My eyes often glaze over when it comes to new studies on leadership. We all know it’s vitally important. Like diversity, women at the top, and ethical behavior, it’s one of the most important issues in business. And yet, all the studies seem to find the same thing.
But at times like this, after banks have gambled away trillions and loaned money negligently, when people are looking to leaders more than ever for answers, those studies seem at least a little more resonant. And against the vivid backdrop of a historic financial crisis, the findings can actually be a little surprising.
Last week, the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) at Duke University (named after Duke basketball coach and sometime management guru Mike Krzyzewski)released its Executive Leadership survey findings. The sample consisted of 205 individuals from public and private companies and was drawn from the BusinessWeek C-Level Executives email list. Surprisingly, although it was administered in late September as the financial crisis deepened, respondents listed
increasing innovation, leading internal organizational growth, improving the quality of their leadership talent and developing the next generation of leaders as the top four leadership challenges.
The most startling result was the 5th biggest leadership challenge, at least for large companies: increasing employee commitment/retention. An interesting response at a time when those large companies are laying off people by the thousands. A hint of the crisis only appears on small employers’ No. 5 leadership challenge, the availability of capital.
The survey also reports the leadership skills rated as the most important: promoting an ethical environment, acting with authenticity, interpreting the competitive environment, developing trust, and demonstrating optimism and enthusiasm. While those skills would be unlikely to differ much if the survey had been performed two years ago, or even two months ago, the list is especially resonant at a time of crisis.
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