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GREAT IDEAS: Respect tops CEOs list: 7 key attributes of very successful leaders

Manager and Leaders Institute CEO David Pich says respect is #1

When you ask 12,000 CEOs and managers to name the top attributes of very successful leaders, in order of importance, this is their list: 
  1. respect,
  2. integrity,
  3. emotional intelligence,
  4. ability to inspire,
  5. authenticity,
  6. self-awareness,
  7. decisiveness.

David Pich, CEO of the Institute of Managers and Leaders (formally the Australian Institute of Management) and coauthor, with Ann Messenger, of Leading Well, conducted the survey of the Institute’s member base for the book. 

“We distilled it down to about 40 attributes, and gave them a choice. The 7 attributes in the book are the top 7 attributes that were identified that a manager needs to lead well.”
He said he was “incredibly surprised” that respect came top of the list. 

“I actually went back to some of the members and I called them because I wanted to know why they'd selected respect,” he said. “And, I heard one message loud and clear and it was this, ‘I think by and large respect has a bad name.’ I think it's one of those things that sounds a little bit old fashioned, doesn't it? It sounds like you have respect for your elders, you have respect for people in power.
                                                “But I think in a sense what this identified was or what was identified was the fact that respect seems to be lost at the moment. We seem to have lost this ability to be able to disagree, and yet still get on, and we've lost this ability and the kind of modern world, not that I want to rally here against the modern world, but I do think we've lost this ability to have respectful dialogue where people can, for want of a better phrase, agree to disagree. And that's what the chapter Respect is about, and that's what our members identified as being so lost at the moment on the leadership landscape.”
                                                You look at politics at the moment, everyone is either for or against something, everybody's either left or right, everyone's either Brexit or remain, and I think there's an inability at the moment for people to respect other people's opinions even though they disagree with your own opinion.”

David mentions that attribute number 4, “ability to inspire”, did not require leaders to be extroverts. 

“Leaders can be quieter, they can be introverts, they can inspire people through communication methods. They can inspire people through one-on-one discourse and one-on-one dialogue. It's not about just having larger than life personalities. It has to be more than that. I think we tend these days to expect our leaders to be big personalities and to be able to fire people up, and a lot of that is quite superficial.“

David Pich says the key to success for a leader is not to take the 7 attributes in isolation. 

“It's not enough just to be able to inspire people. You have to be on a journey of self-awareness. You have to hold deep integrity, you have to hold respect for difference, and it's the link between those attributes.”

He does admit that he has difficulty with the term “authentic leadership” (leadership trait number 5). 

“I believe it's a cul de sac of leadership attributes. So my view is that if you're authentic, the problem with it is you can be authentically bad,” he says. “So it's all right saying, "Oh well I'm just being myself." But if being yourself, being authentic is showing the side of you that isn't very nice, that's not good enough.”

He encourages leaders to not only be authentic, but to be on a journey of self-awareness. 

“A journey of self-awareness is about recognizing that your authentic self might in some cases not be very nice and resolving to change it.”

(8 getting to know you questions we ask all our authors)

What’s a book that you would recommend? Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run. 

How did you get your first job?  On the graduate recruitment round at university, I was selected by Cadbury Schweppes, and I was immediately seconded, would you believe, to the liquorice allsort factory. My very first job was on the night shift in the liquorice allsort factory in Sheffield, and that factory still makes liquorice allsorts for the world. I still love licorice allsorts, and that comes from eating them at three o'clock in the morning to keep me awake.

What's been the best decision you've ever made to improve your career?  Leaving an [insurance] organisation [after} three weeks. I walked out on a Friday afternoon without telling anybody.  About a month after I'd left…an opportunity came up with Hewlett Packard and I never looked back. 

What's something that frustrates you about business leaders today? Personal transgressions. Let's take the global managing director at McDonald's. His contract said not to have relationships with members of staff, and he had a relationship with a member of staff. You sit there and you think, "Why the heck would you do that?" It sounds so easy to do the right thing and sometimes it seems to me to be harder to do the wrong thing. And so many people do the wrong thing, drives me mad.

How do you cope with stressful events?  I have a personal resilience plan. I'm a distance runner, if I don't run four or five times a week, I can find stuff overwhelming, and I freely admit that in the past I've suffered from anxiety disorders and things like that. I manage that with my own resilience plan and running forms a very significant part of that.

What's been your lowest moment and how did you recover from it? When I worked for a law firm in Sydney. I went through a very low point of my life and I tell the story in some of the talks that I do, that I used to sit on Wynyard Station for about two hours going through very significant anxiety. A friend recommended that I see a clinical psychologist. And, she gave me one piece of very, very simple advice. She told me to leave the company I was working for, and that sounds really quite simple, but it kind of hadn't crossed my mind because I had this life that I had to pay the bills, and I had to pay rent, and all that kind of stuff. I left the company and I'm so glad I did.

What do you think is the next trend in leadership? Learning throughout your leadership journey. I don't think that's necessarily around formal education. I think it's about learning these things that people call soft skills, which is a dreadful misnomer because they're actually very hard. 

What's a fun fact that's not widely known about you?  I have run 32 marathons. I've tried now 31 times to get under three hours and the quest continues.