Jeff Bezos comes across as relentless and wily. Mark Zuckerberg is known for his boyish earnestness and willingness to break things. Steve Jobs loved the spotlight and had reality distortion field charisma. Bill Gates, on the other hand, was famed for his bluntness and introversion. Current Microsoft boss Satya Nadella is often praised for his empathy.

Each of these icons has accomplished incredible things as a leader, but each is also completely different from the others when it comes to personality and approach. Does that mean there's no common thread to leadership

Not according to a recent interview given by Nadella at his alma mater, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (hat tip to Quartz). In the course of the long discussion, Nadella lays out the qualities he thinks every great leader -- introvert or extrovert, hard-charging or people-focused -- shares. If you want to be successful like them, you probably should make sure these are part of your arsenal, too. 

1. Great leaders create clarity.

When the path is well marked, you don't need a leader. You can just trudge along putting one foot in front of the other. It's when the environment gets chaotic and the road ahead isn't clear that leaders become essential. Which is why the way to discern and communicate a way out of the chaos is the first essential trait of great leaders.

"In an ambiguous situation, where there cannot be complete information, that is when leadership will matter," Nadella explained. "Your ability to come into an uncertain time and an uncertain future and bring about clarity is key. The people who are capable of getting into a situation where there is in some sense panic, and who can bring first clarity on what to do next--that is invaluable." 

2. Great leaders create energy.

OK, you now know where you're going, thanks to the vision on your leader, but a road map is no good if you don't also have the energy to actually walk that difficult path. That's why companies need leaders who create not just clarity but also energy.

"One of the classic things you face as a leader is, you will have someone walk into your office and say, 'Hey, you know what, I'm very good, my team is very good, but everything around me is terrible.' That's not creating energy," Nadella notes. "There is no simple thing that is always under your control, so the idea is that you have got to create energy all around you." That requires learning the skills to be an effective evangelist and inspire followers all around you.

3. Great leaders create success ... no matter the circumstances.

Leadership would be easy if the world didn't put roadblocks in your path -- if that hurricane didn't slow down your shipment, if your competitor didn't launch its product a month early, if those regulations didn't change. But here in the real world, leaders don't control many of the factors that influence their success. They need to get things done anyway.

Nadella calls this creating success in an "overconstrained space," and insists leaders "can't say, 'You know what, I'm just waiting for you to remove all the constraints, and I'll be perfect.'" News flash: There will always be constraints. Great leaders don't hope for the stars to align. Instead, they find a way to work with the reality the world serves up to them -- no excuses, no complaining, just a single-minded determination to be successful.

Published on: Nov 12, 2018
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