the things leaders say, even in what they may think are informal encounters. The following are five phrases successful people would never say, according to Business Insider.

  • "I deserve this more." Successful people don't waste their own or anyone else's time complaining about life's injustices. Instead of dwelling on situations that seem unfair, successful people know success must be earned and demonstrate why they deserve awards, recognition promotions.
  • "That's not how we do it here." Successful people are always interested in innovation and are open to doing away with convention to enable doing something better than it was done before. Even if someone's idea seems impractical, a successful leader gives the person a chance to explain it and discuss the pros and cons, according to Business Insider.
  • "That's not my problem." Successful leaders genuinely want others to succeed as well. They take an interest in the challenges and successes of others and act as a team player because they understand their success and wealth is the result of the dedication of their employees.
  • "This is impossible." Saying and believe you are unable to achieve something creates a self-imposed limitation to success. According to Business Insider, high-achievers don't let hurdles discourage them. Rather, they use creativity to find a way around them.
  • "I've done everything I could do." Successful leaders know how to find new opportunities, even when others give up and it seems every option has been tried.

On meaningful business relationships

55. Meeting and connecting with people comes easily to some, but for those with introverted personalities, establishing meaningful relationships can be challenging. Nevertheless, these relationships can have a direct impact on one's success in business. The following steps have helped both reserved and outgoing folks build stronger connections with others, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

  • Ask an unexpected, exciting first question. Typical meet-and-greet questions like "Where are you from?" and "What do you do for a living?" will likely be answered with short, automatic responses that don't open up any windows for more engaging conversation. To be more memorable and set the foundation for a closer connection, a question like, "What are you doing in your life right now that really excites you?" will distinguish the questioner from others and present an opportunity to discuss some personal passions.
  • Show you are interested in what they have to say. The most effective networkers focus less on themselves and more on showing an interest in learning about others. Asking questions about a person's business, passions and hobbies makes them feel important and confident. Additionally, body language signs like maintaining eye contact shows you are interested and listening to someone.
  • Show you can be valuable to them. Everyone has things they could use help with. The most effective way to get people in your corner is to show them you are willing to help solve their problems. When you show you are genuinely ready to offer support, people are more inclined to let their guard down and discuss where they need help. 

56. The strongest leaders make an effort to establish meaningful connections with individual employees. "Business relationships are inherently personal," according to George Bradt, Forbes contributor. Mr. Bradt says leaders should learn to recognize new opportunities to connect with employees. While forming connections takes time, it is time well spent, because a meaningful relationship will be valuable to both parties. Leaders can use "active constructive" responses, which are positive in nature and structured to find out more information, to help them initiate forming a new relationship.

On recruiting and succession planning

57. Across all industries, finding and retaining top talent is critical for organizations to ensure long-term success. While this may prove difficult in certain regions or organizations, there are several strategies leaders can adopt for better recruitment. Moshe Hogeg, founder and CEO of Tel Aviv, Israel-based Mobli Media, a real-time visual media platform, gives the following 3 suggestions in Entrepreneur magazine.

  • Don't be afraid to be informal. Mr. Hogeg said Israel's informal culture and propensity to take a casual approach to the interview allows for "natural, free-flowing conversation" and gives the interviewer a greater opportunity to get to know the interviewee on a more personal level, which ultimately provides a better picture as to whether they will be a strong match with the company's culture.
  • Show some chutzpah. A strong sense of boldness has many benefits. "Bad ideas tend not to thrive in these environments, and our willingness to listen to an opinion is based on the merits of its validity opposed to the rank or age of the individual who says it," Mr. Hogeg wrote. Chutzpah, or boldness, is a difficult trait to identify during an interview, but interviewers can gauge this is by asking the candidate to identify an area of the business for improvement. Candidates who show they can challenge authority and think on their feet will be strong assets to the business, according to Mr. Hogeg.
  • Look for employees who can balance their work and personal lives. Although a strong work ethic is one of the most important traits in an employee, there are few traits more harmful to an employee's ability to be successful and happy than an exclusive focus on work, according to Mr. Hogeg. Employees who find a balance between their work lives and personal lives are less likely to face burnout and more likely to stay with the company, produce strong, sustainable work.

58. Succession planning is equally as important as recruitment, though many organizations fail to develop and implement effective plans. In the past, it was common for CEOs to hand-pick successors, which often led to choosing someone similar to the departing CEO when the company really needed a leader to take it in a new direction, according to Forbes. Now, it is much more common for the board of directors to pick the CEO's successor, though they too often aim to recruit someone from an outside company instead of considering internal candidates.

59. To avoid mistakes in succession planning, consider the following succession planning mistakes to avoid, according to Forbes.

  • We know a promising internal candidate so we don't need to consider external ones. Just as some boards have a tendency to automatically search for candidates outside of the organization, others have the opposite tendency. It is important to simultaneously run internal and external searches, applying the same criteria against all candidates.
  • The successor must be a "ready now" CEO. It is only possible to know if a candidate is really "ready" in hindsight. A candidate's "readiness" is not necessarily based on experience, either. Rather, readiness depends in part on the context of the existing leadership team.
  • A new CEO should work the same as the past successful CEO. When searching for a replacement for a very successful CEO, there is a danger in looking for a candidate that will serve as her predecessor's replica. Succession planning must always address the organization's future needs, and be open to fresh perspectives and leadership styles.

