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What Makes A Great Leader: Takeaways from the World Business Forum NYC


Last week I had the privilege of attending [and volunteering] at the World Business Forum NYC. The WBF is an annual global business summit that brings together over 5,000 attendees, consisting mostly of senior executives, from over 60 countries. It was an empowering and inspirational event and I plan to be a part of it going forward.

This years theme, “I am a Story Maker” centered around the concept that behind every great leader there is a great/funny/heroic/daring/caring/epic story. The speakers list was diverse, with well-known names like Kevin Spacey and Sir Richard Branson, and academics like Adam Grant and Herminia Ibarra; to the lesser known Stephen Ritz, a teacher in the South Bronx who brought me to tears with his passion, enthusiasm and heart warming story. Of all the different stories I listened too, there were many commonalities that seem to go into what makes a great leader:

Leaders Take Risks – This was the largest recurring message throughout all the presentations. Leaders are willing to challenge the norm or protocol – they go against the grain – they take risks. As a result, they see opportunity where most don’t, and they take a risk to seize it. Kevin Spacey took a risk when he was just starting out by sneaking into a high profile party with an invitation not meant for him. Spacey wanted to meet the producer of an upcoming show he wanted to be a part of but couldn’t get an audition. The risk worked in his favor and ended up launching his career.

Leaders Are Givers – If you want all the psychology behind Takers, Givers and Matchers you can check out Adam Grant (who is amazing, by the way), but leaders are Givers. They understand that in order to succeed themselves, they must give to others around them. Leaders, also understand when to say no, which sets them apart from other Givers. They value their time and resources, and they know to say no when they feel they are being taken advantage of. Adam Grant referred to the 5 minute favor as an easy way to pay it forward.

Leaders Listen – They listen to what’s around them, analyze what is being said, and (what really sets them apart) they respond, take action, and do something about what they’ve heard. Carolyn Everson, Global CMO of Facebook, spoke about how Facebook’s initial attempts at their mobile applications were terrible because they weren’t listening. Mobile hadn’t been their focus, but it was the focus of their consumers. Once they started listening to the insights they were getting, the usability and functionality of their mobile app became a priority.

Leaders Are Focused – In a world of massive amounts of content and noise, leaders can stay focused. They know what their goals are and how to work towards them. Jim Collins touched briefly on his concept of not working on more than 10 things at once. This technique helps leaders maintain focus when the world (specifically the business world) becomes more and more demanding.

Leaders Have Hard Conversations – Our society is creating an environment where empathy is Queen and sensitivity is King. Leaders know how to have the hard conversations – they give quality feedback, they speak honestly, and they don’t sugar-coat what needs to be said in order for their employees (and their company) to thrive. George Kohlrieser, an ex-hostage negotiator, spoke about his skill set and how it’s applicable in those conversations. He recommends leaders put the fish on the table – whatever the topic, just get it out there.

PS – if you don’t know who Stephen Ritz is, check him out. His Ted Talk doesn’t truly show his energy or passion, but it shares his story – and it’s one worth hearing.

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Guest Post by Kate Jones

Kate Jones

Kate co-leads the team at MB3. As a long time Account Exec, she has managed a variety of clients, from local Mom and Pops to giant Global Brands, working on both planning and creative sides. With more than 15 years of experience in both traditional and new media, Kate offers a holistic view and elevates client conversations from a simple site to robust piece of a client’s marketing plan.