Premier 100 honorees tell us: What makes an exceptional leader?

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Premier100 Honorees tell us: What makes an Exceptional Leader?
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Michael Agens, 32

Support services and systems integration manager

Linens 'n Things

Clifton, N.J.

"An exceptional leader is a leader who not only leads through experience, but leads by listening."

Pam Armstrong, 41

Senior manager, IT

City Utilities of Springfield

Springfield, Mo.

"Belief in others' ability to draw people together for the good of the whole, building people, building teams -- these are attributes of an exceptional leader. To be able to draw all of the best components of each member to collectively accomplish phenomenal things is a characteristic of an exceptional leader. Exceptional leaders must have a clear vision yet be able to listen and modify and incorporate new ideas into the vision. They must be able to support and fight with passion for their position and for their team and the team's vision. Exceptional leaders must be able to elicit the best from those they surround themselves with."

Brett Arquette, 41


Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida


"Someone who understands that if we all lived in the caveman days, what we do at work would be referred to as hunting and gathering. We work for money, so we can buy shelter clothes and food for our families and maybe try to eke out a little fun on the side. An exceptional leader understands that what we do is simply a job and what really makes a well-rounded employee is a person who loves coming into work but whose real life starts when they shut off their computer and go home at night. An exceptional leader is able to get the most out of their staff and get the job done quickly and correctly so everyone can go home and live the important parts of their lives. Sometimes 'please' and 'thank you' can fill an emotional void that a bushel of money can't."

Sunny Balijepalli, 31

Vice president for technology, co-founder Inc.

Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

"Several factors contribute to how successful you are as a leader. First and foremost are your abilities, skills, knowledge and experience. Next is getting the respect and trust of the people you are leading. They have got to respect your abilities and judgment. They also have to trust the decisions you make. Additionally, they need to trust that you have the organization as well as their best individual interests in mind when making those decisions. Another factor is confidence -- you have got to have the self-confidence and belief in your abilities and decisions. You then have to successfully project that to the people you are leading. Finally, you need the ability to take risks. Successful leaders know when to take risks and what their risk tolerances are. They know when to stay on the leading edge and when to be on the bleeding edge."

Joe Baron, 40

Network technology architect

The Prudential Insurance Company of America

Roseland, N.J.

"Exceptional leaders listen to their customers and staff. They aren't afraid to make difficult or unpopular decisions but are primarily focused on making the best decisions they can. Exceptional leaders have earned the respect of their peers, partners and staff. They know that the only constant in this world is change and have the wisdom to know when to resist it and when to embrace it. Exceptional leaders believe in the decisions they make and inspire others by their actions."

B. Keith Bearden, 39

Director of information services, CIO

A-dec Inc.

Newberg, Ore.

"An exceptional leader is many things. First of all, they have the ability to see the big picture. You hear this a lot, but what it means to me is that the person understands the needs of the business and has the ability to see where the company is currently and understand or fathom the difference between the current state and the desired state. After defining this gap between the current and the future, a leader is also one who can ascertain the steps necessary to get to the goal. Leaders don't hesitate to surround themselves with talented people -- in some cases, people more talented than themselves. Exceptional leaders aren't threatened by talent but look for ways to use that talented individual for the betterment of the company and the individual, thereby also resulting in the betterment of the leader. An exceptional leader is also someone who has the ability to mentor and develop people."

Dick Bennett, 51

Senior vice president, audit services, CTO

ABC Interactive

Rolling Meadows, Ill.

"Someone who is capable of recognizing bright people can challenge and motivate them, can step back and let them run with the ball, will not beat them up too hard for making mistakes and will allow them to be recognized for their achievements."

Roger Berry, 52

Senior vice president, CIO

Walt Disney World

Lake Buena Vista, Fla.,

"I've seen, worked for and with people I consider to be exceptional leaders. They've all had a different mix of qualities and personality and all had different styles and approaches to leadership. I guess I'd condense my concepts and profile of an exceptional leader into the sustained ability to inspire and engage the creative thought, passion, experience, energy and willingness of people to work together to achieve a common vision."

Bob Bickel, 44

CTO, middleware

Hewlett-Packard Co.

Mt. Laurel, N.J.

"Has the ability to articulate a clear vision and to get the most out of people, both individually and collectively. My approach is getting people to take responsibility, feel ownership and deliver to that. Has integrity -- someone whom people will believe in."

Gwendolyn Boddie, 41

Director, e-commerce and data management

Springs Industries Inc.

Fort Mill, S.C.

"An exceptional leader is an exceptional follower. This is a person of vision who has the skills needed to empower and support others in the execution of that vision."

Ronald Boeving, 59

Vice president, IS

First Health Group Corp.

Downers Grove, Ill.

"I am a leader who uses consensus. I realize I am not the top expert in all matters and make every effort to drive decisions down to the level where there is the most expertise. At the same time, I realize I am in the best position to have the vision and the perspective of the longer range and the greater enterprise, and I therefore reserve those decisions for myself. I nevertheless must sell these decisions to my staff and the business leaders of this company. I am successful in this company because I sell ideas and technical decisions based on their impact on the business and creating opportunities for the business. Most importantly, when I sell, I sell in the language of this business using those factors and strategies that are most important to the company."

