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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

No different than during the advent of the printing press, the steam engine and electricity, we're living in a time of fundamental change. The unprecedented pace of technology adoption and its limitless capacity to redefine how we solve problems, entertain, educate, transact business and form social connections is nothing short of revolutionary.

The telecommunications industry is on the vanguard of this change. When I look to my leadership team, or consider promoting new leaders, there are five key capabilities that are important to me, and, I would argue, universal to business. Regardless of industry or company size, I believe they set exceptional leaders apart from average ones. They are:

1. The ability to zoom

A former boss was fond of saying: "From 30,000 feet, a bear and a possum look about the same."

Leaders need to be forever running a filter in their minds: What is truly important, and what is truly important for them to focus on intensely. The distinction between these two is essential. There are some important things they should focus on, and other important things someone else should focus on.

Leaders have to choose the places where they can have the biggest impact. They need to decide on key areas of focus, and then zoom in on those specific issues or projects, moving from overseeing to being more hands-on and working in closer proximity to the core team.

And then they need another essential ability: to zoom out when it's time – yet still support the team in moving forward.

2. The ability to lead in a complex environment

Telecommunications is inherently complex. It's a network business, a solutions business, an entertainment business, a communications business, a security business, an outsourcing business, a retail business – I can keep going.

Any organization in this environment must live in a matrix structure and function well with both internal and external partners. A "command-and-control" structure, in which a leader simply sets the direction and controls execution, is a relic of the past.

We look for leaders who are good at getting things done without direct authority. Do they have good ideas? Can they build support for their ideas? Can they marshal resources from those who don't work for them directly?

If they are able to make good things happen by engaging teams from customer service, to sales and marketing, to IT and Web strategy, to human resources, then they have one of the most important attributes of a leader. Today, everything is integrated and interdependent.

3. An exceptional ability to communicate

Someone once told me that as a senior leader you actually don't have a lot of direct authority. It's a provocative thing to say. But it's true.

You can redraw an organization chart, you can hire and fire. But what truly has an impact on a company's culture are the cues or symbols people take away from you because they reflect what you believe is important. And I believe unequivocally that generous, strategic and heartfelt communication is a leader's most important tool.

Look at Churchill, one of the greatest communicators of the past 100 years. I think about his task during the Second World War, giving hope to a whole nation in the middle of an incredibly fearful and tumultuous time.

Churchill would sit in his tub and dictate speeches while his assistant sat outside the bathroom on the floor. The prime minister was a bit of an odd duck, but that didn't take away from the fact that he gave such consideration and weight to his words of encouragement that were meant to elevate people who were going through daily bombings and facing fear that we can't imagine. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 for a reason.

Communication is important because it sets the tone, it tells people what is important, it can galvanize. How to do it well is a challenge for people to trying to get to the next level. Those who can master it tend to see greater results as leaders, and in their careers.

4. The ability to learn and to teach

Most leaders know their business. They live it, breathe it. They can stand up and talk about it, strategically, tactically, financially, operationally. This is table stakes.

Today, leaders have to absorb information quickly because the environment changes so fast. One technology decision, one regulatory decision, a critical customer experience issue, and your business can change dramatically. Unless you're able to learn and adapt, you're going to struggle. Leaders must have an unquenchable thirst for deeper insight. They must be natural teachers and draw satisfaction from sharing what they know.

5. Be authentic

You can call it integrity or "values-based leadership," but the essence of humanity is authenticity, the ability to be straightforward, to act and speak without guile, to consistently act with awareness, kindness and compassion.

Authenticity is the No. 1 quality I value in the people around me. They are self-aware, humble and stay true to their values regardless of the challenges at hand. Without authenticity, your team is like a house with a poor foundation. It won't stand the test of winds or time.

Leaders hire slowly and carefully, and surround themselves with only the best. Great talent with the wrong values will be like vampires on your team, and will drain your corporate culture. Talent in combination with the right values will create an enviable culture and results for your business that your competitors can't begin to copy.

Joe Natale is executive vice-president and chief commercial officer at Telus Corp.(@TELUS).

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