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Ten Leadership Attributes Essential For The 21st century

Howard Putnam Copyright 2007  Howard Putnam Enterprises
Speaker, CSP, CPAE (Speaker Hall of Fame)
Former CEO Southwest Airlines www.howardputnam.com


What kind of leadership talents and skills will be essential to succeed in the next few years?  Some are tried and true and endure generation after generation.  Others come and go with the age and culture in which we live.  Here is my top ten list.

Honesty and Integrity:  In a survey by Jim Kouczes and Barry Posner of hundreds of folks at all levels prior to 9-11, 88% said honesty was the #1attribute that they looked for in a leader.  After all the failures in corporate governance in recent times plus the increased responsibilities in security, honesty is even more important.

Passion:  You can't inspire others to follow you if you don't have the love, drive and enthusiasm that becomes infectious for what you do. Evangelism is more than just providing information, it is  authentic persuasion.

Vision:  A clear, succinct and simple vision that is driven into the fabric of the organization will be critical.  After we wrote the 52 word vision for Southwest Airlines many years ago, I spent over a third of my time in the next year, preaching that vision (the gospel) to as many employees and stakeholders as possible.  It paid great dividends. 

Excellent listener: Great leaders and teams listen and grow with each other.

No AEE:  No arrogance, ego or exclusion.  Humility and openness are so important to gain trust.  I have seen many careers ruined as people rise in organizations and think they are "above and beyond" everyone else. 

Embrace change: It can't be my way or the highway.  We all need to be encouraged to take risks, move the bar higher, make mistakes and push the envelope to new horizons.

International mentality: The ability to direct, lead and manage diverse cultures and to think cross functionally and internationally is key. How will this product or service work in Australia as well as in California ?  We will have to think without boundaries and without language barriers. In an internet world, location is not important. 

Grasp for the value of technology:  You need to understand technology, as well as the internet and be a user to stay current.  That does not mean you have to be a technologist. I will never qualify in that league.  But I work hard to stay current and absorb all I can.  Some things you have to do hands on to be a leader.

Education and experience:  Expertise in global finance will be a powerful tool in leading
your department or business. Multi company and multi functional experiences
will aid in leadership growth. The traditional functions of operations, process improvement, sales and marketing remain as a necessary foundation. Keeping reading, learning,  experimenting and mentoring and being mentored.

People leader: You will increase your opportunities for advancement by being a
flexible thinker and a "people leader" who can lead teams and motivate and exhibit your love
and passion for the business and your stakeholders. We are no longer
preparing to lead and manage a shift of workers in a coal mine. Fewer are
going to be needed to lead traditional organizations as robotizing and technology advances.  Specialists and technicians will be guiding events and "things" in those areas.  We will be leading and managing people, ideas and concepts.  

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