• Avy-Loren Cohen

Skills Great Business Leaders Possess Part 1

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

In all my years as a senior executive in leadership positions and as a business consultant and executive business performance coach working with seasoned executives from around the world and in various industries, I believe I have captured some of the key attributes that I have gleaned from these experiences in my 20 plus years of business experience.

My bottom line and succinct definition of a leader: Someone who produces/delivers results while being accountable/takes ownership and is constantly learning. As long as it is legal and within the framework of how the company functions, results are delivered — some the hard way, some the smarter way… depending on the level of experience of the leader/manager.


1. A person of Vision & Confidence

One of the most common traits of great leaders, good or bad, are those with vision. No matter how large or small, easy or difficult, vision in “combination” with passion to “inspire” your team (employees), will make them follow you — to some degree. This makes sense that a leader should have unwavering conviction of their vision for the future of the business, as it is their role to

Poor vision, tunnel vision, vision that is fickle, or a non-existent vision will cause leaders to fail. A leader’s job is to rally his/her team/employees around a clear vision — and the more realistic, measurable, simple and achievable the better the results will be.


2. Personal & Professional Integrity

You have probably heard this expression before “lead by example” for a good reason — because it is 100% true. You see this as a parent and also when you were a child and watched your parents doing things you thought were good or (unknowingly) bad. A leader must have a strong sense of integrity as part of his/her character. If the leader lacks character trait, regardless of most other aspects of a great leader — they will likely fail. The use of unethical or unbalanced and unreasonable decision-making or behaviour will reverse the image of a leader to that of a low life or worse. Another expression, do not remember who may have stated this, but it makes sense as it goes like this “ optics over ethics” does not (typically) blend well with successfully (earned) leadership.


3. A Caring Leader

Gone are the days where leaders stay in their office, gone are the days when leaders ignore the personal and profession well being and growth of their staff. In this generation of leadership in management, it is just the opposite — to a certain degree. It is all about being involved and committed. It is interesting as it bears some relationship to parenting. When you parent in a way by not acknowledging all the good, but focus on the negative or bad with corrective measure — this is not what is perceived as love or care, just (negative) criticism. With your staff it is somewhat similar in that you need to consider every one of your staff like one of the rowers on the rowing team, each person plays an essential role for everything to work right. So too is this with staff. Being a part of the team, understanding some personal issues that can affect their performance and attitude in the workplace is critical. Often leaders can possibly avert problem situations by being in touch with the team and working along side as the leader, while still garnering the wanted respect of a leader.

Good leaders also tend to be able to retain their staff longer than most, partly for the same reason. When you communicate and participate with staff you learn about their professional issues as well as personal such as the case of an employee who wishes to go back to school to earn a masters degree but can not afford it and is thinking of changing companies for a higher wage. When leaders partake in the team they can learn about such activities only by their caring involvement and as such, can work with staff on a strategy that would be mutually beneficial to the employees professional growth as well as the corporate objectives. In this example the leader realized the cost of a lost employee, the hiring of a new employee and the learning curve along with the associated training costs — and that is if the person stays, often multiple hires may be required. The leader in this situation was able to figure out that it made financial sense to work a program out so the employee ended up earning her degree and upon completion, be in line for a promotion as well. Her performance was stellar; her loyalty is solid — all by a leader who partook in the daily ongoing of the team in a caring manner.


4. Humble, Secure and Always Listening & Learning

A long time ago I was reading some article somewhere and I recall that there was a discussion between a senior executive in a company who was trying to convince an employee to apply for a more senior role in the company. Interestingly the subordinate felt that he was not qualified for the role (which he was), did not have enough education (which he did) and felt that the role was too ominous for him. The senior executive asked him why and the response he received basically explained how and why, in detail that the employee was not qualified for the job. The senior executive told the employee that, after hearing his long and detailed reasoning for his not being qualified — that in fact that was proof that he was qualified! Obviously the employee was confused and asked the executive to explain — yes, we are getting to the moral now… the executive explained, that the fact that he knew every detail, every nuance every aspect required for each and every responsibility of the role — right down to understanding the KPI’s — proved that he was qualified!

So what is the moral, leaders do not claim to know it all, don’t feel the need to prove they are superior to others and prefer to generally be in a state of continuous learning. This is a very strong personal attribute I strongly suggest that hiring people as well as leaders and aspiring leaders keep in mind. This reminds me of the “Dunning-Kruger effect”, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University. It is the observation that people who are ignorant or unskilled in a given domain tend to believe they are much more competent than they are.

The Dunning and Kruger chart competence versus confidence. When you have no expertise whatsoever (far lower left), all rational individuals recognize that. As Dunning and Kruger put it, “most people have no trouble identifying their inability to translate Slovenian proverbs, reconstruct a V-8 engine, or diagnose acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.”

I am not postulating that individuals who seek attention by proving their intelligence publicly are less than intelligent — I am simply stating that the preferable choice for a leader is the person who seeks not to tell what he knows, but listens to try to lean what he does know to learn more. My experience is that leaders are extremely curious, because they are always striving to lead and grow and push the marker further than last — but you cant do this without knowledge.