Mark H. Brooks, 41

Projects team manger


Charlotte, N.C.

"High energy -- a basic requirement. Internal strength -- another basic requirement. Exceptional integrity to build trust and influence others. A "servant" attitude, especially with talented professionals; use your abilities to help those who work for you to succeed using their own creativity and energy."

Stephen F. Brown, 45

Executive vice president, CIO

Tenet Healthcare Corp.


"The ability to see an opportunity and then create a compelling vision that allows others to understand the opportunity and see how to take logical steps to make that opportunity become real."

Barbara Buechner, 47

Senior manager, information security

Merck Medco Managed Care LLC

Fair Lawn, N.J.

"Someone who leads by example, has integrity and can motivate others to achieve their highest potential."

Cora L. Carmody, 44

Vice president, CIO

Invensys Software Systems

Herndon, Va.

"Exceptional leaders care about their people. They aren't afraid to love or be loved. Exceptional leaders listen patiently but are not afraid to provide tough feedback or guidance, and challenge you to do the impossible, believing every step of the way that you can, and you do. Leadership is about altering what you believe is impossible. Exceptional leaders practice what they preach, model the way every person should act. Exceptional leaders push the envelope, boldly going where no man has gone before. Exceptional leaders possess a vision of a future that will be improved through the work their people do and communicate this to them by painting a compelling picture through words and emotions."

Robert B. Carter, 42

Executive vice president, CIO

FedEx Corp.


"Courage. A balanced life. Great communication skills. And an unfailing respect for people."

Byrne Chapman, 45

Vice president, information services

American Family Mutual Insurance Co.

Madison, Wis.

"I believe an exceptional leader is someone who can balance their area of focus or expertise with broader business and people skills. An exceptional leader is also someone who has a can-do attitude and someone who can be trusted. Having the knowledge is critical. But exceptional leaders are those who can take their knowledge and tie it into the big picture. Exceptional leaders are also visionary and excellent communicators. By crafting a vision and communicating it, leaders are able to get their employees to work toward common goals. In doing so, an exceptional leader can steer their organization toward success."

Jim Connors,


William Blair & Co.


"The most important qualities for an exceptional leader are as follows: a strong vision and the ability to communicate it to others; the ability to get things accomplished through others; good listening skills; exceptional problem-solving capabilities; ability to be decisive yet fair; a good understanding of people and their motivations. And technology leaders must also have as good an understanding of the business as the technology."

Michael E. Cromar, 54

Vice president e-business and global business process

IBM Global Financing

Armonk, N.Y.

"Someone who justifiably believes in themselves and the people they lead. Commitment, energy and passion. A leader should be knowledgeable but must also be aware of what they don't have enough knowledge about. They have new ideas, and they accept and encourage new ideas from others. They are self aware. Exceptional leaders know they must earn the respect commitment and loyalty from their people. Decisiveness is a key element of earning that respect, but also showing respect, commitment and loyalty to the people they expect to lead and then to do it with unwavering integrity."

John DeAngelo,

Associate dean for IT

Temple University, The Fox School of Business and Management


"A leader has to have intelligence, passion, exceptional communication skills and a single-mindedness that sometimes approaches arrogance."

Fran Dramis, 53

CIO, chief e-commerce officer

BellSouth Corp.


"An exceptional leader is someone who provides for another individual or a group an element they don't have within themselves that will enable them to achieve a goal or objective. Sometimes what's missing is vision. Sometimes it's guts. Sometimes it's emotion. Sometimes it means courage. An exceptional leader probes and understands either within an organization or an individual what's missing and somehow provides that missing ingredient."

Mark Endry, 45

Senior vice president, CIO

J. D. Edwards & Co.


"I think exceptional leaders set clear direction, are consistent, communicate effectively, listen very effectively and exhibit the characteristics they expect others to demonstrate. They should assume the positive and check their assumptions. That is much more of a supportive approach than assuming the negative when issues arise. To be an effective leader, you need to have a plan that rolls out at a pace that stays ahead of people but doesn't lose them in the dust. People need to be able to see the successes at milestones along the way instead of focusing on what may seem like an impossible challenge represented by focusing simply on the end result."

Parvez K Erani, 46

Vice president, information management

St. Mary Medical Center

Long Beach, Calif.

"One who has patience to listen and appreciate. Recognizes and rewards people for their achievements. Encourages their staff to be the best to their ability. Is a teacher and mentor to the best of their own abilities. Very, very important is never to procrastinate."

Nick Farsi, 48

Senior vice president, CIO

Interland Inc.


"Exceptional leaders must start with a vision and then the development of strategies and tactical initiatives for their team in order to support the needs of the company. In addition, a great leader must place much emphasis on recruiting and retaining people with the right skills set and with the right values to deliver the highest quality products and services possible. It is imperative that their team be in line and support the company's corporate goals."

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