Issue No. 30 March 15, 2016

Given our long-standing focus on high performance and leadership, CfHP has launched a series of interviews with experts addressing "what makes a great leader." For the first in the series, we spoke to Dana White, whose wide-ranging career has taken her to newsrooms, C-suites and the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.

Below, Dana shares some of the insights she has garnered from working closely with leaders all over the world.

At the Center for High Performance, we have many offerings to help organizations develop leaders from within. For more information, visit the CfHP website. I would also welcome your suggestions on great leaders for future interviews. Please feel free to contact me.

Steve Jobs' rules for successn

Steve Jobs talks about the rules for success at the Wall Street Journal's D Conference in 2007.

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It's about "we," not about "I"

Dana White is the CEO of 1055 Grady, a leadership consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. and the author of the forthcoming book, "Leader Designed." She was Director of Policy and Strategic Communications for the Renault-Nissan Alliance in Paris, and has worked for the U.S. House Republican Conference, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and as a foreign policy advisor in Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. She was a publicist for Fox News and an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong.

CfHP talked to Dana about the leadership lessons she has learned along the way.

Q: What are the most important characteristics of a great leader?

Great leaders have three main attributes. The first is a big, inclusive vision, where it’s about "we" and not about "I." Instead of declaring, "I want to become the company president," a great leader says, "We will make the best widgets in the world."

Second, great leaders consider serving others an honor and a privilege. They put the needs of employees and others ahead of themselves. They use their position to help the people around them get done what they need to get done.

Finally, and this is often the hardest, great leaders empower people. As a leader, you're dealing with people who have skills and talents you might not have. Are you willing to put people like that in a place where they can move the vision forward?

Q: Why is empowering others so difficult?

A lot of it comes from fear: If someone has talents or relationships I don't have, or is bringing in more money, I may seem less important.

It also has to do with how we reward people, which tends to be based on how well they perform, not how well they lead. Leadership is about inspiring other people, but organizations often reward leaders for their personal performance. Empowering people becomes difficult when it's all about you.

Q: Can you give me some examples from your own experience of leaders who possess these attributes?

Carlos Tavares, the CEO of Peugeot Citroën, is one of the largest auto manufacturers in the world. I worked with him when he was COO of Renault. He's the type of leader who doesn't care where ideas came from; he just wants things to be better. He'll do what he needs to do, including managing his ego and his life. It's not about him. It's rare to find people at that level who are that sane about success.

I also think of Gen. John Allen, a four-star general in the Marine Corps who is now retired. I knew him when I worked at the Pentagon. When people think about the military, they assume that you automatically follow leaders because of their rank. Observing Gen. Allen I realized that the best officers are followed not because of the stars on their shoulders, but because they spend their entire career empowering other people. The reason people follow generals, go into battle and even die for them is that they spend their entire life putting others' needs ahead of their own.

Q: Can someone do all three of these things well, and not achieve great results?

It depends on your goal. Let's just say that lots of big companies with highly compensated CEOs are very mediocre. But if your goal is to inspire people to be better and mentor people into their future, I think you will always be successful if you possess those three traits.

I wish more business leaders understood how much more impact they can have beyond a quarter or a year. They can leave a lasting legacy if they understand how to empower people around them and create a big vision for more than just themselves.


We can help you develop great leaders

With competition intensifying in every industry, the ability to cultivate individuals who can lead a company to sustained high performance is critical for success. The Center for High Performance offers customized leadership-development programs including courses on modeling high-performance behaviors, leveraging your personal leadership brand, leading a high-performance senior team and strategic leadership for women. For more information, please visit the Leadership Programs page at our web site, and follow the prompts there to contact us.

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