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Mastering the Intangibles of Leadership

January 29, 2015

the intangibles of leadership

Great leaders focus more on developing the intangibles of leadership than on the tangible attributes of leadership you might find on most lists of “leadership competencies.” Think about someone you admire as a leader. What is it that makes them a great leader? Typically, people identify with characteristics like the ability to: Influence others, make decisions when there is considerable uncertainty, and show genuine commitment to a greater purpose. These intangibles are valued more than capabilities such as writing mission statements or creating strategic plans and budgets. The intangibles of leadership are more important than the tangibles.

In a previous blog, we discussed the notion that leaders must be great learners to be successful in today’s demanding world. Here is a distillation of two of the leadership intangibles for learners from that blog; these are the foundation for many other intangibles of great leadership:

  • You Own Your Learning – Great leaders take responsibility for their own learning; they don’t wait for others to tell them what they need to work on or what skills they need to develop. This includes exploring attitudes and information that are incomplete and taking on responsibilities that make them uncomfortable. Being a great learner is one of the fundamental intangibles of great leadership.
  • Reflection is Power – Great leaders take the time to reflect, usually in three ways: Pure thinking (just taking the time from daily pressures to think); frequent, open, wide-ranging discussions with colleagues; and systematic recording of thoughts. Each of these forms of reflection requires increasingly intense, and therefore valuable, mental processing. Deep, frequent reflection is also a fundamental intangible of great leadership.

Some other intangibles of great leaders that are often mentioned are qualities like influence, confidence, authenticity, trust, passion, commitment, and the ability to operate effectively under the pressures of limited resources, time, and certainty.

Owning your own learning and being reflective assist in the development of all of these intangibles. For example, authenticity comes from self-awareness, and self-awareness comes from reflection. Similarly, confidence and commitment come from learning to succeed, even when answers aren’t obvious but the outcomes are meaningful.

Here are some tips for mastering your intangibles of leadership:

  • Identify one intangible that you think is critical to your success as a leader
  • Define one exercise per week for four weeks that will build this intangible capability. It can be reading something, watching a video, but most importantly, practicing something
  • Find a trustworthy peer to discuss your learnings from the exercises
  • Record your learning from the exercise
  • Repeat the same process for another intangible

You will notice almost immediately that you begin to think differently about your role. You will focus more on harder-to-grasp but more sophisticated ideas and behaviors. It may be frightening at first, but by week three, you will begin functioning at a higher level. By week six, you will know that you are well on the way to mastering the intangibles of leadership greatness.

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About The Author

William Seidman is the CEO of Cerebyte, Inc., a company focusing on creating high performing organizational cultures. He has worked as a manager or consultant with many large and small organizations including Hewlett-Packard, Jack in the Box, Intel, Tektronix, CVS Pharmacies, and Sears. As a recognized thought leader and expert on leadership in high-performing organizations, he contributes an in-depth understanding of the processes required to discover and use expert wisdom to create extraordinary organizational performance. Dr. Seidman earned his doctorate at Stanford University. He is co-founder and chief executive officer of Cerebyte, Inc., co-author of Strategy to Action in Ten Days and co-author (with Rick Grbavac) of The Star Factor, published by AMACOM in the Fall of 2013. The Star Factor presents Affirmative Leadership, a methodology for discovering what your top performers do differently - and inspiring a new level of greatness in all. Dr. Seidman lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon with his wife. He enjoys traveling, golf and spending time with his three kids.

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