Five X-Factors that Mark Out a Leader

When we think about leadership, we are often conceptualizing it in terms of the very top level of leadership – the CEOs, directors and other senior executives. But in my experience, leadership can be found at every level of a business – in fact, it should be. For without a culture of leadership, organizations suffer under their own weight, perform poorly and lose connection with their customers, stakeholders and employees. But what do these leaders look like? I tend to agree with the breakdown from this infographic by the Harvard Business School. They identify five “X-Factors” that mark a leader out for the C-suite – passionate curiosity, battle-hardened confidence, team smarts, simple mindset and fearlessness. Allow me to expand these from my own point of view (and I’d encourage you to reframe these from your own experiences as well):

1. Passionate curiosity

The leader must not only show an interest, but also have the drive to follow that interest. Where will this lead you? Perhaps into conflict with your current boss – or up the corporate ladder. But many of us lose our curiosity and our passion as we grow older. This cannot be allowed to happen to you – for the challenge of the leader is to cultivate their curiosity in all circumstances and situations.

2. Battle-hardened confidence

A leader, and particularly a CEO, must wear their experiences as a badge of honor. We must use our experiences in a way that shapes and feeds our sense of confidence, which in turn, radiates through the organization. For the aspiring leader, this means not shying away from difficulties but dealing with them with all the grace that you can muster.

3. Team smarts

You can’t be the chief executive of a one person business – despite what a million startup founders will tell you. To accomplish good, great or amazing things, you will need to work with teams. And across your career you will collaborate with teams of all shapes and skills. Learn to learn – and work to understand the way that your different teams work and you will achieve the goals that you set not only for yourself but for everyone involved.

4. A simple mindset

Complexity is the enemy of success. You will find that there is always a reason for making a situation, project or product more complex. But for the leader, the challenge lays in ignoring the noise and focusing on the signal. This means simplifying.

5. Fearlessness

We all have doubts – but leaders must be willing to back themselves. This can be characterized as fearlessness, but I prefer to think about this as imaginative risk taking. The leader must be able to weigh up the options, assess the risks imaginatively, and then take decisions.

With these X-Factors in mind, look at the people you admire and respect within your business. Can you see their qualities? What else can you see? What X-Factors have I missed? Leave me a comment and share your observations.

Nina Simosko

Nina Simosko serves as President and CEO of NTT Innovation Institute Inc. (NTT i3), the prestigious Silicon Valley-based innovation center for NTT Group, one of the world’s largest ICT companies. She previously held executive leadership roles with Nike Technology and SAP, and currently serves on the advisory boards of two early-to-mid stage technology companies: Reflektion and AppOrchid. Nina’s blog, www.ninasimosko.com provides current and aspiring leaders with a forum for ideas and discussion. Follow @NinaSimosko on Twitter.

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