Want to be in top 10% of all leaders? Develop 3 exceptional strengths…

Finally, got around to the October issue of HBR.  An article that caught and held my attention was titled Making Yourself Indispensable by John Zenger, Joseph Folkman & Scott Edinger.  Research involving thousands of executives over decades has led to several conclusions:

“Developing strengths yields only incremental improvement.  To get appreciably better at it, you have to work on complementary skills”  (For example, combining diet with exercise is more effective than either exercise or diet alone).

“What makes leaders indispensable…is not being good at many things but being uniquely outstanding in a few things.  Such strengths allow a leader’s inevitable weaknesses to be overlooked.”

“The difference between being in the bottom third of all leaders and being almost in the top third is a single extraordinary strength.    Two profound strengths put leaders close to the top quartile, three in put them in the top quintile, and four put them in the top decile.”

In previous research, the authors found “16 differentiated leadership competencies that correlate strongly with positive business outcomes” and then found pairs of competencies that boosted the core competency level.  The core competencies and a few of the listed “companion pairings are listed below in parentheses.  So, the trick is to develop 3-4 competencies (leveraging the companion pairing) and you soar to the top of the leader pool…


1) Honesty & Integrity (Decisive, Assertive, Optimistic)

Personal Capability:

2) Technical & Professional Expertise (Communicates Powerfully, Takes Initiative, Develops Others)

3) Solves Problems & Analyzes Issues (Technical expertise, Communicates powerfully/broadly)

4) Innovates (Champions change, Supports others in Risk Taking)

5) Practises Self Development (Listens, Respects Others, Inspires & Motivates Others)

Getting Results:

6)  Focuses on Results (Is quick to act, creates high performance team, displays honesty/integrity)

7) Establish Stretch Goals (inspires and motivations others; focus on results; is decisive)

8)  Takes Initiatives (emphasizes speed, follows through, is organized at planning)

9) Communicates Powerfully & Broadly (Inspires & motivates; Trustworthy; Develops others)

Interpersonal Skills:

10) Inspires & Motivates others (connects emotionally with others; develops others, strong role model)

11) Builds Relationships (develops others; demonstrates optimism; collaborates/fosters teamwork)

12) Develops Others (practise self development; provides rewards and recognition; honesty/integrity)

13) Collaborates & Fosters Teamwork (Builds relationships; trustworthy; develops others)

Leading Change:

14) Develops Strategic Perspective (Focuses on customers, inspires and motivates others)

15) Champions Change (Builds relationships; focuses on results; develops strategic perspective)

16) Connects the Group to the Outside World (Has strong interpersonal skills, take initiative)

Source with Subscription: Harvard Business Review – Making Yourself Indispensable


  1. It is always difficult to get knowledgeable people with this issue, nevertheless, you be understood as you understand exactly what you are posting about! Appreciate it.


  2. hey, great blog! love it 🙂


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