What is Leadership and Can it Be Defined?

Of Characteristics and Commonalities

[By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP™]

[By Eugene Schmuckler PhD MBA EMd CTS]

manageIt does not matter if you are in the healthcare or financial services sector; or both.

Many psychologists and behavioral experts believe there are commonalities and characteristics applicable to all industries and sectors; including education which is a big part of what we do here at the Medical Executive Post.

Key Leadership Competencies – Definitions

And so, here is a list of key leadership competencies and definitions for your review.

  • Living by personal conviction – Means you know and are in touch with your values and beliefs, are not afraid to take a lonely or unpopular stance if necessary, are comfortable in tough situations, can be relied on in intense circumstances, are clear about where you stand, and will face difficult challenges with poise and self-assurance.
  • Possessing emotional intelligence – Means you recognize personal strengths and weaknesses; see the linkages between feelings and behaviors; manage impulsive feelings and distressing emotions; are attentive to emotional cues; show sensitivity and respect for others; challenge bias and intolerance; collaborate and share; are an open communicator; and can handle conflict, difficult people, and tense situations effectively.  Emotional intelligence may often be labeled EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient.
  • Being visionary – Means that you see the future clearly, anticipate large-scale and local changes that will affect the organization and its environment, are able to project the organization into the future and envision multiple potential scenarios/outcomes, have a broad way of looking at trends, and are able to design competitive strategies and plans based on future possibilities.
  • Communicating vision – Means that you distill complex strategies into a compelling call to march, inspire and help others see a core reason for the organization to make change, talk beyond the day-to-day tactical matters that face the organization, show confidence and optimism about the future state of the organization, and engage others to join in.
  • Earning loyalty and trust – Means you are a direct and truthful person; are willing to admit mistakes; are sincerely interested in the concerns and dreams of others; show empathy and a generally helpful orientation toward others; follow promises with actions; maintain confidences and disclose information ethically and appropriately; and conduct work in open, transparent ways.

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  • Listening like you mean it – Means you maintain a calm, easy-to-approach demeanor, are patient, open minded, and willing to hear people out; understand others and pick up the meaning of their messages; are warm, gracious and inviting; build strong rapport; see through the words that others express to the real meaning (i.e., cut to the heart of the issue); and maintain formal and informal channels of communication.
  • Giving feedback – Means you set clear expectations, bring important issues to the table in a way that helps others “hear” them, show an openness to facing difficult topics and sources of conflict, deal with problems and difficult people directly and frankly, provide timely criticism when needed, and provide feedback messages that are clear and unambiguous.
  • Mentoring others – Means you invest the time to understand the career aspirations of your direct reports, work with direct reports to create engaging mentoring plans, support staff in developing their skills, support career development in a non-possessive way (will support staff moving up and out as necessary for their advancement), find stretch assignments and other delegation opportunities that support skill development, and role model professional development by advancing your own skills.
  • Developing teams – Means you select executives who will be strong team players, actively support the concept of teaming, develop open discourse and encourage healthy debate on important issues, create compelling reasons and incentives for team members to work together, effectively set limits on the political activity that takes place outside the team framework, celebrate successes together as a unit, and commiserate as a group over disappointments.

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  • Energizing staff – Means you set a personal example of good work ethic and motivation; talk and act enthusiastically and optimistically about the future; enjoy rising to new challenges; take on your work with energy, passion and drive to finish successfully; help others recognize the importance of their work; are enjoyable to work for; and have a goal oriented, ambitious and determined working style.
  • Generating informal power – Means you understand the roles of power and influence in organizations; develop compelling arguments or points of view based on knowledge of others’ priorities; develop and sustain useful networks up, down and sideways in the organization; develop a reputation as a go-to person; and effectively affect the thoughts and opinions of others, both directly and indirectly, through others.
  • Building consensus – Means you frame issues in ways that facilitate clarity from multiple perspectives, keep issues separated from personalities, skillfully use group decision techniques (e.g., Nominal Group Technique), ensure that quieter group members are drawn into discussions, find shared values and common adversaries, and facilitate discussions rather than guide them.

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  • Making decisions effectively – Means you make decisions based on an optimal mix of ethics, values, goals, facts, alternatives and judgments; use decision tools (such as force-field analysis, cost-benefit analysis, decision trees, paired comparisons analysis) effectively and at appropriate times; and show a good sense of timing related to decision making.
  • Driving results – Means you mobilize people toward greater commitment to a vision, challenge people to set higher standards and goals, keep people focused on achieving goals, give direct and complete feedback that keeps teams and individuals on track, quickly take corrective action as necessary to keep everyone moving forward, show a bias toward action, and proactively work through performance barriers.
  • Stimulating creativity – Means you see broadly outside of the typical, are constantly open to new ideas, are effective with creative group processes (e.g., brainstorming, Nominal Group Technique, scenario building), see future trends and craft responses to them, are knowledgeable in business and societal trends, are aware of how strategies play out in the field, are well read, and make connections between industries and unrelated trends.
  • Cultivating adaptability – Means you quickly see the essence of issues and problems, effectively bring clarity to situations of ambiguity, approach work using a variety of leadership styles and techniques, track changing priorities and readily interpret their implications, balance consistency of focus against the ability to adjust course as needed, balance multiple tasks and priorities such that each gets appropriate attention, and work effectively with a broad range of people.




