The 3 most important qualities in a leader according to an aviation CEO

Jon Damush is a graduate of UCI Paul Merage School of Business and the current CEO of Iris Automation, a commercial drone safety technology firm. Based on his experience as a CEO, he reveals the three main traits that all leaders need to succeed.

In short

1. Empathy

According to Jon, a graduate of UCI Paul Merage School of Business, having the ability to understand how your colleagues, co-workers, and customers are feeling is the first leadership quality you’ll need. In other words: empathy. As with many aspects of leadership, it’s something you can work on throughout your life and career.

“If you can’t feel what your people are feeling, what your customer is feeling or what your partners are feeling, you’re probably not going to be that successful in finding a path forward together,” says Jon. “So you have to be empathetic.” (17:49)

Without the ability to empathize, you’ll be unable to work effectively as a team. After all, if you don’t know what your colleagues are thinking, how can you know you’re on the same wavelength? The same goes for your relationship with your team. It’s important to be aware of their thoughts, their feelings, and even their frustrations, to be able to maintain a healthy relationship with them.

Empathy is also important for understanding your customers. The best businesses know their customer inside out and deliver a product or service that meets their exact needs. Learn empathy and understand your customer – and only then can you start to learn leadership.

2. Authenticity

Anyone can learn to be an effective leader if they have the right tools at their disposal.

It’s why leadership programs are commonplace at business schools, and why they tend to be an integral part of any MBA or business master’s program. They will teach you a range of things about how to improve your leadership skills – yet one of the most important leadership qualities lies within yourself.

“A lot of young professionals think they need to look a certain way, think they need to present a certain way and shouldn’t be themselves,” says Jon. “When you’re authentic – good or bad, success or failure – it’s your authentic reaction and presentation of that which makes a tremendous difference to your relationship with people.” (18:07)

The world of business has its own conventions, rules, and cultures, all of which determine your behavior in the workplace. So sometimes it can be difficult to cast all that aside and truly be yourself. But, authenticity is vital if you want to stand out as a great leader.

“I’ve been able to learn that over time and maybe if I had known it a little earlier then who knows what would have happened,” adds Jon. (18:31)

3. Communication

The final leadership quality brings everything together. You might be empathetic and you might be able to truly understand what your colleagues and customers are thinking. You might also have learned to be an authentic version of yourself, with all of the benefits that come with that.

However, without the ability to communicate with people, you’ll never be an effective leader. Communication brings together all of the different facets of great leadership, binding them together and ensuring your message never gets lost. Ultimately, leadership isn’t about managing people. It’s about working with people to achieve the greatest outcome.

“It’s these things (authenticity, empathy, communication) that are the foundations of building relationships with people,” says Jon. “At the end of the day, none of us can do any of these challenging or innovative or big things alone. It’s always as part of a team, and the way that a team works together is what separates the businesses that achieve amazing things from the also-rans.” (18:42)

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