The Five Skills of Great Leaders

By David Dodson
2021 | Case No. E714 | Length 5 pgs.

If you Google “characteristics of entrepreneurs,” you’ll get about 155 million results, most of which are platitudinous: “creative”; “passionate”; “motivated”; “resourceful.” You’ll read that you need to be good at “visualization,” that it helps to be “confident,” and that being “dedicated” is a nice trait.

Part of the problem with these lists is that they are widely applied, regardless of the profession. If you were to ask about the characteristics of a great concert pianist, you might hear: “She needs to be creative and passionate, motivated and confident … and it’s good to be dedicated.” None of this response is helpful or specific, because the enumerated traits are useful for virtually any skilled profession. Running an organization does require a level of dedication—you don’t need Google to figure that out.

The biggest shortcoming of these lists, though, is that they suggest a personality type instead of a set of acquired skills—as if leaders are made at birth, and you either are the type, or you aren’t. But we know there is enormous variation within the body of entrepreneurs. Some are terrible public speakers, while others earn standing ovations. I know as many successful leaders who present as introverts as extroverts. Worse than inaccurate, these bromides suggest that the only thing you need to succeed is a collection of personal attributes, awarded to you at birth.

There is a set of skills, not personality traits, that enables successful leadership of an organization. To golf well it’s not enough to be determined and patient. You also need to know how to hold the golf club. There are five master skill areas that are within your reach, and within each of these are sub-skills. Master the sub-skills and you’ll have conquered the master skill.

Learning Objective

This note is designed to introduce GSB Lecturer David Dodson’s five essential skills that if mastered, will allow students to successfully lead organizations.
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