Six Arkansas business leaders discuss the traits of effective leadership

by Bill Paddack ([email protected]) 274 views 

Editor’s note: This segment first appeared in the recent issue of Talk Business & Politics magazine. Link here for the digital version of the magazine.

“Courage – not complacency – is our need today. Leadership – not salesmanship.”
– John F. Kennedy

The words of John F. Kennedy, from his speech on July 15, 1960, when he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, still ring true today. We asked six business leaders to tell us, as they hire and train supervisors and managers, what they consider to be the most important characteristics and traits of effective leaders.

Dr. Jeff Standridge, vice president-sales, Acxiom (Conway)
Effective leaders must be able to deliver results consistently. If a leader is unable to produce the expected results individually and through others, on a consistent basis, he or she will be ineffective as a leader.

Leaders must also effectively manage relationships. Nothing can be achieved consistently without the help of others. Leaders depend on the employees they lead and employees depend on their leaders. Effective leadership requires a deep understanding of this interdependency.

When we focus only on results, we may achieve success very quickly until we alienate everyone who is responsible for helping us maintain these results. When we overbalance toward relationships, we will become very popular, for a while … until we lose the respect of our peers due to our inability to produce consistent results.

Effectively balancing results and relationships is what I have learned to hire for and train for in my leadership team. If, in the daily grind of leadership, we can effectively manage this delicate balance, success will come more easily and be more sustained.

Cari G. White, CCE, chief operations officer, Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce
Some people are born with definite leadership characteristics; God-given talents that if used correctly can change communities, families and workplaces. Some people develop leadership characteristics through their determination to make things better for themselves and their families.

I believe that all people have the potential to be a leader if they have the desire.

An absolute must for me is the presence of common sense and a great work ethic. Leaders always care deeply about the mission, they are never far from the action and they pay great attention to detail.

To me, a leader is someone who believes that their role in the organization is going to make or break its success. And, I have never seen a leader without enthusiasm!

State Rep. Reginald Murdock, general contractor, Marianna
Though there are many characteristics that are needed and sought in the selection of a supervisor, I will focus on two.

Effective communication: In my opinion this is the single most character trait necessary in a leader. Having the ability to understand, articulate and delineate information to staff and teammates is imperative and glaringly sets apart the average from the above average supervisor. In the selection process, I ask the candidates to define a scenario whereby they’ll execute these traits. I’ve found that this fairly simplistic approach has provided beneficial information.

Passion: Passion provides the necessary resolve to endure. I liken passion to love in that it comes with many traits that have led to any success I have experienced in my life. Long suffering and patience, which are characteristics of love, are the most prominent in a successful supervisor or leader. The ability to effectively work through tough times and situations while still staying focused on the vision or goals of the organization are keys to a successful leader. Patience provides the calm necessary as you go through the various stages of growth.

Darin Gray, chairman & CEO, CJRW, Little Rock and Springdale
Some of the most important characteristics and traits of leaders are not found on a resume. That’s not to say specific areas of expertise and skill sets are not essential. But it’s extremely hard to discern the desired character, integrity and listening skills from a piece of paper or sitting through the standard interview.

When looking for good leaders, you want to know that they:
• have the ability to be a part of a bigger picture;
• lead by example;
• can lead a group of people whose ages and experiences span multiple generations;
• possess a passion for learning; and
• have the ability to follow as well as they lead.

These characteristics can often be more important than degrees or extracurricular activities listed on a standard resume. They are essential considerations when it comes to identifying, recruiting and hiring the right leaders for your organization. 

Georgia Mjartan, executive director, Our House, Inc., Little Rock
Over the last 10 years, Our House has experienced 500% growth in the number of clients served daily, with programs for children and families the biggest driver of this growth. The changes that our organization has undergone have required many different skills from our managers. I’ve had to adjust my recruitment and people development strategies accordingly. However, I generally look for leaders who are positive, optimistic and entrepreneurial as Our House continues to grow at a rapid pace.

My most successful supervisors see the strengths in their team members and are able to pull out the best qualities in those around them. I have high expectations of my managers and in turn, they have high expectations of their teams. We are constantly asking ourselves, “How can we make more of an impact on more people more efficiently?” There is urgency to the work of getting homeless people into jobs and homes, so we are always pushing each other for a very good reason. Being pushed can either be crushing or motivating for an employee. I look for managers who can make the push feel positive.

Dr. Dustin Smith, director of athletics, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
The most important traits for leadership for me include high integrity, a strong work ethic and unwavering commitment to the task at hand.

Leaders must be able to see the big picture and provide a road map to get to the end destination. Hiring the right people and allowing them to do their part is an important trait of good leadership.

Leaders must be able to connect with their people and this comes by being visible and spending time with those people.

Leadership to me is not just seeing the mark or goal, but it is finding the right people to help navigate the path. Identification of people, doing things the right way, and allowing people to fill their role in the process are all valuable keys to good leadership in my opinion.