60. Selective hiring and effective succession planning are essential for stability at the helm, especially at a time marked by the highest rates of executive turnover in the healthcare industry. However, certain strategies lead to better hiring choices. For instance, ensure hiring decisions are not influenced by the past, according to CFO Magazine. It's hazardous to hire an executive who fits the past but not the future needs of the business or selecting a leader from a small pool familiar faces.

61. Another effective tactic is aiming searches at entrepreneurs. A successful entrepreneur, by nature, is someone who can lead, take risks, take on multiple responsibilities and think critically. Entrepreneurs represent many of the traits a powerful executive should have. However, it is important to have a balanced approach when adding those with an entrepreneurial mindset and experience.  

62. When hiring an executive, it is imperative to prevent "institutional amnesia." Improving the organization's future performance partially depends on ensuring lessons learned from past mistakes aren't forgotten. When working with an executive search firm, it is important to record the performance of external advisors to inform future search process decisions, according to the Harvard Business Review.    

On running efficient meetings

63. Trying to stay attentive through long informational meetings often leaves attendees tired and even slightly bored, frequently leading to them to question, couldn't this information be sent in an email instead? According to the Harvard Business Review, significant elements of in-person meetings cannot be transmitted via email. This is partially because only 7 percent of information communicated face-to-face is verbal, meaning it cannot be translated into written text. The vast majority of communication in meetings is contextual, including body language, tone of voice, and attendees' reactions and feedback.           

64. Given this, it is of vital importance for leaders to ensure their meetings are both time efficient and productive. Here are three tips for running a better meeting, according to the Harvard Business Review.

  • Set an agenda prior to the meeting and clearly communicate goals. Mapping out meetings and setting agendas in advance is critical to making them successful. Additionally, meeting leaders should notify participants what a meeting will be about and give them time to prepare to be meaningful contributors. Lacking a clear game plan is often what causes groups to get derailed in decision-making.
  • Limit meetings to a maximum of seven people. While there is no magic number, small meetings are beneficial. It is easier to keep track of attendees' subtle body language cues, an important indicator of comprehension and reaction. Additionally, large meetings inhibit attendees' participation, due to "social loafing," a social psychology phenomenon that shows a sizable decrease in individual effort when in a group.
  • Create a "no devices allowed" rule. Even when we think we are multitasking, our attention is spread thin when simultaneously finishing an email or reading a text message while listening in a meeting. Using a cell phone, tablet or another device in a meeting is also distracting to others, and it can even be offensive. If someone is trying to talk during a meeting and they see their boss staring into their phone, he or she will likely see that as an insult.

65. If attendees at a meeting are not engaged or committed to its objectives, the meeting will is a huge waste of time. Google's Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, said there is a simple pre- and post-meeting habit that can help improve efficiency in meetings, according to Business Insider. Mr. Bock tells managers to ask employees how they plan on making the most of a meeting before it starts, and then ask them what they gained from the meeting once it is finished. Managers should also ask themselves these questions to ensure meetings stay focused and concise. According to Mr. Bock, these exercises help ensure each meeting is an active, valuable and engaging experience. Additionally, they create viable opportunities to incorporate discussions regarding employees' personal goals.

On leading through change

66. Although many large-scale change and innovation efforts fail, such failure does not fully rest on the shoulders of the employees or CEO. Mid-level managers have the most power to make change. Those who are successful change leaders for their companies share several key characteristics, according to the Harvard Business Review.

  • They are open-minded. Change efforts often don't reach their potential or fail because the people leading them reduce themselves to pre-existing, mapped out systems. In contrast, successful change leaders keep an open mind, value bold ideas and aren't afraid to try something new.
  • They stick to the process. While successful change leaders are not afraid to employ out-of-the-box strategies, they don't act impulsively. The creativity aspect of their approach happens in the planning stage. After establishing what a change will be and how to achieve it, change leaders stick to it and inspire others to embrace it.
  • They act quickly. People don't see a reason to change something if there is no sense of urgency associated with it. It is important to communicate to employees the significance of the change, the stakes of failure and enforce the change process with deadlines.

67. Shepherding the organization through periods of change is a difficult task in itself, and in today's world, leaders must do so in VUCA — a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world where they not only confront periods of uncertainty, but are constantly immersed in it, Liz Wiseman, president of the Wiseman group, wrote in Fortune. The most critical skill when leading a team through change is communication, for a lack of communication leads to anxiety and unrest among employees.

68. Ms. Wiseman suggests the following tips to ensure strong communication with employees during periods of change.

  • Identify the unknowns. The first thing a leader should do during a transition period is clarify what is known and what remains an assumption. Write down all of the things you don't know but will need to understand better as change progresses.
  • Define the questions. State all of the questions that remain and outline the data or other resources needed to answer them.
  • Engage your team. After sharing what you know with your team, tell them what you don't. The next step is allowing your team to help you find the answers. In a VUCA world, leaders need all the intel they can get. Additionally, people work harder when they feel they are in control of their own fate, and allowing them to play a bigger role in problem solving will encourage this.

