Leadership Characteristics—Three Ways to Inspire Followers

by Jo Anne Nelson on July 16, 2010

I recently attended the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year gala for the greater Washington area. At the event, awards were presented to recognize entrepreneurs who demonstrate extraordinary success in the areas of innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.

While there were many moving acceptance speeches, one in particular captivated the audience. Dr. Long Nguyen, CEO of Pragmatics, won in the category of IT Services. In thirty seconds, he moved many in the audience to tears.

Dr. Nguyen expressed his appreciation of “this great country, the United States.” He described coming to the U.S. soon after the fall of Saigon, working hard, and founding his own company in 1985. He said there was nowhere else like this where an immigrant could arrive, work hard, and achieve the American dream.

In my last post, I talked about the power of corporate storytelling and how we can use story in our own lives. Leaders can learn a lesson from Dr. Nguyen about telling a powerful story and generating followership.

Characteristics of a Powerful Leader

At Aperio, we help clients develop the five characteristics of strong leaders: vision, authenticity, integrity, courage and audacity. I mention Dr. Nguyen’s acceptance speech because it clearly illustrates three of those characteristics.

  1. Authenticity. Dr. Nguyen’s story was so compelling because he was completely genuine about who he is and what matters to him. He expressed deep gratitude for the opportunities afforded him, for those who worked with him in his organization, and for all they have achieved to date. Powerful leaders are willing to take the risk of expressing who they are—not who they think they need to be. The story they tell must be authentic as well. This doesn’t mean that they can’t paint a vision for the future that includes stretch goals or pie-in-the-sky thinking. But it must be grounded and genuine in order for people to be moved enough to follow.
  2. Integrity. Our thoughts, words and actions must be aligned with the values and guiding principles of our organization or individual life. When there is a disconnect between what we say and what we do, we are often not seen as not having high moral character.
  3. Courage. Powerful leaders are courageous in the face of uncertainty, in taking calculated risks and being willing to make difficult choices and decisions to move their team and the company forward.

Building Awareness of our Leadership Qualities

Those of us in leadership positions, and those aspiring to be, can learn from Dr. Nguyen’s example. Do you bring leadership qualities to your work? Ask yourself these questions about authenticity, integrity and courage:

  1. Am I willing to take the risk to let others see who I am?
  2. Are my actions in alignment with my beliefs?
  3. Am I courageous in the face of uncertainty?

By bringing our awareness to these three things, we will begin to see where we are doing well, and where we can do better.

If you have other questions or comments about building leadership qualities, you can post them here. And watch for my upcoming blog post on the other two characteristics of a powerful leader: vision and audacity.

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