Categorized | Leadership, Organizations

Leadership Secrets From Five Top Emerging Leaders

Leadership skills become even more important during the challenging business climate we face today. Economic downturns, globalization, outsourcing, financial challenges — all of these factors require strong leadership and a vision for the future.   Leadership theory in 1907 (Carlyle) stated that history was shaped by a few great men, and the thinking was that leaders were born, not made. We have expanded our thinking in modern times to realize that every person has the capacity to lead and make a difference in other peoples’ lives.

Current leadership theories (transformational leadership, emotional intelligence, servant leadership, etc.) emphasize the skills, characteristics and abilities of the leader to empower others to lead. Great leadership is something we develop through the experiences we have, the risks we take, the choices we make, and the mentoring and support we receive from those around us. DiversityMBA Magazine has honored top leaders for the last two years, selecting individuals with creative ideas, tenacity and the perseverance to take risks and go where others do not dare to tread.  Following is the essence of interviews with five top emerging leaders selected in 2010:

Daisy ChanDaisy Chan, Director, Enterprise Communications, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

What characteristics, skills or abilities do you possess that make you successful as a leader?

D. Chan: I’m not afraid to have difficult conversations, be responsible and to make decisions. We have to learn to take that risk. It is important to learn how to build teams and to leverage the talent of the people around you.You must also be willing to listen and learn from everyone around you.

 

What challenge did you face that enhanced your leadership abilities?

D. Chan: Having people around me who had preconceived notions of what I can do. I am capable of other responsibilities other than what I am currently doing. I have learned to shape and grow my own personal brand.

What unique event or circumstance in your life helped you to build your leadership muscle?

D. Chan: I was offered an opportunity to learn to manage people at another company but at a lower title. I accepted the position and earned back the title after 14 months.  Sometimes you have to step back a bit to move forward.

What positive event or events in your life helped you to become a better leader?

D. Chan: I have a very supportive family and a very strong support system.  They were great role models. I always try to pay it forward.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to emerging leaders?

D. Chan: You have to be passionate about what you do. Passion drives you to get excellent results. You have to care deeply about what you do and how you do it. When you are quiet, if you don’t find a way to contribute and add value, then you are really not bringing anything to the table. It is always about adding value, making it happen, doing it better.

Shellond ChesterShellond Chester, Assistant Dean for Finance, AB Freeman School Of Business, Tulane University

What characteristics, skills or abilities do you possess that make you successful as a leader?

S.Chester: You must have determination to see a project to the very end, curiosity to always want to find out what else you can accomplish, and always be looking for the next challenge.

What challenge did you face that enhanced your leadership abilities?

S.Chester: An important challenge I faced was how to balance career and family. I had to learn to be patient and not get stressed out. You can get bogged down in the details.You just have to do what you can do.

What unique event or circumstance in your life helped you to build your leadership muscle?

S.Chester: I became a widow at 35 with a very young child. I had no choice but to succeed.

What positive event or events in your life helped you to become a better leader?

S.Chester: I worked for two women who had the greatest influence in my career. They took an interest in me and saw something in me that I didn’t see, and inspired me to continue and to keep moving forward.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to emerging leaders?

S.Chester: Believe that you can do it. “As one man can do, so can another.”

Marisol Fernandez, Director of Merchandising, United Stationers

What characteristics, skills or abilities do you possess that make you successful as a leader?

M. Fernandez: Strong leadership skills; driving results through others, being able to blend the ability to think strategically and the ability to execute, continuous improvement and project management, and loving to work with different types of people to accomplish results.

What challenge did you face that enhanced your leadership abilities?

M. Fernandez: The balance between my professional and personal life. What I found is the greater the responsibility, the greater the drain on your time and energy. Flexibility is key. It also helps to have a strong network of people to support you.

What unique event or circumstance in your life helped you to build your leadership muscle?

M. Fernandez: Growing up in a low-income family in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. My parents worked hard to pay for my school tuition.

What positive event or events in your life helped you to become a better leader?

M. Fernandez: The companies I worked for believed in me professionally. Have a mentor and a strong network of family and friends. These tools will help you to succeed.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to emerging leaders?

M. Fernandez: Leadership is driving results through others.  People are what make organizations deliver.

Steven Moo Young, Director of Strategy for AA.com, American Airlines

What characteristics, skills or abilities do you possess that make you successful as a leader?

S. Young: My philosophy is to build strong teams that work well together.  Helping us to accomplish something great together that we could not have accomplished individually is a great reward. I look for individuals who have the confidence, self-awareness and humility to know what they don’t know.

What challenge did you face that enhanced your leadership abilities?

S. Young: We have had many and varied challenges in the airlines industry, from Icelandic volcanoes to high fuel prices. We must learn to allocate scare resources to effectively manage our return on investment.

What unique event or circumstance in your life helped you to build your leadership muscle?

S. Young: I grew up in Jamaica, and being of Chinese ancestry provides me with a multiple perspectives. It helps me to understand what other people think and to reach for inclusive, positive decisions.

What positive event or events in your life helped you to become a better leader?

S. Young: The example my dad set for me was a tremendous influence. My family is very supportive and the accomplishments of other diverse leaders before me paved the way for me to succeed.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to emerging leaders?

S. Young: Always seek to teach and develop others to achieve their full potential. Help others become great leaders. Everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach.

Melanie Williams, Florida Sales Director, Consumer, Business and Alternative Channels, Verizon

What characteristics, skills or abilities do you possess that make you successful as a leader?

M. Williams: The skills I believe are essential are time management, follow-up, taking on challenging jobs that no one else wants, discipline, and extending a timeline rather than saying no.

What challenge did you face that enhanced your leadership abilities?

M. Williams: I worked on the National Support team, where my results and performance were based on my ability to influence people who didn’t report to me. My total performance was based on somebody else doing their job. Our goals were at odds. My goals were to increase quality and reduce volume; their goal was to increase volume. I had to be creative and to influence people without authority. They had to learn to trust me and my analytics.

What unique event or circumstance in your life helped you to build your leadership muscle?

M. Williams: I was an hourly employee and applied for a supervisory role. I passed all of the qualifications. The person who asked me to apply said they weren’t going to give it to me, but they wanted me to continue to work in the supervisory role. I was devastated. I was very young. When I felt like crying, I went into the bathroom. Others told me not to do it, but I did it anyway. My manager was very nervous around me, but I went out of my way to be friendly to him. Others noticed my behavior and saw it as a situation in which I demonstrated true leadership. Another manager saw it and I was promoted two weeks later.

What positive event or events in your life helped you to become a better leader?

M. Williams: The job I just received has substantial responsibility. I worked for the same president two years ago. When this position became available, she requested me and made a lot of moves so I could have it. She saw talent in me and she pushed me, pushed me, pushed me. I feel like this job is a milestone for me in my career regarding future potential.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to emerging leaders?

M. Williams: You must have perseverance. At the first sign of resistance, people give up. You must keep going, looking for another way. This trait sets apart our successful leaders.

There is no doubt that our willingness to take risks and to persevere shape who we become as leaders. Many mentioned balancing work and family as a challenge. Others attributed their success to a strong family support system and the encouragement of mentors. Having the confidence to lead with courage is another common theme among our top leaders.  And yet, the humility to recognize what you don’t know is equally important. Great leadership isn’t demonstrated by those who are quietly competent. It is shown by those who have a voice, who dare to lead, to deliver the unpopular message, to go where others have not gone before. These are the signs of a true leader.

Updated 2/10/2013: Added photos of Daisy Chan, Shellond Chester

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