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Three Key Attributes of Great Leaders, Part Three: Knowledge

There are countless ways to assess the leadership qualities we seek for business, politics, sports or our own communities. Recognizing an individual’s ability to assess leaders is an essential proficiency for leaders themselves. In this article, we’ll address the third—knowledge.

Knowledge A leader’s technical grounding should be stated, e.g. marketing, operations, finance, human resources. Acquiring knowledge, more than what a single discipline requires, helps to build a broad and valuable perspective. In this process, a real leader comes to appreciate the expertise and worth of others.

There are few (if any) problems that someone has not already identified. Leaders who are new to an organization know that the organization was there before them, will be there after them, and that a change in an organization’s leadership would not immediately transform it.

Intentions to develop the best from the staff should not presume that all will immediately jump on board. They each have their own history, attitude and objectives. They may have previously tested some of what their new leader thinks is innovative. A seasoned leader knows that it is very difficult to get and keep everyone engaged.

There is a humbling recognition that a job title alone does not make a leader. Titles are awarded, but leadership is cultivated and earned over time. People who have nurtured positive attitudes, developed valued skills, and built a solid knowledge base are all potential leaders, regardless of title.

In business, without benefits of title, there are respected “informal leaders” that may include bright executive assistants, knowledgeable factory workers, seasoned salespeople, or older employees to whom their colleagues, and even their bosses, may turn for guidance.

Successful leaders appreciate that everyone, regardless of position, works for someone. One may be working for a boss or shareholders or colleagues or customers. They are also working for society, the betterment of their profession or industry and ultimately for the privilege to leave a positive footprint and advance their own values.

And, finally, an awareness of their own leadership strengths and shortcomings fuels their continuous self-improvement…and knowledge.

Special thanks to Dr. Ed Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration at The University of Rhode Island, for his work on identifying a core leadership metrics “system”: attitude, skill and knowledge (A.S.K.), and to Stanley H. Davis, Standish Founding Principal, for contributions to this post.


Greg Mickelson is a principal of Standish Executive Search, LLC. Standish Executive Search advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.The firm recruits the right leaders who also fit and complement the company’s culture.

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