Six traits of great business leaders

Tony Featherstone

Imagine you’re asked to build a prototype of tomorrow’s successful business leader. From scratch. Where would you start, and end?

Would your business star be a charismatic, creative, inspiring free thinker who wears jeans and a T-shirt, or a pin-striped, corporate controller who eats detail for breakfast?

Would he or she have high emotional intelligence and live and breathe corporate social responsibility, or be a money-making machine who churns out every last dollar?

The truth is, there’s no blueprint for business success. The key is having some core qualities and being able to adapt to any situation.

Here are six critical traits of successful business leaders:

Courage unlimited

Every business leader is “courageous” in hindsight, when a deal succeeds. The truly courageous range from the entrepreneur who risks everything, to the innovator who stares down the non-believers, to the change agent who takes career risks and fixes the unfixable.

Andrew Forrest’s courage in building a giant iron ore business (Fortescue Metals Group) when many said it could not be done is a shining example.

Great business leaders have a knack for self-reflection. They think deeply about what worked, what did not, how they performed and where to improve.

Stamina, or how to climb the multi-year hump  

All successful business people say they work hard. But hard work is not just about a few big days, weeks, months or even years. It’s about working flat-out, under extreme pressure, year-in, year-out, in an almost obsessive pursuit of that Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly sends emails at 4.30am. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos worked 12-hour days, seven days a week when the online retailer launched. Legendary basketballer Michael Jordan practised his jump shots hundreds of time each day in pursuit of perfection.

It’s just a flesh wound … the art of resilience

Possibly the key quality of successful business leaders is the ability to bounce back, get off the canvas, dust themselves off ... call it what you will.

Everybody fails at some point. Great business leaders push through failure, learn from it, and emerge stronger. Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond once said his best learning experience came from business failure and the resilience it developed.

Leopards do change their spots

Ever notice how great business leaders adapt? The late Steve Jobs was Apple’s creative visionary and its relentless business builder. Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson is the charismatic salesman and ruthless business man.

Truly great leaders change their style according to the circumstance: they can be introverted or extroverted; creative or detail focused; empowering or brutally single-minded. Most business people tend to be one or the other; great business leaders use their high emotional intelligence to adapt effortlessly to the situation.

Everybody fails at some point. Great business leaders push through failure, learn from it, and emerge stronger.

Inject your gut (feel) with facts and figures

Some entrepreneurs make decisions based on intuition or a hunch. Other corporate types rely mostly on facts and figures, or rational decision making. Great business leaders do both: they use their sharply honed instinct and test it with the detail (or hire people who can).

Being able to slip from instinctive decision making to hard facts and analysis is a rare skill. Freelancer’s Matt Barrie is a good example: he combines natural entrepreneurial flair with the detail-focused grind of building a star business, step-by-step.

Go to the instinct gym

Great business leaders have a knack for self-reflection. They think deeply about what worked, what did not, how they performed and where to improve. Research from the famed US psychologist, Gary Klein, suggests self-reflection is a key to building intuition. It’s like going to a mental gym for your gut instinct. Self-reflection builds strong self-awareness and an acute understanding of strength and weaknesses.

So take five minutes at the end of the week to jot down what worked well and how you could have handled situations differently. Over time, you’ll develop a six-pack of intuition.

Tony Featherstone

Tony Featherstone is a former managing editor or BRW and Shares magazines.

PARTNER CONTENT
How to maximise the freedom and flexibility of your business

Technological acceleration has seen business owners aim to combine a versatile lifestyle with their professional ambitions.

×