Leslie Stevens-Huffman, Dice Insights
April 4, 2022
Observing and modeling the behaviors, traits and style points of leaders who are successfully leading organizations is a great way to build your own competencies and advance your career.
What can you learn through observational learning? The most effective leaders have adapted to the disruptive events of recent years, and know how to blend technical, business and soft skills to guide their organizations to new ways of thinking.
Here’s a look at five traits of successful leaders that are definitely worth emulating.
Highly competent and effective tech leaders are masters of adaptation. They find opportunities in disruption and have helped their companies shift their business model, explained Dr. Gerald Kane, professor of Information Systems at the Carroll School of Management of Boston College, who interviewed 50 executives about how they led their organizations through COVID-19 for his book: “Transformation Myth.”
With industries seeing even more disruption over the next three to five years, Kane says Shamim Mohammad, chief information and technology officer at CarMax, is someone aspiring leaders should study and emulate.
In response to the pandemic, CarMax quickly reprioritized and accelerated the rollout of its omnichannel experience, allowing more customers to purchase cars online. The company’s cross-functional empowerment model remained effective even when CarMax employees moved to virtual work.
Tech leaders who hesitate or lack the courage to change or reinvent their roles will struggle. Those who are able to adapt to changing circumstances will continue to survive and prosper.
The best leaders know how to unlock their inner innovator and find solutions to ordinary and unprecedented problems. They are able to think outside the box, which is a skill that can be honed.
For example, when Hilton was forced to lay off thousands of employees, chief administrative officer Matt Schuyler and his team revamped the company’s recruitment engines, giving suddenly displaced employees access to technology to help them search for work, as well as digital access to learning resources and career tools.
During that same period, over at Humana, Michael Aldridge, associate vice president of experience strategy and transformation, worked with his team to create a command center to quickly collect data and generate insights. Data that previously took weeks or months to interpret was put into action within hours to help deal with the pandemic.
The best leaders are also outstanding communicators. And in troubled, uncertain times, great leaders ramp up communication, noted Matthew Mead, CTO of SPR. For example, SPR adjusted for a post-pandemic world by incorporating new channels of communication.
Other leaders also boosted the cadence of their outreach to employees, clients, and others. For instance, the CEO of Humana now writes a weekly letter to all employees. Albert Baladi, president and CEO of Beam Suntory, “doubled down on communication like never before.”
Overcommunicating doesn’t mean communicating excessively; it’s about conveying the right things clearly and frequently through company webinars and other mediums. Effective communicators also listen and ask for employees’ opinions and feedback.
When it comes to excellent communicators, Mead says that he follows technology leader, advisor and investor Talha Basit. Other tech leaders with excellent, but differing communication styles worth emulating include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg.
Empathy and Kindness
The best tech leaders are able to lead through disruption, without leaving their people behind Kane said: “They show empathy for those on the journey with them.”
Empathy has been called a go-to leadership skill that fosters greater employee retention, collaboration, engagement and job satisfaction. A recent study revealed that leaders who practice empathy will have a more engaged and higher-performing team, as well as a more profitable business overall.
Empathetic leadership doesn’t mean weak leadership, being a “yes person,” or avoiding conflict or difficult conversations. It’s having the ability to understand the needs of others and being aware of their feelings and thoughts, Mead added. It’s also about being supportive, transparent and honest.
Empathy also entails other traits such as self-awareness, self-control and unselfishness. Other tech companies known for empathetic leadership include Microsoft and Alphabet (Google).