Executive Master of Leadership Blog

Dr. Carol Geffner’s 4 Leadership Skills of Successful Executives

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 3, 2019 8:57:00 AM / by Carol J. Geffner, Ph.D

Dr. Carol Geffner explains her 4 leadership skills for successful executives.

Dr. Carol Geffner
, Professor of the Practice of Government, Management and Policy at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, is a nationally recognized authority on executive team leadership and performance. From her years of multi-sectoral leadership in industries ranging from medicine to media, she has distilled these four tips for finding success as a leader.

1. Drop all judgments

Most people imagine managers as cold, calculated, and rational people who always have their eye on meeting the bottom line by efficiently improving key metrics. However, in reality, having fine-tuned emotional intelligence is just as important as having strong analytical skills.

Although it’s not often obvious, a leader’s emotional responses, no matter how subtle they are, dictate an organization’s cultural norms. Managers must recognize their implicit biases and preconceived judgments and discard them in order to remain open to a team’s creative ideas. Furthermore, when things don’t go as planned, rather than assuming that their team is the problem, a leader should always ask themselves what actions they can perform to improve the situation.

2. Lead by example

A team is always learning from their leader. In watching their behavior, they learn how to react to things by taking cues as to what’s acceptable and what’s not. Great leaders have to recognize important moments to demonstrate their confidence in order to keep company morale high.

For example, large scale change in an organization is bound to drum up a lot of emotions such as anxiety and fear among employees. In this situation, a leader must empathize with these emotional realities, but not get carried away by them. They must use these moments to keep their heads up, sympathizing with the hardship while ultimately offering an optimistic outlook on the future.

3. Create safe spaces

For a team or organization to produce the best results, it’s imperative that all the best ideas are considered in every discussion. To make this happen, team members must feel safe to pose questions, issues, and share ideas without fear of judgment for saying the wrong thing.

For that reason, trust is one of the most important assets a leader can have from his or her team. It’s imperative for leaders to be able to listen without judgment, entertain ideas even when they feel uncomfortable, and always be ready to tactfully coach employees. In setting an open tone and reinforcing it consistently, a team will soon understand that they can speak with their leader in an honest and candid way.  

4. Cultivate creativity

It’s often thought that only artists work creatively, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, we all need to be creative every day as we devise solutions to problems that obstruct our path to success.

For example, consider a driver in a traffic jam. As they sit in gridlock, their brain begins firing off all kinds of alternative routes they could take to reach the destination more quickly. Although this isn’t typically thought of as creativity, it really is! Great leaders need to be comfortable with this energy in order to be dynamic and adjust their organization’s course on the fly.

One great way for a leader to cultivate this skill in the course of a day is to recognize all the small ways they resolve conflicts in the workplace. As a leader begins to be more cognizant of how they approach these challenges, they will quickly become aware of ways to refine their approach to problem-solving, leading to more innovative solutions and progress in the future.


All in all, the most important thing to remember to successfully implement these leadership competencies is to always be emotionally open. The moment a leader gets stuck in their habitual responses is the moment their organization becomes closed off to progress. However, in remembering these four tips, anybody can be on their way to leading their team towards success.

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Topics: Leadership Skills

Carol J. Geffner, Ph.D

Written by Carol J. Geffner, Ph.D

Carol J. Geffner, Ph.D. is Professor of the Practice of Governance, Management and Policy at the Sol Price School of Public Policy and Director of the Executive Master of Leadership Program. Dr. Geffner is well known for her thought leadership and advisory work with multi-sectorial organizations on improving human and organizational performance and the capacity for sustainable success.

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