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Harvard says these 8 leadership traits are critical for success

Steven Benna Strategy Aug. 26, 2015, 11:20 PM


According to a new report from Harvard Business Publishing, todays leaders must navigate a volatile, uncertain,
complex, and ambiguous business world.
Todays business world is as complex as ever. And its always changing.
Ray Carvey, executive vice president of corporate learning at Harvard Business Publishing, a subsidiary of the
Harvard Business School, says management structures today are very different than 20 years ago, namely
because of the middle manager.
Carvey describes todays business world as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and says its crucial to
stay productive through this time of change.
According to Harvard Business Publishings recent report, Leading Now: Critical Capabilities for a Complex
World, there are eight critical capabilities leaders must possess to be effective today.
1. Effective leaders manage complexity.
Leaders who know how to manage complexity are skilled at solving problems and making decisions under fastchanging systems, the report says. Even before any definitive information is available, effective leaders must
assess a situations complexity and choose appropriate courses of action.
2. Effective leaders manage global businesses.
Carvey says that managing a global business wouldnt have made the list 10 years ago, but today, understanding
global markets and knowing youre in a global market is key. Leaders must maintain a global focus on a day-today basis. This includes assessing whats happening with consumers, competitors, the economy, and the politics
of the markets in which their businesses operate, according to the report.
3. Effective leaders act strategically.
Just as thinking globally is a must, a forward-thinking approach is also necessary. While older practices focused
on long-term strategy development, todays world requires a more continuous process: Leaders must always be
prepared to adjust their strategies to capture emerging opportunities or tackle unexpected challenges, the
report says.
4. Effective leaders foster innovation.
With the ever-increasing levels of competition, no strategy can sustain a companys competitive edge
indefinitely, the report says. Regardless of how successful something may be, there can always be an emphasis
on innovation. Effective leaders understand this and are focused on taking a business to the next level.
5. Effective leaders leverage networks.
Successful leaders take networking beyond advancing their own careers, the report says. Rather, they view it as a
way to benefit the organization and create relationships with customers, suppliers, strategic partners, and even
competitors. No matter how its used, though, effective leaders in this category must demonstrate a talent for
collaboration, according to the report.
6. Effective leaders inspire engagement.
Its absolutely crucial to keep employees at all levels of an organization interested and engaged in the work being
done. Its all about giving them a feeling of value. Simply retaining employees isnt the goal. People can occupy
jobs for years, but they wont create value for their organizations if theyre not invested in their work, the
report says. Its up to the leader to ensure employees actually feel that theyre making a difference.
7. Effective leaders develop personal adaptability.
Again, this is a matter of understanding the continuous change thats occurring. Something that may have worked
brilliantly in the past wont necessarily work again. Adaptable leaders steer clear of a thats how weve always
done it mentality, the report says. Instead, they look at new realities through fresh eyes so they can spot and
seize valuable opportunities.
8. Effective leaders cultivate learning agility.
Learning agility is the trait most everyone struggles with, Carvey says. As business strategies and models evolve,
the leader must, as well. Effective leaders take the initiative in finding opportunities to learn. They continuously
experiment with new approaches, using techniques such as rapid prototyping, the report says. And they take
time to reflect on their experiences so they can learn from successes and failures.
Keep in mind, however, that as the business world continues to change, the key traits necessary for leaders to be
successful may also change. In a volatile environment, the ability to react to new scenarios is imperative.