By: Jonathan Riggs | Tuck School of Business Posted: May 27th, 2014

We all have different ideas of what makes for a strong leader, but what really takes people—women especially—to the top? Elyse Allan D’79 T’84, president and CEO of GE Canada, shares the five capability areas that can boost a good leader up to the next level.

1. External Focus

During the summers from when I was 14 until I was 19, I was a waitress, which taught me how important it was to manage the environment, understand the market and customer, and deliver the value proposition. I’ve never lost that idea and I still think that’s the basis of marketing and its most simplistic. If you aren’t aware of your external environment or don’t understand all the broad stakeholders, you will miss all your opportunities and options. Remember, though: the dynamics of the external market are much broader and wider than in previous years.

2. Clear Thinking

At GE, we’re saying more and more, it’s a figure-it-out world—you cannot have all the pieces laid out in front of you. You have to have the clarity of thinking to understand what are the outcomes and then to articulate them so that your team doesn’t become distracted by the noise and ambiguity. There will always be challenges and uncertainties around the world so you have to figure out what to do next with imperfect information, more so than ever before.

3. Imagination & Courage

I don’t think imagination is usually the problem—I want to focus on the courage to articulate your ideas. If you’re brilliant but never articulate your ideas, that’s a problem and I’m sorry to say it happens too often with women. As a leader, you have to recognize there might be cultural differences as well that prevent people from speaking up. Leaders should think through the dynamics they want to establish to bring out everyone’s ideas; otherwise, all the benefits of diversity get lost. To help others find their courage, however, you have to find your own. While you’re at Tuck, challenge each other to speak up, to become engaged in discussions. Even more than that, challenge yourself to find the courage to be happy and fight for it.

4. Collaboration

If we want to get stuff done, it’s all about collaboration. But there’s so much noise now, you can easily get distracted having too many people—or even the wrong people—at the table. Be thoughtful about whom you collaborate with: who can impact the group, who can leverage, who has a voice, who can influence. Then, you have to bring the group together and facilitate that collaboration with authenticity and respect. You have to genuinely want to hear from people around the table to gain the benefit of the diverse voices you will hear.

5. Expertise

In addition to assembling a team that brings all different perspectives to the table, you have to recognize and respect the expertise other people have. That goes for everyone, not just the top person. Remember, too, that people have hidden talents and skills they may never have been asked about but could prove helpful. When you’re leading a team, really get to know the people and their varied expertise—you never know how you might be able to use it.


Empowering women, cultivating diverse voices, and creating a more enlightened corporate culture were the underpinning themes of the Tuck Initiative for Women and its inaugural symposium on May 1 & 2, 2014. Elyse Allan D’79 T’84, president and CEO of GE Canada, delivered the keynote speech describing the five capability areas everyone—but women especially—can benefit from an increased focus.

Tuck Executive Education offers several opportunities for women executives, including the Smith-Tuck Program for Global Leaders, the Tuck-WBENC program, as well as others opportunities in several of our Open Enrollment programs.

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