Common Characteristics of Leadership

Robin Solomon

February 25, 2019

Mr. Philip Fitzgerald, the current Director of Grantmaking at the Philadelphia Foundation, spoke to the Philadelphia Commons Institute about three common characteristics of good leadership that he has observed in others and seeks to continually cultivate within himself in his various leadership positions. The first characteristic was simply honesty. Honesty in leadership is extremely crucial as it points to the integrity of one’s character. Honesty is most evident through one’s interactions with others, and involves treating one’s subordinates and colleagues like adults, valuing them as they are, not treating them as any less. Additionally, offering constructive criticism and encouragement are also proper hallmarks of honesty that pay dividends within the working environment.

The second characteristic of good leadership was humility. Mr. Fitzgerald explained that humility within leadership involves sharing the spotlight, letting others shine where they work best, even if the actual leader become overshadowed. The goal is to balance the power dynamic, knowing when and how to correct any imbalances that may occur. Furthermore, it is important to have an ego, but to know how to correctly use it, keeping it in constant check. This may involve setting boundaries between one’s public and personal lives, respecting other’s time and private matters, and admitting one’s own mistakes and lack of knowledge or intelligence in certain areas or aspects. All this allows one to lead more effectually and efficiently, especially when working with a team of people.

Finally, the third characteristic of good leadership is to be inclusive. The ability to be inclusive involves trying to make everyone feel valued, giving everyone a chance to make their thoughts and ideas known. Not only is this beneficial for the team as a whole, but also for that person, specifically, as they feel that they are valuable contributors to the work or task at hand. Furthermore, inclusiveness also includes trying to consider all points of views, especially as it relates to the goal or the work at hand.  With all this, good leaders are able to lead from where they are. They do not necessarily need to be in a formal position of leadership, but can lead from whatever role they are given by being honest, humble, and inclusive.

Following this lecture, the first discussion question was specifically concerned with the juxtaposition of possessing an ego while being humble as mentioned during Mr. Fitzgerald’s explanation of humility as a characteristic of good leadership. Mr. Fitzgerald responded that having an ego shows that one thinks of oneself in the right sense, for example, as a guest speaker, he believed he had something important to say. The key is to keep one’s ego in check while in humility. In practicality, that means considering what others have to say as important as well. This again plays into the important ability to consider other people’s points of view and to show that they are valued.  The second discussion question concerned the seeming disingenuousness of being inclusive just for the sake of inclusiveness. Mr. Fitzgerald responded that ultimately, the desire to be inclusive must necessarily be conjugated with proper discernment and intelligence. For example, if one’s work is concerned with a specific kind of demographic, then every effort should be made to include some members of that demographic into the thinking process behind the work. It would be foolish (and characteristic of bad leadership) if the demographic that is related to the work at hand, is excluded from a process that directly involves them. At this point, the discussion took a different turn, and questions offered by the fellows focused more on the philanthropic side of Mr. Fitzgerald’s work, specifically by what criteria he decides the allocation of money. He explained that if it was his own money, he wants to see that the organization is for a good cause, not engaging in any illegal activities. If allocating someone else’s money, he wants to see the quality of the leadership (as well as their giving habits), the financial health of the organization, and the connections they have made with other organizations and partners.

Discussion Questions:

In light of the advice that one should have an ego while being humble as a leader, how does that particular juxtaposition work without contradicting each other?

How do you navigate the characteristic of inclusiveness while ensuring that one is not being disingenuously inclusive, just for the sake of inclusiveness?

Within your philanthropic work, by what criteria do you decide to give money to organizations?