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The characteristics of a successful leader

Courage, fearlessness, empathy, and analytical sense, these are the characteristics of a successful leader say Dalia Grybauskait?, President of Lithuania (2009-2019), Chair Emerita of the Council of Women World Leaders (2014-2019), and Oby Ezekwesili, Presidential Candidate (2019) Nigeria, during the “Lessons of Leadership” session of the Reykjavik Global Forum – Women Leaders on 19th November 2019.

Since President Dalia Grybauskait? came into office in the middle of a though financial crisis, she was forced to take on exaggerated responsibility, requiring her to fearlessly take on immense challenges. She admitted that at times, it was not easy as her courage was tested all the time and by everyone. 

Minister Oby Ezekwesili emphasises the importance of empathyof being able to put yourself in the shoes of someone in a situation that you find unacceptable. Fearlessness and analytical sense are crucial as well as the fact that a good leader must set aside the privilege that may lead you to ignore other people’s struggles. 

Laura Liswoods, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, moderator of the session recites Howard Garder’s four traits of great leaders: “All have a true north or sense of values, willingness to challenge authority, they use their voices, and are willing to travel outside of their own world view.” Both Grybauskait? and Ezekwesili exemplify these traits in their own lives and careers, commented Linswood.

The session also looked at whether women and men in leadership evaluated differently.

Ezekwesili says that men and women are evaluated differently and that people tend to delegitimize female leadership. “This is not purposeful but society is not used to women in leadership yet,” adds Ezekwesili. This is clear by looking at the numbers of female leaders. For Ezekwesili a key recommendation is to change society so that future generations will not harbor the same kinds of doubts. On the other hand, Grybauskait? has observed that during difficult times more women end up in power and take more responsibility because they are willing. Is this a tendency? We don’t know yet but, at least in the case of Lithuania, in peacetime there tend to be significantly less women leaders.

Both women also mention the importance of knowing how to handle criticism in constructive ways. If improvements need to be made, a leader can make changes but if the criticism is not constructive it must be ignored. Further, Ezekwesili says that it is important that you can be vulnerable with those close to you if criticism hurts, and that leaders should still be allowed to cry even if they are in positions of power. 

In “Lessons of Leadership” Ezekwesili and Grybauskait? used their experiences as women leaders to recount some of the challenges and highlights they have faced as well as offered advice to current and future women leaders. 

— On November 19th, “Lessons of Leadership” took place. It was moderated by Laura Liswoods, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders and hosted Dalia Grybauskait?, President of Lithuania (2009-2019), Chair Emerita of the Council of Women World Leaders (2014-2019), Member of the Council of Women World Leaders and Oby Ezekwesili, Presidential Candidate (2019), Minister of Education (2006-2007), and Minister of Solid Minerals (2005-2006), Nigeria; Vice-President for Africa at the World Bank (2007-2012) as conversationists.