by Joe Sylvester
Innovation, creative thinking and vision are valuable traits in successful leaders, according to Lori Nocito, executive director of Leadership Wilkes-Barre.
“Good communication skills and decision-making capabilities also play a vital role in the success and failure of a leader,” Nocito added.
Nocito and others who have helped develop leaders for years in Northeast Pennsylvania recently talked about what makes a good leader and what employers should look for in candidates for leadership positions.
Leaders, they said, must keep learning. They must have discipline.
“Even if someone seems to naturally exhibit typical leadership qualities, people don’t become great leaders overnight,” Nocito said. “They must be developed through ongoing learning and training opportunities.
“Leadership is a process, a skill that must be developed. If a company doesn’t invest in leadership training for its high-potential employees, those individuals are likely to leave and find that opportunity elsewhere.”
Nicole Morristell, director of Leadership Lackawanna, believes some people are born with leadership skills. It’s not a strictly learned behavior.
But, like Nocito, she said that even those who have leadership traits require training.
“I still think you need to train and you need to hone in on those traits,” Morristell said.
She said leaders need to continually learn and train through workshops, classes, books or online articles.
“I think everybody should have that thought in their mind that they should be a lifelong learner,” Morristell said.
“A potential or current employee who expresses a desire to learn and take on new challenges as well as work with a team has the potential to become a great leader,” said Nocito.
The big picture
Morristell cited honesty, inspiration, commitment, passion, decision-making skills, creativity and communication as traits leaders possess.
“I think a good leader needs to see the big picture and needs to constantly think about the organization as a whole,” she said.
A leader must communicate the organization’s message to employees, members, key stakeholders, all the people who make up an organization and do a good job of relaying their vision down to the people below them.
“If you have enthusiasm, commitment, passion, it’s contagious,” Morristell said.
Lt. Col. Bill White, a professor in The University of Scranton Military Science Department who also oversees ROTC programs at 12 universities and colleges from Wilkes-Barre to East Stroudsburg, said the Army requires of its leaders a certain amount of intellect along with a certain amount of character.
“You have to have a certain amount of presence,” he said.
He added potential leaders should be able to demonstrate how they would react in certain situations.
Part of being a leader, White said, is getting others to do what you want them to do.
“You could be a poor leader and do that,” he said. “Our goal is to make leaders who make others want to follow them.”
He said there is a negative style of leadership which uses fear-based motivation to get others to follow or perform. But he said that is not effective.
“One of the difficulties you find in the civilian world is a lot of your evaluations are based on performance,” White said. “In the military, we evaluate based on attributes. It narrows it down to how well do they get results. They may just be good at getting to the bottom line.”
He said he talks to candidates about different scenarios, such as what they would do if they discovered a friend was cheating in class or stealing or lying.
Some people might know the right answer, but he said there are certain tells that reveal whether they actually believe the answer.
An art and a science
White agreed that most people are not natural-born leaders.
“Some may have a more approachable personality, are more charismatic and can inspire others,” he said.
But he said that is not always necessary in good leaders. He said the more senior leaders are surprisingly more introverted.
“Leadership is an art and a science,” White said.
He said leader should be able to understand what the guy on the line is doing.
As for the military, it develops a work ethic that is not based on an eight-hour day, but rather on working longer days.
“You’re forced to be a good time manager or you fail as a leader,” White said.
A high stress environment will start molding a person into dealing with stress.
“Probably the biggest thread that underlines all leadership is discipline,” White said. “You gotta have good discipline. You cannot ask someone to do something if you’re not willing to do it yourself.”
Leaders also should be fair, consistent and hold themselves to a high standard. If you don’t feel like doing something you should do, you do it anyway. Do the same thing you expect of others.
The leader as guide
Mark Durdach, 21, of Honesdale, a junior information technology major at Keystone College in La Plume, knows something about leadership. He is Student Government Association president at Keystone.
He believes a leader is not someone who just takes charge and tells others what to do. It is someone who guides others to help them all achieve certain goals, much like a basketball coach would make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to help the team win games.
“I was always involved in team leadership,” Durdach said. “I was in Boy Scouts for 13 years. I became an Eagle Scout in 2016.”
He said he always had a desire to be involved, to help others. One way to do that at Keystone was to get involved in student government.
“I had been a freshman representative, then vice president,” Durdach recalled.
He wanted to take it to the next level. He was elected president. He also did an internship in the student activities office.
While it came more naturally for him than others, Durdach, who wants to work in software development for a large corporation someday, said it’s possible to train those who have not held leadership positions.
“Certain people are better at being leaders, but I wouldn’t say it’s beyond hope (for others). Some are not self-actualized to the idea. Some people come naturally to it, some educate themselves to it.”
He believes employers can recognize someone with good leadership qualities.
“I think it really comes down to motivation and attitude,” Durdach said.
He said someone interviewing for a position may not necessarily be the most qualified for the job, but they may be more animated, passionate and willing to grow.
“There are some great people out there,” he said. “Without the motivation, they can’t do much.”