The Three Revolutionary Traits of Today’s Leaders

iStock_000016760701XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

This year, the Council of Urban Professionals (CUP) is seeking to recognize change agents who have flown under the radar in the past. With the first ever CUP Catalysts: Change Agents 2012 awards, CUP will honor women and people of color who hold significant leadership positions in their organizations, and have given back to their communities in a big way as well.

Chloe Drew, Executive Director of CUP, explained, “We are committed every day to bringing more diversity to the business table. Considering the shifting demographics of the United States, we’re in the business of preparing the succession plan for the next generation of leaders.”

The award will recognize people between the ages of 35 and 50, who have met with “extraordinary professional success” and demonstrated a “commitment to community leadership.” Three individuals in financial services, law, and media & entertainment will be recognized.

Drew believes the character of leadership is changing. Here are her “big three” traits embodied by today’s leading change agents.

What Leaders Do

What makes leaders different? Drew outlined three specific ways today’s vision of leadership is changing.

1. Bringing Others Along

“What I think is unique to the 35 to 50 year old leaders I really see around me – both women and people of color – is a real sense of the collective,” Drew began. “There’s this sense of leaning in.”

For example, when it comes to the tired myth that women don’t help each other, Drew explained, “I haven’t experienced that at all. Most of the women leaders I know would say the same thing, and I think the same thing goes for people of color. I think leaders have a sense that they’re not going to become more powerful unless they bring other people along with them.”

2. Being the Change

Drew continued, “The second thing is the business of ‘being the change.’ I think we recognize the extent of self imposed barriers and obstacles.”

As today’s leaders become aware of their own capability, they work to embody the changes they wish to see in the world. “You have a strategy or vision for what leadership should look like, and you try to actualize that.”

3. Risking Enough to Fail

Finally, Drew said, today’s leaders are more willing than ever to take risks – knowing they may fail. “Not that they aren’t afraid to – and frankly, we do fall over sometimes.”

She pointed to a story shared by Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx. “Every day at the dinner table, her father would ask, ‘how did you fail today?’”

Taking risks means you’re bound to fail sometimes. But leaders won’t achieve big successes unless they take big risks. “If you’ve lived a really safe life, it’s not likely to be one marked by greatness,” she pointed out.

Change Agent Awards

CUP hopes that by recognizing leaders in the 35 to 50 crowd, our perceptions of what a leader looks like can expand. “When you see lists of leaders, it’s always the same women or always the same people of color,” she explained. “But just below them, there are real rock stars who are tremendously successful and giving back to their communities in amazing ways.”

“We want to bring exposure to the next stable of leaders. Those are the superstars we can bring exposure to through this award.”

Drew envisions a broader ripple effect. By shining a spotlight on more diverse models of leadership, more women and people of color can see themselves as leaders as well.

“We want people to own their ambition and own their leadership and say, ‘Yes, I’m in charge and give back because I’m so grateful to be in leadership.’ We want to see women and people of color owning all they’re doing to pull the people up around them.”

She added that she is excited about the potential of the awards going forward, to create an archive of diverse leaders, who could be used as expert sources in the media, for example. “This list can really come alive,” Drew said.

Nominations for CUP Catalysts: Change Agents 2012 | Finance are open until September 6, 2012. If you wish to nominate a leader in finance who inspires you, click here.