Is if often said that leaders rise to the occasion. What do you think?


Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com


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6 Responses

  1. Table manners for physicians
    [Fine dining is leadership, too]

    30 tips for better dining etiquette.




  2. The traits of effective medical leadership

    An essay by Kevin R. Campbell MD.




  3. More on Doctors as Leaders

    Five [5] more traits that make physicians effective leaders.


    Ann Miller RN MHA


  4. Hiring More Effective Healthcare Executives

    Leaders with a diversity of experience, an understanding of data and an entrepreneurial approach will better manage the transformation required by the ACA.




  5. Planner as Leader?

    Do you expect a financial planner to be a strong leader? Most clients—89%, in fact—do. This finding, from a survey conducted last fall by Advisor Impact for the Financial Planning Association, is hardly surprising.

    What is surprising, however, is the way survey participants described leadership. They said a strong leader should have these four qualities: expertise, skill as a guide, deep understanding, and vulnerability.

    1. Expertise. Leaders typically have a strong base of professional expertise that goes beyond general knowledge of their field. This is why continuing education is paramount to good financial planning.

    Even more important, leaders have wisdom, which is the combination of knowledge and experience. A new college graduate has knowledge. A 30-year planner has a high probability of having wisdom.

    Clients want a planner to be an expert, to have knowledge about all things financial, and to know how to apply that knowledge to clients’ unique circumstances.

    2. Skill as a guide. Guiding is the ability to use expertise and wisdom to help clients go, not where the planner thinks they should go, but where they want to go. An effective guide first finds out where clients want to go and then devises the safest, most effective route to get them there and leads the way.

    I don’t know of any academic courses that teach financial planners how to guide. It’s something that’s learned experientially. Planners learn it by walking the walk, treading the same path for themselves that they will lead their client on.

    3. Deep understanding. What’s surprising about this quality is the word “deep.” Certainly, leaders need to understand their followers. But to understand someone deeply is much more intimate and encompassing than a superficial understanding of a person’s general needs, intentions or desires.

    Deep understanding comes through hours of genuine listening, asking probing and thoughtful questions, and having a genuine concern for the client’s well-being. It establishes a deep sense of belonging and acceptance.

    For most financial advisors, the capacity and skills to understand someone deeply are not intuitive. They need to be acquired by learning and especially by experientially applying the principles of Motivational Interviewing, Appreciative Inquiry, and Positive Psychology. This training is rarely part of financial planning or finance programs.

    4. Vulnerability. This was the most surprising quality listed for a leader. My image of a leader is that of a General Patton or President Lincoln: strong, resolved, visionary, courageous. Not vulnerable. Yet, in truth, vulnerability requires incredible strength of character, vision, and courage.

    Financial advisors who are comfortable with their vulnerability are able to expose their humanity and failings. All of us can relate to someone who has screwed up. None of us can relate to someone who hasn’t. Planners willing to admit their errors beget trust and confidence in those around them. The strength to be vulnerable cannot be acquired academically; it comes from spending a lot of time in self-reflection and personal growth.

    Of the four qualities people look for in a strong leader, only one, expertise, can be learned academically. The other three—skill as a guide, deep understanding, and vulnerability—are learned experientially. If you’re looking for a comprehensive, client-centered planner, keep in mind that someone with academic qualifications such as a masters in financial planning, a CFP®, or a ChFC, has gained only 25% of the skills you may want. Someone who adds a degree in counseling conceivably has 50% of the skills.

    To find a planner who can become a trusted leader and advisor, look further. Such advisors need to develop and apply in their own lives the relationship skills and leadership they offer to clients.

    Rick Kahler MS CFP


  6. Building Academic Leadership Capacity: A Guide to Best Practices
    Authors: Walter H. Gmelch and Jeffrey L. Buller
    Publisher: Jossey-Bass, February 2015

    A clear, systematic road map to effective campus leadership development, Building Academic Leadership Capacity gives institutions the knowledge they need to invest in the next generation of academic leaders. With a clear, systematic approach, this book provides insight into the elements of successful academic leadership and the training that makes it effective.

    Readers will explore original research that facilitates systematic, continuous program development, augmented by the authors’ own insight drawn from experience establishing such programs. Numerous examples of current campus programs illustrate the concepts in action, and reflection questions lead readers to assess how they can apply these concepts to their own programs.

    Hope Hetico RN MHA
    via The Spelman & Johnson Group


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