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Looking Beyond Skill Sets

John O’Neil writes in his post titled Virtues and Character Markings of Future Leaders:

Certain character traits and drives will distinguish those who we need for future leaders. Formal education and "fattened resumes" will be less important than finding and developing the well rounded person who thrives on building robust learning cultures with high performing creative teams.

This is equally true for board and staff leaders of cultural organizations as we continue to navigate funding deficits and audience shifts. Our searches for staff leaders is often long on skills sets; for board leaders, the search includes skills and networks. But what about “critical virtues and character markings”, as O’Neil suggests?

Here’s his list:

Well Balanced and Ethically - Centered

Familiar enough with your own strengths and weaknesses and able to address vulnerabilities. Understanding that “rules matter, but behavior around the rules is more important.”

Passionate Learners

Openness to the diversity of ideas – good, bad and ugly – indicates a certain forward-thinking person. “They will read widely, use social nets wisely. They will help fill the organization with learning-motivated people with diverse interests and backgrounds. The richness of learning contracts will be reflective of the organization's cultural richness and competitive advantages.”

Humility and Integrity

“Good leaders are humble. They know that success brings a dark bag of hubris, ego inflation, power games. To fight these ever-present threats future leaders must continually offer and accept fresh learning challenges that are sufficiently stiff to guarantee some failure. It is in proper failure that higher order learning can flourish.”

Coaching and Mentoring

“The best leaders are natural teachers and coaches… They enjoy helping others learn and grow. They are also equipped to play the larger role of mentor, helping with those aspects beyond skills that involve character formation and wisdom.”

Brave and Discriminating

“The very best of the future leaders will carve out fresh trails with new metrics of success, dynamic transparency, and error-embracing learning. They will enjoy the risks that lead to learning. They will be discriminating in their own learning journeys. Always striving to do the brave and right things under pressure. Always working to have a life in harmony.”

What other critical virtues and character markings might you add to the list?

You raise the bar when you decide to use some or all of these virtues/markings in your next search for board or staff leadership, but given the lackluster leadership so many organizations suffer, isn’t it worth the effort?


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