The Anatomy of Today’s Leader

Just look at Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tumblr’s David Karp or Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. All three are founders of thriving companies — and they’re under age 35. Then there are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies such as PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and Xerox — all women.

These are just a handful of examples that prove how the archetype of today’s leader isn’t necessarily a man occupying the corner office, with decades of experience under his belt. The image of the model chief executive has changed greatly during the first decade of the 21st century.

No longer is there an exact formula to describe the anatomy of perfection in an office head. But what we can tease out are a few key attributes needed for today’s leader not only to survive but to thrive.

Emotional intelligence. Leadership is situational — depending on political, economic and social factors, leadership skills will be tested and will evolve based on the times we live in. As the context of a business changes, the role of a leader will change under this framework, but one leadership attribute will always be relevant: They must not only have the authority to lead, but also the emotional intelligence to be self-aware.

Not every highly skilled or erudite individual will be able to lead once promoted to such high positions. Many individuals who are less than extraordinary soar in positions of leadership because they have something many others don’t. While intelligence and skill are required for executive roles, there is another type of intelligence that gives a leader the ability to be great — and that type of smarts is more emotionally based. Social skills, empathy, motivation and the ability to be aware can drive the right candidate forward.

Vision. Revolutionary leaders will have a vision to push a company, employees and the business beyond where it seems like it could go in the future.

Authority. Leaders must be able to exert the power needed to determine or settle issues within a company as well as the ability to control and command a situation.

Self-assessment. Today’s leaders must have a certain amount of self-awareness or the ability to recognize positive and negative attributes in themselves. Acknowledging these will allow them to harness the former and minimize fallout from the latter.

Risk-taking. A leader needs to take personal risks — without this ability, growth from a personal and organizational standpoint will be stunted. With the possibility of failure, so too can come recognition and growth. A blunder or miscalculation could spur a disruptive innovation. Some of these risks leaders take are bound to be rejected because they seem too outrageous for today’s market — but that shouldn’t discourage leaders from taking risks. Many seeming failures today can fuel innovation for tomorrow.

Kate Benson is the founding managing director at Martens & Heads!, an executive search firm. She can be reached at