The image of a duck serenely gliding across the water elicits a knowing response from most leaders, especially when it shows the furious paddling going on under the water line. It exemplifies the feeling for many that they can’t paddle any faster, work any harder or longer, or expend any more resources.

What if there was a better way to become a legacy leader – one who has a positive impact on others, the one who people follow because of who they are and what they represent?

Laura Crothers Osborn recently was the Keynote at our Sobel & Co. September Executive Women’s Breakfast meeting and discussed this topic.

There are strategies that leaders can implement to make incremental shifts in their individual and collective effectiveness (and slow down the paddling), along their journey to become a legacy leader. Today’s world is calling leaders to move from a reactive mindset to a creative mindset.

When people react, it’s like that automatic mind, that caveman mind: a problem or a threat presents itself, and a reaction is driven by fear. Sometimes the leader gets it right, but sometimes the reactionary fix addresses it in the short term, and causes more problems down the road.No planning, just reacting – outside forces are driving the bus. Reactive leaders choose safety over purpose and their effectiveness is inconsistent at best.

In a creative mindset, there is purpose or vision that is led by passion, not fear. The leader deliberately decides ‘how’ and ‘if’ to respond, in a thoughtful way.Either of those responses is an action that moves the organization (or individual) towards its purpose.Continuing to act with a purpose propels their leadership effectiveness.

Data based on hundreds of thousands of leaders around the world, collected in a 360 assessment tool, found the following creative competencies are the ones most valued.The data further shows that these creative strengths have the highest correlation to the top 10% most effective leaders:

  • Strong People Skills: Strong people- and interpersonal capability.  Caring, compassionate, big hearted, respects others, connects well to others and makes them feel valuable.
  • Visionary: Communicates a compelling vision of the future that fosters alignment.  Knows and sets strategic direction and business plans that allow organization to thrive.
  • Team Builder: Unites, engages and supports team effort.Builds involvement and consensus, supports team members and advocates for team initiatives.
  • Personable and Approachable: Accessible, available, “open door,” friendly, likable, easy to work with, and good sense of humor.
  • Leads by Example: Good role model.Walks the talk.
  • Passion and Drive: Passion, enthusiasm, drive, and strong sense of commitment to the success of the organization and to personal success.
  • Good Listener: Attentive and present when people are presenting their views.
  • Develops People: Shares experience and provides mentoring, coaching, career planning, and developmental experience to ensure growth and development.
  • Empowers people: Shares leadership and encourages people to take ownership, find their own solutions, make their own decisions, and learn from mistakes.Trusts people’s abilities and their willingness to follow directions.
  • Positive Attitude: Optimistic, upbeat, “can-do” attitude

The statistics also confirm that in 6 of the top 10 creative areas, female leaders score higher than male. These extraordinary leaders are not perfect, they also tend to be workaholics and are overcommitted.

Looking at the 10% of leaders scoring lowest in this database, they are seen to be highly reactive.These are leaders of some very large global companies as well as start-ups; they got to these roles by being very good at many things like being a visionary and their brilliant minds.

As expected, the bottom 10% of hundreds of thousands of leaders had many reactive tendencies and the top 10 reactive traits in the lowest scoring leaders include:

  • Not a team player / has Big Ego
  • Micromanaging
  • Playing favorites
  • Lacking emotional control
  • Ineffective interaction style
  • Overly demanding & impatient
  • Poor listening skills
  • Not developing the team
  • Not holding team accountable

The part that really interested the analysts were the traits that were seen as ‘non-differentiating’; i.e. possessing them did not necessarily shoot them to the ranks of extraordinarily effective leaders, because the least effective leaders also possessed a high level of these competencies:

  • Expanding their knowledge,
  • Focusing on vision and results,
  • Strengthening their networking skills.

These are typically the attributes that are recognized as one’s “outer game” and interestingly tend to be the areas that companies focus on and put resources into (trade shows, seminars, results) - but this isn’t what will differentiate their leaders -these are just the must-haves to enter leadership ranks.

Creative strengths mentioned earlier are driven by the “inner game”.Qualities of the inner game are identified as passion, risk taking, selflessness, humility, integrity, honesty, compassion, vision, collaboration, courage, self-awareness, purposeful, intuition and wisdom. It is seen that great leaders are connected with the deepest part of themselves - that intuitive gut feeling that serves them.Leadership is more about character, courage and conviction … knowledge and results alone do not make an effective leader.

We know that people skills are key, as is slowing down to use the space between the stimulus and response to craft an intentional creative action. Great leaders know the leadership development process will be ongoing, as each one consciously develops their inner game and creative competencies.

Laura C. Osborns, President

Crothers Consulting