by Michael Holland     

I had the opportunity to moderate an armchair discussion between two CEOs for an audience of HR executives.  Not surprisingly, a predominant theme during the discussion focused on leadership.  Here’s a rundown of some of the salient take-aways from these two CEOs regarding what they look for in leaders.

  • Read. . . A Lot – Great leaders are prolific readers.  Not only journals in their specialty areas or just business books.  They read books that interest them and provide broad exposure to stimulate the mind.  They read, or re-read: classics, fiction, non-fiction, and mysteries.  Creative problem solving starts with diverse thinking. (see Collisions to Tease Your Brain and Grow Your Leadership Wisdom or see the books I’ve read since 2010)
  • Liberal Arts Degrees – They look for those people who have been taught to think critically, research deeply, and have broad exposure to knowledge.
  • Divergent Backgrounds – Combinations of degrees and experience that are not strictly an ascension of specialty education.  An MBA in Finance to balance the functional expertise in technology or HR.  The career progression that reveals leadership work in operational, staff, and customers arenas.  (see Functional Leadership Complacency)
  • Networking – Network upwards and backwards.  Seek long- term connection with and insight from people who are two levels above your current role. Stay in contact with professors who can provide specialty insight and are often happy to be asked. (see Create and Cultivate Your Peer Networks)
  • Respect – Respectfulness of seasoned employees and leaders who have built the sustenance of the company.  Respect for the culture.
  • Want to Be Here – We want to have leaders – and employees as well – who want to be at the company, not feel they are bound to the company.

The great art of leadership comes from investing the time to feed the brain, to connect the dots of the future, and ultimately to guide your team to the place they will need to be in the future when those dots connect in the real world.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Do you have a reading plan?  How many books are you planning to read in the next 6 months?  What types of books are your peers reading?
  • How does the last bullet — Want to Be Here — sit with you?  Do you WANT to be at your company?  Think through what your answer may reveal about your motivation and leadership impact.
  • Has your career been functionally oriented?  Make a list of 10 projects or temporary assignments could you take on to broaden your perspective?