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Obama, Immelt and American Leadership

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This was a big week for notable speeches. Of course, there was President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on Thursday. There was also a speech delivered by GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt for West Point's Distinguished Leader Series on Wednesday. Both speeches were interesting to me because of the multiple audiences they sought to address and the needles they chose to thread. You can find the text of the Obama speech on the New York Times web site and the text of Immelt's speech on this GE web site. Immelt's speech was entitled, "Renewing American Leadership." Obama's Nobel speech was essentially on the same topic. They're both worth reading if you want to get some insight into how two influential leaders view America's role in the world.

Of the two, I thought I'd highlight one section of the Immelt speech in this post. In his remarks to the cadets, Immelt used the second half of his time to identify five leadership traits that he says he is personally working on and that he thinks are important to the success of GE in the future. He said that leaders:

  • "Have to be better listeners...
  • Must become systems thinkers who are comfortable with ambiguity...
  • Must build competency and move with speed...
  • Must motivate with vision, but win with execution...
  • Must like and respect people..."

That's a pretty interesting list. I was encouraged and a little surprised to see that listening was the first trait he mentioned. Not necessarily what you'd expect from the head of one of the world's largest companies.

If you were creating your own list of the leadership traits that are required for success in the 21st century what would it include? What do you agree or disagree with on Immelt's list? From a development standpoint, can liking and respecting people be coached and taught or do you just have to hire for it?

I'd love to hear what you think on these questions or any better ones you come up with.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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