Nancy Koehn
Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

What makes a great leader?

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Using your strengths and your weaknesses.

Nancy Koehn

Nancy F. Koehn, an authority on entrepreneurial history, is the James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Koehn's research focuses on leading in turbulent times and the social and economic impact of entrepreneurship.

She is currently working on a book about the most important leadership lessons from Abraham Lincoln and another on social entrepreneurs.  Her upcoming book, The Story of American Business:  From the Pages of the New York Times (2009), sketches some of the most important people and moments from the last 150 years of U.S. business history.  Koehn's most recent book, Brand New: How Entrepreneurs Earned Consumers' Trust from Wedgwood to Dell (2001) examined six entrepreneurial visionaries who have created powerful brands and best-of-class companies in moments of great change.

Koehn consults with many companies on a range of issues including leadership development, effective brand stewardship, and customer relationship management.


Question: What makes a great leader?

Nancy Koehn: There must be something initially there as there must be with all of us, right? We are born with gifts, and weaknesses, and vulnerabilities, and talents, and … you know, blue eyes or brown eyes, or short legs or long legs. We're born with a kind of, you know, stock of attributes, and that's true of all of us. I don't think that the shopping list for leaders is terribly specific. So I don't think that great leaders, or effective leaders, noteworthy leaders are born with, you know, with this particular concatenation of attributes. I think what determines whether a leader is effective is how they use not only their talents, their strengths, and their experiences that happened to them … that they come to along their journey, but also what they make of their failures, their own vulnerabilities, their own weaknesses. And finally a host of attributes that I think some leaders purposely, effectively cultivate as … .

Recorded On: 6/12/07