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What I learned from being mentored by a true and seasoned executive leader | Mar 04, 2013

In a time when global confidence in leadership across organizations is at an all time low, we all ask: “where are the true leaders?”. Parents increasingly ask, “where are the people I can point to as a moral leader for my son or daughter to feel inspired by?” Similarly, business people increasingly wonder, “who can provide trustworthy leadership…leadership worth following?”.

As a consultant who often operates as a coach to higher functioning professionals, I have become convinced what we need to do is merge our psychological understanding of what helps people perform at their best with our organizational/business understanding of what helps people lead effectively. In other words, the psychological and business worlds have much to teach each other – though they rarely talk with one another. The psychological world forgets that we should not just be healing but preparing people to be leaders so the future is more secure. In short, we should be helping people find their potential. The business world forgets that business is increasingly not about who has the best technology or shiniest marketing campaign, but who has the best people.

And the best people, as we behavioral scientists know, are highly discernible because they exhibit certain exemplary and even noble preferences/traits/habits.

In my quest to help professionals cultivate the very best character in themselves and their organizations, I have studied models of what an effective leader does in the real world. In so doing, I came upon a seasoned business executive and leader with a big heart: Robert Fick. Bob retired May 14th, 2012, from the Arizona Small Business Center. He was widely recognized as a true community builder. Bob taught me many things, but one of the most important golden nuggets he shared was his perspective on leadership after his 25+ years in business. Bob spent over twenty-five years as a chief financial officer and chief operating officer of fast growing private and public companies, primarily in the computer, software and telecommunications industries. He also established and then sold a successful software firm. He is a true Renaissance man who “speaks many tongues”.

Bob crafted his own model of leadership scientifically by coming up with a list of traits, and then titrating them down to a final list only after years of reflection, feedback, and mentoring business people here in Tucson. Bob conceptualized leadership as involving 9 core skill sets:

-Exhibiting a clear, realistic vision for the future
—Can generate a compelling vision that inspires others

-Persistent, resilient and positive attitude
—The question is not “can we?”, but “how do we do this?”

-Facilitator of team cohesion who encourages passionate input from managers
—Does not play favorites and incites even heated debates to give birth to the best idea
—Listens deeply to others

-Someone who thoughtfully stewards his people, rather than trying to over control them
—Willing to trust risks others figure are worth it
—Not easily threatened by others skills/competency

-One who welcomes truly frank, open communication
—Is not afraid of criticism

-Effective and frequent communicator of Mission who makes all people feel appreciated
—Knows how to keep business culture focused on the Mission
—Knows importance of consistent messages

-Identifier of real growth opportunities
—Innovative, creative, yet careful
—Can discern true opportunity from red herrings and rabbit holes

-Insists on constant improvement
—Must be conscientiously always asking how do we do this better
—Patiently detail oriented

-Builds a culture of appreciated employees
—Willing to give others credit
—Humble enough to care more about the product than the trophy

We cannot oversimplify leadership by coming up with checklists of qualities, say you. People are too complex, and social interaction is too dynamic, you argue. You are wrong. Behavioral science is increasingly a science that can appreciate human complexity, and we as a human race are beginning to identify those core attributes that most and/or all great leaders have. Research of great leaders is actually telling us that the very best leaders do share a group of qualities.

The toughest job is not identifying a list of qualities, but determining how we cultivate these qualities in people who do not already have the complete set. If it was easy, then the brutal truth of the Bell Curve would not be so prevalent and descriptive. Some people are terrible at their work, most of average, and some are truly great! You need advanced behavioral science techniques, not simply a Sunday sermon or a motivational speech to go the next level of development. To help a person grow into even just one new habit takes time and targeted effort facilitated by strategic techniques to break out of your old behavioral mold.

That is why business consultants who are psychological experts with serious scientific training are in such high demand all over the business world.

You professionals can paste this list of nine qualities on your refrigerator and everyday pick one you will work will focus on. Keep your eyes out for more blogs regarding the science of leadership.

Thank you Bob for your mentorship. You have made a real difference!


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If you or your organization are faced with a workplace growth challenge, email Tom and he will consider writing a blog about it.

Meet the Expert: Dr. Tom Brunner is a capable executive level consultant who has worked with local and nationally known organizations including Carondelet Healthcare, Tucson Electric Power, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Discovery Channel. Tom is a published behavioral science expert and is the Founder and Principal of Performance Edge Solutions. He is a licensed psychologist and a member of the Society of Consulting Psychologists. He has been an invited speaker at national conferences and local organizations such as University Medical Center, Tucson, AZ. Tom is humbled by the fact that in 2010 he was awarded the Arizona Psychological Foundations Early Career Psychologist Award. He is the senior author of a personality tool that has been adapted into seven languages. To see a 60-second video introducing his consulting firm click here, to read his bio click here, and to review his recent blogs, click here.