Leadership Characteristics – Part Two

by Jo Anne Nelson on November 1, 2010

Great leaders display five common characteristics. In my last post, I wrote about generating followership and three of the five characteristics: authenticity, integrity and courage. Now I want to focus on vision and audacity.


Vision may be the most critical characteristic of powerful leadership. Visions set context and direction—they help us understand why we are doing what we are doing. Without a clear and compelling vision, there is no reason for me to be moved to follow you.

Visions paint a picture of what is possible—not just for the leader or the company, but for each person involved. They stimulate our imaginations, bring focus to our creative engagement, and mobilize the actions we’ll take to produce that vision.

Lastly, visions must involve something greater than the day-to-day work or goal of making money. Particularly in order to attract and retain younger workers today, visions must demonstrate that what we are doing has meaning.

Etsy has a vision of building a new economy and presenting a better choice: to buy, sell and live handmade. They have to make money to be successful and achieve their vision, but it is not the driving force. As Rob Kalin describes it to Meg Shannon at Bloomberg.com, starting the business “was a personal pursuit, not building business for [business] itself.” Today, after five years in business, Etsy has around 5 million members and expected revenues of $40 Million.


Audacity in leadership is being bold or daring with disregard to conventional thought or restrictions. Innovative solutions are usually audacious because they break the conventions that exist.

Powerful leaders are willing to step outside of what they know and explore the unknown. They are willing to go after that big idea they are confident will change the world. And they paint a picture of why we should care and help them make it happen.

Take for instance the founders of 37Signals. They started out to solve a problem they had – they weren’t happy with the project management software available at the time so they designed their own. They showed it to their clients and colleagues, who all said they needed it for their business too.

They created an audacious business model, one that rejects most traditional views of successful businesses. Rather than selling to the Fortune 500, they sell to the Fortune 5,000,000 (Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.)

When my partner and I founded Aperio almost eleven years ago, people said they didn’t get it. They saw a chiropractor and an architect, and didn’t see how we could create a new model for consulting. We had the audacity to believe that our nontraditional backgrounds, expertise in finding simple solutions for complex situations and passionate obsession for helping people and companies optimize their performance would create a better, more effective model for business consulting. Eleven years later, we have consistently and progressively grown, primarily through client referrals, because of our remarkable track record of producing great results.

What is your vision? How do you describe it to others? Is it compelling and engaging? Does it break convention in some way? Answering these questions and communicating them well will help you become a more powerful leader.

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