5. Active (Mindful) Listening Skills

Oddly enough, this point is a very interesting one — it is all about communication. But communication does not mean speaking at or to an individual(s). It also means that the person actively listens as well. After all, we humans were designed with two ears, two eyes and only one mouth — I only assume it was for a good reason. That stated, it is essential that a good leader be eloquent with their speak, yet capable to speak with anyone at almost any level — be it education, age, size, race, colour, sex, odour… you get the point. Clear and concise — succinctness is of great value however, being able to tell a great story (when appropriate) is also very valuable. The communication leader knows when to be passionate, or to be relaxed and knows when to listen and read his audience all the while… but knowing when to stop and just listen — that’s special as well. A fluid thinker, a mindful listener, a little humour and a strategic thought process are ingredients great leaders possess.


6. Leadership is a Privilege

In most cases, leaders who are humble, don’t let their ego get in the way and don’t behave arrogantly, tend to be leaders people like to follow. People love leaders whom they can trust, feel comfortable to be loyal to and as a result, have confidence in the leaders abilities and character — this is earned leadership. The best leaders are those who are leading as a privilege in that it is the team who welcomes his/her leadership and works to achieve the leaders vision. This forms a very productive company and corporate culture. Leaders who seek to lay blame when there is fault or failure or yell and/or demean their staff — tend not to last too long as a hired leader and instead, it is the staff that will eventually remain and a new leader will try once again.


7. A Balance of Emotional & Logical Thinking

Empathy, humility and kindness are traits of a great leader — not weakness. I do believe that there is a balance with emotions in business and have found that leaders who can balance “logical” thinking offset with “emotional intelligence” are typically the winners in most of the companies I have consulted for regardless of culture or geography. I have seen this with career leaders who are either married to their work more than their family or, those without family and value their career as his/her family and a measurement of success. When issues arise with staff such as family time, good health and respect for the other person — these leaders tend to brush this off as “humbug” like rhetoric and focus on the bottom line. While in the short to mid term this may work, mid to long term this will likely have a reverse effect by lower productivity, employee moral, increased sick days or absenteeism, random resignations and attrition of its clients due, in most cases, to poor customer satisfaction.


8. Collaboration & Transparency

Be authentic, open, be consistent and always be passionate about your work. In this ever-changing world, more successful leaders tend to be those, who like chameleon, have the ability to understand an evolving environment such that they can capitalize on these evolving trends and opportunities. The old model of leader typically would bark out their orders/demands, and expect their staff to jump and respond immediately without any input or feedback on their part. Today, this style typically leads to a less productive organization and a very disgruntled employee culture mentality. This has been especially present ever since Millennial’s have taken root in the work place, and especially so when working in more traditional work settings. The statement here is more about buy-in and collaboration versus dictation.


9. The Art of Prioritization, Organization & Delegation

I have found that in life and in business, individuals who are organized and know how to prioritize tend to get things done. The same can be said with leaders, they understand the importance of prioritization and organization as well as delegation in order to be productive and produce results. These leaders are so well focused, they rarely are seen to be off multitasking on multiple things, trying to get lots done — only to end up with mediocre results. Their philosophy is to “do it once, do it right and do it right for the right reason”. Everything has its time and place and they tend to always know where everything is and understand what the timing should be for each and every initiative, activity and decision.

What is so impressive, is that the leaders know how to delegate in such a way, that they not only get the job done right, but the individuals who are being delegated to — perform with zeal as they are often inspired by the leaders work ethics as well as the example as to how the leader consistently functions. It is something the employees seem to aspire to become and as a result, they respect the leader and seek to learn from his/her work style. Disciplined leaders tend to inspire and positively affect their subordinates/team to follow in the same suit — this makes for a successful work environment, a long term tenure as a leader with a great future and a productive typically profitable company to boot.


10. Leading the Charge Towards Future Growth

There is another old saying, “you are only as good as your last sale”. A very common expression for those in the world of sales and are thinking about their value to a company. In this case, sales people who constantly strive and thrive in selling and making profits for the company have job security — usually… but the laggards, well…. maybe not so much. The same moral works for a leader. The leaders role is to lead — where? Into the future of course. This means that by definition the leadership mentality is to constantly looking forward, seeking growth, looking for the next opportunity while managing the day to day bread and butter of the business. Keeping their eyes on the ball is so important, but equally is to seek where the ball is going to come from in the future.

Many people have commented about this aspect of greatness, which brings to mind of one special (Canadian) Hockey player referred to as “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky. Aside from obvious talent, hard work, practice, focus etc. I recall hearing Gretzky comment, or at least someone close to him, that what made him so great was his ability to see a play (scoring opportunity) come before even happening and as a result, was always there the right time to make a goal. So too does this apply to any leader — by leading change, innovation, disruption and the prospect for a dynamic corporate fluid growth.



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