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Good news: Your flaws are not fatal!

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

To round out your qualifications as a leader, you can fix almost any personal defect. Proof: Citigroup executive and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

Early in his career, Rubin used his skill in “probabilistic thinking,” a type of decision making based on weighing the odds, to land a job conducting arbitrage for Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. Rubin’s boss thought the young trader might run the firm someday, but for one weakness: Rubin was kind of a cold fish. He treated others brusquely, a typical trader’s flaw.

 An older partner told Rubin that if he wanted to move ahead, he ought to soften his style and consider his colleagues’ opinions. The criticism surprised Rubin, but he stayed open to change and shored up his weakness right away, as if it were easy. He became extremely adept at working with others, a trait characterized by an “Aw, shucks, I’m just another humble working peon” approach that comes off as genuine.

Not that he ever became warm and fuzzy. Years later, a staffer at Treasury blew off the idea of Rubin as a running mate for presidential candidate Al Gore by wisecracking that the two would fight over who had to kiss the babies.

Still, Rubin remade himself. He capped 26 years at Goldman by working beautifully with Steve Friedman as co-chief executives. While Rubin later came to believe that the odds of co-CEOs working together well are actually quite low, he and Friedman managed to iron out their rare disagreements amiably.

The secret: Honing his people skills since that formative kick in the pants, Rubin had taught himself to listen and entertain views contrary to his own.

— Adapted from “The Larger-Than-Life Life of Robert Rubin,” Carol J. Loomis, Fortune.

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