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Jacqueline Novogratz on what makes a good leader

Jaqueline Novogratz on the qualities of a good leader
February 09, 2016


Leadership takes many forms. It’s more than just academic honors and professional excellence.  We need leaders who are daring enough to examine themselves and confront their own deepest truths. Last month, Acumen’s Founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz sat down with Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach for All and Founder of Teach for America, for a conversation on 21st century leadership.

So what are the character qualities of a good leader? For Jacqueline, it’s all about acting big, exercising moral imagination, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Dare to speak about yourself 

Build the skills to understand not only your personal identities but also those of others. Jacqueline believes if we can embrace the diversity in others—and ourselves—we’ll be much better at building solutions.
"Can you dare to speak the truth about yourself?"

Embrace moral imagination 

Moral imagination is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and build solutions from their perspective. This is a skill Jacqueline says is “too often lacking” in the leaders we see today.

Be brave 

You need to build the courage to back up your thinking and stay the course. Often this kind of bravery comes at a cost or great personal risk, but if you believe your ideas are right, you must say out loud what no one else will.
"Say out loud what no one else will"

Have faith

It doesn’t have to be religious faith but, if you don’t believe that you can make the world better, you won’t.
"What are the practices and rituals that enable you to create change?"

Act big 

Jacqueline finds people who want to change the world too often think small. They talk big but act small. Give yourself permission to act audaciously. Build confidence by doing one thing that scares you every day, week or month.

Get comfortable with discomfort 

Adaptive leadership is meant to take you out of your comfort zone.  You might need to go far out that it can feel like the antithesis of confidence-building. However, to make change, you have to be willing to make yourself uncomfortable. If you want to understand others, you first have to understand yourself.

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Winnie Sun

Winnie Sun

Winnie Sun is an Innovation Associate at Acumen Academy based in London. Her favorite courses are Dan Ariely on Changing Customer Behavior and Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail.