by Robert L. Dilenschneider, author of “The Ultimate Guide to Power & Influence: Everything You Need to Know“
We hear it all the time: Change is the only constant. And as the business world grapples with seismic shake-ups in technology (AI being the most dramatic), skyrocketing inflation, shifting workforce priorities, and a growing emphasis on sustainability, that truth is hard to deny. There’s no doubt that leaders must adapt to survive. But at the same time, there are certain bedrock leadership principles that hold fast in the storm.
These timeless traits are more crucial than ever. They serve as a compass for overwhelmed leaders, keeping us grounded and oriented as we navigate the maze of modern business. Plus, they’re reassuring to employees and clients who also struggle to make sense of all the change swirling around us.
Here are six traits that every leader must cultivate if they’re to maintain their influence as the world around them shifts:
TRAIT 1: The ability to build strong relationships.
While technology has revolutionized communication, the essence of relationship building remains unchanged. A client, eager to harness the power of social media for a significant project, was advised, “There are seven people you need to reach. Get your message in front of those seven.” Eschewing the allure of digital platforms, the client personally connected with these pivotal figures and achieved remarkable success.
The lesson? In our interconnected world, genuine personal relationships still hold immense power. Identify key stakeholders, understand their backgrounds, and cultivate genuine connections. Make a list of people you would like to know in your field, the media, politics, or other realms. Then narrow that list to a manageable number. Research their backgrounds, such as where they went to school, what boards they serve on, their charitable causes. Then, find ways to regularly connect with them.
I know a fellow who wanted to reach three key people. He put their names in his electronic Rolodex, and when something would come up in the news related to their interests, he would contact them with the information. It was an enormous help in making connections. Don’t overdo it, of course. You want to be helpful, not pesky.
TRAIT 2: A sense of clarity around personal values.
With the dizzying forward pace of everything from technology to communication, one element must remain constant — our values. We must continue to give attention to our conscience, our core principles, our values. These are what give us true guidance.
I cannot tell you what your values should be; they are personal to you. But among them should be the commitment to helping others. That is how society functions best and how the human race improves.
Write down your core values. You might ask: Why is this important — isn’t it enough to just know them? When they’re written down somewhere, you can check now and then to make sure your behavior is consistent with those values. When they are aligned, they become your compass, and your unique purpose (or purposes) becomes achievable.
TRAIT 3: Integrity (especially when it’s hard).
Integrity isn’t just a trait — it’s a legacy. My father S.J. Dilenschneider, who ran the Columbus Citizen newspaper, when faced with the ethical dilemma of publishing a controversial story, chose journalistic integrity over financial considerations.
This decision, though initially costly, garnered respect and unexpected success from industry peers. The core message? In the fluctuating tides of business, integrity remains a beacon of trust and respect.
TRAIT 4: Clear, concise, and persuasive communication.
In our information-saturated age, clarity is paramount. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, or how eloquently they’re stated, if the listener can’t understand your meaning.
Many managers believe communication is just about how you say your message. But it’s solid thinking translated into clear messages. Before any communication, clarity of intent is crucial. Tailor your message, avoid clichés, and always prioritize precision.
Think about it this way: A CEO who communicates precisely to ten direct reports, who then each communicate with equal precision to forty more staff, will successfully align the vision with clear goals within the organization. Guessing or misinterpreting are replaced by clarity and direction.
TRAIT 5: Inclusiveness beyond buzzwords.
Diversity and inclusion might be trending terms, but their essence is foundational to effective leadership. Today’s leaders need to bring together diverse teams made up of lots of unique perspectives. Not only is this the right thing to do, it ensures a richer, more holistic decision-making process and makes your organization more prepared to tackle modern challenges.
Leaders like Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, exemplify this trait. Early in her leadership journey, Nooyi often found herself the sole woman and immigrant in meetings. She set about to make leadership more reflective of a diverse society.
TRAIT 6: Humility — the unsung hero of leadership.
Leaders often feel like they have to be the ones with all the answers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Effective leaders get the best results when they have the humility to seek feedback and guidance from others.
Today’s most successful executives, who have built their teams wisely, do not think twice about asking subordinates, ‘What do you think?’. They understand that such a question is not a sign of weakness or insecurity but a tool to make their own performance and that of their company better.”
Alan Mulally, who took the reins of Ford in 2006, is a testament to the power of humility. At a time when Ford teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, Mulally didn’t resort to top-down directives. Instead, he sought ideas from all echelons of the company, valuing each contribution. His humility, combined with an inclusive leadership approach, catalyzed a remarkable turnaround for Ford in just three years.
In a world of continuous disruption, we need steadfast leaders more than ever. To commit to mastering the traits of effective leadership is a tremendous responsibility but also a source of great satisfaction.
There is something immensely rewarding about helping people get centered, tune out the tumult, and move forward in times of chaos. Leading is a form of serving humanity…and it’s reassuring that no matter what’s going on around us, the traits humans respond to haven’t changed.
Robert L. Dilenschneider, founder and CEO of The Dilenschneider Group, is one of the world’s foremost communication experts and leadership coaches. Dilenschneider has authored 18 seminal business and career development books. He has counseled major corporations and professional groups around the globe and is frequently called upon by the media to provide commentary and strategic public relations insights on major news stories.