What the University of Louisville’s president taught me about leadership


For the last several years, I’ve enjoyed being involved with Leadership Louisville Center. One reason is the opportunity to connect with local thought leaders on the topic of leadership. At every event, I meet interesting people and uncover additional creative ways to look at leadership and development. I recently attended Leadership Louisville’s Thought Leadership Series featuring the University of Louisville’s newly appointed president, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi. I had never heard her speak, and I didn’t know what to expect. Much to my delight, I found her tone very engaging and her content extremely relevant to the leaders I coach. I’d like to pass along some of the insights she shared.

According to Bendapudi, there are seven traits that all great leaders possess. As she stated, this isn’t an exhaustive list. However, in my opinion, it’s a pretty good one. I hope you enjoy reading her thoughts as much I enjoyed hearing her share them.

Great leaders unite us. Dr. Bendapudi points out the many efforts to mute differences among members of our organizations and society. She recommends that we celebrate our complexity and our differences while turning our attention to our common interests.

Great leaders help each of their followers see the big picture and how it specifically relates to him or her. In addition to driving the overall vision, they help us clearly see how each of us fits into that big picture.

Great leaders tap into both energy and focus in a way that fully engages their followers. Having lots of energy and enthusiasm is a great trait, but without the right focus, they’re of limited value. The inverse is also true.

Great leaders have the organization’s best interest at heart. Regardless the personal cost, the best leaders drive toward goals they truly believe are in the best interest of the group or organization.

Great leaders humbly learn from others. Dr. Bendapudi emphasized that great leaders turn to experts across a wide range of areas, rather than wading in and trying to master new content themselves.

Great leaders extend an ARM to address issues.  ARM is an acronym created by Dr. Bendapudi; it describes a process for diagnosing a challenging situation when a follower isn’t executing as planned. Walk through each letter to uncover where the disconnect may lie.

A is for Ability. Is the person capable? Have you trained them appropriately? Do they have all the right resources?  R is for Role Clarity. This one really grabs me, because I see it often. Has the leader been clear and explicit about what is supposed to be done (and why)? Assuming that this person knows what to do and has the ability to do it, the final piece is M, Motivation. The next time you’re faced with a team member who has fallen short of your expectations, extend an ARM and run the situation through these three criteria…

Great leaders foster resiliency. Here, Dr. Bendapudi shared stories of research and real world examples of leaders who survived in very challenging circumstances. They demonstrated realistic optimism; they engaged others in multiple ways to solve a single problem and they had a real sense of meaning. I love those three because every great leader that I personally know engenders these three components. Dr. Bendapudi’s list of characteristics is short, simple and powerful. I’d like to express my gratitude to her and the Leadership Louisville Center. I hope you also get a chance to experience the leadership wisdom that these two resources offer.

One last thing: As Dr. Bendapudi wrapped up, her natural tendency as a professional educator came through. She asked us all to recall a specific element on the list of seven that resonated most. I liked her tactic to help us all increase our retention of her talk. This is good place for me to ask you the same question. Which area can you give more attention to as you improve your personal leadership?

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