Leading by example: OSB professor explores key leadership qualities

​What skills are critical for business leaders? Although many people want to become leaders, finding the key qualities that help propel an employee onto a management track is often elusive.​

Combing through the multitude of tips offered by leadership trainers, discussed in academic literature, and professed by gurus can be overwhelming. Requisite skills for becoming a great leader range from technical (competency in the subject matter) to interpersonal (team building and negotiating) to conceptual (strategy and vision). At one point one might ask: "how in the world can anybody master all of those diverse talents?" Yet, there are few common key attributes absolutely needed by every aspiring leader, explains Yusu​​​f Sidani, OSB professor of leadership:


Leaders know themselves: When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and acknowledged your strengths and weaknesses? Self-awareness is fundamentally important for leaders. How in the world would you be able to motivate, inspire, and guide others if you don't have good insights into your own persona? This concept also includes knowing your core values. A leader is perceived as a person who has adopted a value system, who is true to this value system, and whose behavior is seen by others to be in harmony with such a value system. Self-awareness facilitates the road to self-development, which in turn facilitates the road to positively influencing others.

Leaders build on their strengths: Let's admit it; everyone has areas of strengths and areas of weaknesses. Once we become aware of these, we might tend to notice - more often than not - our shortcomings. We would then try to work on those weaknesses; we train ourselves, ask others for help, or search for a life-coach. All of this is good. The pitfall is that sometimes we become obsessed with our weaknesses and ways to cover them that we fail to notice our areas of strength. We make better use of our time if we build on our areas of competitive advantage rather than spending long periods of time trying to recover in areas in which we are inherently weak. Overcoming certain weaknesses is often essential, but not the extent that our life revolves around those weaknesses.

Leaders learn from failures: You probably heard the phrase "failure is not an option." In life, however, failure is the only option for us to learn and develop. Leaders are people who never make mistakes. Leaders are those who try to avoid mistakes, but if they fail, they acknowledge, learn, and move on.

The road to leadership may look long and hard with so many things to learn and master. Knowing yourself, leveraging on your strengths, and learning from failure are important to help you navigate through your career and life.​​