On becoming a more strategic leader

69. Unlike the numerous operational duties leaders perform on a daily basis, strategic actions involve a different mindset, new relationships and organizational skills. According to Hermina Ibarra, the Cora chair professor of leadership and learning at Insead, executives who want to become more strategic leaders can effectively develop a strong strategic awareness and skills through certain practices.

  • Use outside relationships inside your organization. While all leaders have an internal network that supports their daily operations, executives should also leverage a solid and well-placed network of contacts outside of their organization, according to Ms. Ibarra. These external contacts can offer insight about big picture to help leader make informed, strategic decisions internally. These external connections may even lead new business opportunities or partnerships.
  • Analyze what "strategic" initiatives are actually strategic. Often, various items on executives' agendas are strategic only in name and really do not require as much attention as others might suggest. According to Ms. Ibarra, ranking each strategic initiative they are asked to support in order of importance — or another measure — will allow executives to budget the amount of time spent and manpower involved working on each.
  • Work as a team. Strategic thinking is enhanced when members of the C-suite have established good working relationships and members collaborate with one another. Even though each chief has his or her own domain, they are actually interdependent and should aim to work as a coherent unit. Additionally, asking for another C-suiter's insight can prevent functional fixedness and improve strategic thinking, just as consulting someone outside of the organization can.

On performance management

70. Managers who give consistently critical performance reviews negatively impact their employees' performance and engagement levels, according to a study from the Harvard Business Review.

71. When asked to rate their direct reports on 360 evaluations, 50 managers at a multinational company were identified as positive-rating, and 31 managers consistently rated their direct reports significantly lower than their colleagues. While neither group said even 1 percent of their workers were truly problematic and needed significant improvement, nearly 14 percent of those working under negative-rating managers were identified as in need of improvement, compared to only 3 percent of those working under positive-rating managers. According to the study, the most likely explanation for these differences is more positive reviews actually make employees better, while more critical ones make them worse. 

72. Employees who received positive scores felt "lifted up and supported," and "that vote of confidence made them more optimistic about future improvement," according to the report. On the other hand, employees who received low scores from more critical managers felt "confused or discouraged — often both. They felt they were not valued or trusted, and that it was impossible to succeed." These feelings had a direct impact on engagement: Engagement scores for those working under the negative raters were in the 47th percentile on average, whereas engagement scores for those reporting to positive raters were in the 60th percentile on average.

73. Although performance reviews are an important aspect of management, employees require consistent coaching and support from their leaders to truly excel. However, this is not always the case. according to Gallup's State of the American Manager report, only 12 percent of employees agree that their manager helps them set work priorities, while 13 percent agree that their manager helps them set performance goals.

74. Leaders can employ the following three tactics to improve their performance management skills.

  • Improve organizational culture. Gallup identified five tenets of a strong organizational culture: (1) Leadership and communication, (2) values and rituals, (3) human capital practices and policies, (4) work team structures and (5) performance. CEOs and other senior leaders have the greatest authority in improving an organization's culture and they must serve as a face of this culture to encourage others to follow suit.
  • Study top performers. By observing top performers, leaders can obtain information about how employees want to be managed and how to further each employee's success. Additionally, through observation, leaders can develop accurate strategies for selecting and developing employees.
  • Use predictive analytics. Using a systematic approach, such as personality or aptitude tests, to scientifically choose top performers has numerous benefits. For example, utilizing such an approach can allow companies to identify employees with innate manager potential.

On productivity

75. By nature, humans want to keep busy, even when it is counterproductive. Sitting idle is uncomfortable, especially when pressed for time, so we often try to keep moving and working, though this often does not result in better performance.

76. While keeping busy has the illusion of productivity, at work, this bias may lead us to act in an attempt to solve before taking the time to fully understand the problem and create a plan. According to the Harvard Business Review, in one study, people reported feeling more productive when executing tasks than planning them, even though planning leads to higher performance than diving into tasks without a predetermined course of action.

77. Instead of being busy with an abundance of tasks, an essentialist — someone who has the ability to determine what is truly critical and not give too much attention to trivial, nonessential demands — will be a more valuable and productive leader, according to a Talent Management report on Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Doing Less, by Greg McKeown. By "strategically doing less," leaders can reduce stress and become valuable assets to their organizations, according to Mr. McKeown. To do this, leaders should ask themselves, "What is the very best and highest use of me? What if I was only paid for the value creation that I bring to the table?"

78. Although some people believe working longer results in increased productivity, the opposite is actually true. According to a study from Stanford University, productivity per hour significantly declines when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and almost completely drops off after 55 hours.

79. Spencer Rascoff, the co-founder of Hotwire.com and CEO of Zillow, said in a Forbes article the key to success isn't pulling all-nighters or sacrificing weekends for work. Instead, he suggests dedicating the weekends to family and spending time engaging in your personal interest to rejuvenate and stay focused.

 

 

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