Leadership DNA

We live in interesting times.  Great Britain flounders with Brexit mayhem.  The US cannot decide if Trump is a dimwitted crook or the greatest of all time.  Putin prefers ruthlessness to rule of law.  Does the world birth effective leaders anymore?  And if the tentative answer is “Yes,” then the follow-up is “What do these leaders look like?   Justin Trudeau famously quipped, “I am a teacher, that’s how I see myself.”  Understanding his leadership style to be rooted in “equipping” rather than “directing,” Trudeau aspires to pass on his wisdom to those he leads.  So, let me ask you, what makes a leader effective?  Is there a metric out there that distinguishes exemplary leadership from mediocre variations?  Is leadership a product of good genetics, or is it learned through gritty experience and forged through glorious defeats?  And when we consider business leadership, what would we list among the traits of the great business leaders?

In a good read crafted by Entrepreneur.com’s Adam Man-Cheung, Cheung asserts that today’s business leaders must have the leadership DNA of a coach, pilot, scientist, and engineer.  They must also have the nimbleness to move between these different leadership facets as the moment demands it.  Let’s look at each of these facets of effective leadership.



If we assume that everyone is a stakeholder in the business’s overall organizational strategy, then the job of the “Coach” is to ensure that everyone who’s not a stakeholder becomes one.  An effective leader also ensures that everyone he or she hires to be a part of the team has opportunities to invest their passions and skills into the organization’s mission and vision. A coach inspires the team to follow her onto the field and into the demands of the work.


The effective business leader must have the ability to help an organization and the team members who support it weather turbulent business currents.  In the piloting role, the effect leader builds and leverages trust.  Leaders honor the commitments they make to the team.  Effective “piloting leaders” praise in public and reprimand in private.  Recognizing that the team is watching, leaders model trustworthy management behaviors.  When things are rough, the piloting leader is willing to take on personal sacrifice to model this sort of behavior for the rest of her team.  The pilot also steers, refusing to hand the wheel over to another when the “shit storm” strikes.



Effective leaders have a little “mad scientist” within them, a willingness to innovate and experiment.  A business leader who is comfortable wearing the badge of “scientist” from time to time, must convey a willingness to engage the entire team in the scientific process.  As I’ve said at other times, providing time for your team members to “drive outside their lanes” is good for the team and the business.  Everyone has the potential to strike gold with the next great idea.  Are you nurturing discovery in your business or stifling it?


Great business leaders help organizations work through the problems associated with fluctuating economic cycles and structural changes.  The engineer is a meticulously planner, who develops “what if” strategies for a host of eventualities.  With the prework – the engineering – in place, the leader has a framework to lean on it when everything goes sideways.  The engineer can also troubleshoot the unexpected twist, providing a timely, effective strategy when there is no time for robust planning.

Final Thoughts

Even the leader who doesn’t have charisma in the DNA can develop skills that move the team and the business forward.  Inspiration, guidance, innovation, and planning are all traits of effective leadership.  While you may be a stronger scientist than coach, it’s worth your time to hone all facets of your leadership portfolio.  It may not be easy, but it is necessary.