The 12 Essential Traits of The Modern-Day Leader

What does it take to be a successful leader in the 21st Century?

This is a question that has already filled the “Management/Leadership” shelves in the local (and virtual) bookstores many times over – and we’re only 12 years into this century.   Chances are you’ve read one, two, or more of these books looking for answers that resonate and inspire.

I’ve read many of those books too, and while I’ve found them helpful, there was nothing that beat the actual experience of being a leader, where I could get a chance to synthesize all my accumulated lessons into a (hopefully) cohesive whole.

And then, see if it worked.   Or not.

For me, I was truly fortunate to have worked with a group of teammates and owners that allowed me to “do my thing” and test out the synthesis. The good news was that it worked – but not without a few modifications along the way (otherwise known as failures).

Upon refection I can reduce it all to 12 essentials – the traits that I just HAD to put out there to make it all work.

Drive for “greatness” – I realized that I needed to say the word, and write the word, and accept this word, relentlessly. Greatness.  Why else have a business in the first place?

Do not accept status quo – Forward momentum is everything in a business.  Lose it at your peril. Raise bars constantly.

Measure, and measure more for good measure – Learn to love – and use – your data.  I love how it’s called “Big Data” now, because it really IS big.

Build The Band of Brothers (and Sisters) – It’s all about a united, tightknit, and focused team that will walk through walls for each other.

Argue cohesively and coherently  – The power to persuade is a tool you need in your toolbox to navigate all the complicated constituencies in today’s org charts.

Live love and loyalty – Yes, you can be “touchy feely” out there.  You can make friends.  You can even use the “L” word within corporate walls.

Work within (and without) the system – Knowing how to work all the angles within a corporate labyrinth is critical, as well as knowing when to break the rules.

Pound the table and expect success – I have a “tell” on this one – I literally pound the table when I’m expecting success (and not getting it).

Know it’s not about me  -Throw your pedestals away, and put your ego in the closet.

Channel frustration positively – You are not always going to get your way, or always succeed. Get used to it, learn from it, and keep the glass half-full.

Filter, filter, filter, filter – Corporate policy and other big “push downs” have to be properly processed, interpreted, and redelivered by the savvy leader.

Act the part  – You are a leader; act like one.  Tone, posture, bearing, attitude – bring it!

As you read these I’m sure they bring to mind several of the lessons you might have seen in all those books.   Yep, I read ‘em too.  I look at this synthesis like a coffee roaster would look at taking a wide variety of beans and combining them into a tasty new blend, and then putting them to the test “in real life” at an espresso bar.

My “espresso bar” was a cable TV company, and what a nice little blend it turned out to be.  I can’t wait to come up with the next one here in Portland, on the next leg of my leadership journey.

(My eternal thanks to all my mentors, owners and teammates at Bresnan Communications – this post is dedicated to all of you)


  1. says

    Nice synthesis.Simple and to the point. After 20years of working with it- i agree with you on a lot of these- and can see warren bennis, jim collins, and other theorists coming out in each of your ESSENTIALS. I have synthesised mine to 5 which i use in my work coaching leaders! I will be adding your synthesis to my meta-data.

  2. says

    Terry, great points here. I especially like the one about the filter. I find that I’m constantly thinking of ways to communicate policies (some of which I think are nonsense) to my team. I dont care what anyone says, I don’t think it’s right just to blindly repeat orders down the totem pole. Applying thought makes you authentic and authenticity builds trust.

  3. says

    Thanks for your great, succinct list. It deserves hanging up on my office wall as a daily reminder. Particuarly powerful to me is Build The Band Of Brothers (And Sisters). The power of a talented team can never be overstated.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *