Leadership skills are comprised of a number of different qualities and characteristics. The best business leaders in the world, however, tend to share some very particular traits. Starting with these…
1. They Know When And When Not To Freak Out
The best leaders never have smoke coming from their ears unless lighting a fire under someone’s ass is absolutely necessary. This is achieved from a healthy blend of experience, intelligence, common sense, trust, and an ability to frame things within the big picture. When a leader illustrates an appearance of imbalanced judgement and instability, it breeds a culture of frustration and insecurity; two of the biggest killers of ambition and innovation.
2. They Don’t Get Distracted
The best business leaders are not the ones fidgeting with their phones in meetings, checking Facebook between emails, and bantering about nonsense over instant messenger. When they are supposed to be listening, they are listening; when they are supposed to be learning, they are learning; when they are supposed to be doing, they are doing, and they are doing it with undivided attention. Millennial upbringing or not, there is little room for rubbernecking when you’re steering the ship.
3. They Get Up Early And They Get Going Fast
There’s no hitting the snooze six times, then slowly crawling out of bed, then dragging heels to the office, then hiding from conversations, holding off meetings and hating mornings. The best leaders are actually “Up and at ‘em,” and there are almost no time constraints for the “up” and very few psychological constraints for the “at ‘em.” Leaders do their best to defy the laws of time; loafers love complaining about jetlag.
4. They Are Specialists In Communication
The best business leaders are exceptional at the art of Articulating Anything To Anyone. It starts with an understanding of audience—the motivations to which they respond, the issues they face, and the “language” they speak—and it ends with, at the very least, understanding, and at the very best, inspiration. From one-on-ones and large presentations to PowerPoint slides and update emails, there is never a time when a good leader takes the exchange of information for granted. And of course, there are two halves to good communication…
5. They Listen To Everyone
They don’t just listen to their direct peers, or just their direct reports, or just their bosses, or just their board; the best business leaders listen to everybody in the organization who offers an educated or experience-based perspective on their product or service (sometimes, for efficiency, in the form of single persons representing collective stakeholder positions). They may not always listen for long, but they listen. To great leaders, very few sources of human input are irrelevant, even if what those sources say turns out to be irrelevant.
6. They Always Ask “Why?”
We may find it exhausting when children peppers us with endless strings of “Why”s as we try our best to intelligently explain the bigger picture of every big picture, but of all their zany habits, that one is probably their most productive. Great business leaders are the same way. It is not incredulity or distrust that drives this practice, but a wise dose of skepticism and a conditioning to be infinitely inquisitive so as to never miss an opportunity for improvement.
7. They’re Always Optimizing
Sure, things often could be “good enough” or even “excellent.” Even more often, however, things “could be better.” In fact, to the best business leaders, things almost always could be better. This is not to say that they do not appreciate stability or appropriately exploit the fruits of an exceptional delivery; it is simply to say that in the minds of the best business leaders, in order to be the best and stay the best, “Perfection” is just as elusive as it is compulsory.
8. They’re Not Afraid Of Details
Great business leaders don’t live in the weeds, but they are perfectly happy to frolic among them when they recognize that understanding only the high-level is too low a bar. On a day-to-day basis, leaders at certain levels and in certain faculties must maintain a longer strategic vision than the average person specializing in the nitty gritty, marginal victories. In addition to having the aforementioned thirst for knowledge, however, the best business leaders cultivate collaborative cultures; understanding the importance of working “hand in hand,” they are almost always willing to roll up their sleeves.
9. They Know A Bit About Everything
Through their effective communications practices, their constant curiosity, and their interest in immersive engagement, the best business leaders are walking Wikipedias for all the fundamental variables in their organization. In some areas their knowledge will be deep, while in others it will be shallow; their overall awareness of the key “what”s, “why”s, “where”s, “how”s and “who”s, however, is always closing in on comprehensive.
10. They’re Painfully Honest
The best business leaders are diplomatic and respectful (remember, their communication skills are highly refined), but because they are ultimately driving a business with a bottom line, they have few reservations prioritizing productivity and progress over transparent pleasantries and the padding of professional emotions. They are well aware of what their colleagues want to hear for the sake of their egos, but they are more firmly committed to what their colleagues need to hear for the sake of their growth. The best business leaders are masters in the art of tough love.
11. They Know Their Limits, And Everyone Else’s Strengths
Because of their commitment to honesty—and of course to the success of their company—the best business leaders have developed an extraordinary talent for picking and trusting the right people to handle the right things. They are excellent judges of character and capability, and although they have a great deal of control over the wheel, they know how important it is to stay in their own lane. The best business leaders are team players, but even more so, they are coaches—and good coaches know how to set up their players to make the big plays.
Ben is a Toronto-based writer and public speaker with more than a soft spot for 90s hip hop. He has spent over 10 years in business & tech, more than 20 in the arts, and an entire lifetime in a state of perpetual judgment (highly recommended). He is the author of the blogs This Is Your Brain on Dating and Love Gone Cray and can be found pontificating on Thought Catalog, Notable.ca, The Toronto Standard, Offline Magazine, Gasm.org and Huffington Post.
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