Qualities of Potential Business Leaders

Inspite of all the rhetoric about leadership bench strength, a robust pipeline and smooth leadership succession many corporate organizations still do not have a specific process in place for identifying high potential employees and grooming them for leadership positions. In his book “The Leadership Engine”, Noel Tichy right in the introduction postulates, “The companies that win will be those that build or maintain a steady focus on developing leaders at all levels of the company.”

Enunciated here are five qualities which would certainly help someone in developing into a successful corporate leader. When we discuss leaders we already take certain traits for a given – domain expertise, diligence, being industrious and an average intelligence or preferably higher.


A potential business leader needs to have the intellectual bandwidth of being able to look beyond tomorrow at where his industry and company can be in the global context. Besides the vision he must have the bandwidth to assimilate that picture, confidence of taking his team there and have the strength to work towards it. This is a quality which is often ignored when identifying a future leader. I remember in a seminar of CEOs, Professor Ram Charan was asked, “What is the one quality you look for when consulting with a Fortune 100 company for their search for a business leader?” He replied “bandwidth”. I saw the face of many attendees fall because they were expecting a more profound answer!


Individuals demonstrate resilience when they are able to face difficult experiences and rise above them with ease. It is the ability of using challenges for growth. Rapid, disruptive change is today’s normal. Corporations are in need of people with the ability to bounce back, cope, reset their course of action, and renew their efforts. Resilience is about tapping into your reservoirs of strength under adverse conditions. I firmly believe that such people have at the least 2x potential. I undertake at least one arduous mountain trek every year. I choose one which seems difficult for me; everyday when I reach the half way mark and feel I can go no further I just say to myself that I have 2x potential and I can complete the second half if I set my mind to it and that is how I am able to complete the day’s trek every time. Sportspersons constantly practice resilience training and stretch themselves much beyond their normal capacities.

Leadership EQ

Daniel Goleman says that the powerful role of emotions in the workplace sets the best leaders apart from the rest-not just in tangibles such as better business results, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation and commitment. People with high leadership EQ also project a consistent display of trust, integrity and conscientiousness.

When Jim Collins in Good to Great talks about Level 5 Leadership, he says – Leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.


High potential employees are deeply enthusiastic about their work and about achieving success. Steve Jobs in one of his talks said that people who are successful have a lot of passion for their work, love it and have fun doing it and so they are able to persevere through the hard work.

Jim Collins echoed the same thoughts, writing, “Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results.”

No wonder Andy Grove (CEO of Intel Corpn) famously said, “Only the paranoid survive” and wrote a book with the same title.

Promising business leaders are good collaborators, high on execution and very focused on their goals and achieving success.


Another mark of high-potentials, especially important in today’s atmosphere of turbulent change, is the pursuit of constant learning and growth. They have openness to experience and grab the chance to take up difficult projects that stretch their capabilities because they are motivated by the prospect to increase their knowledge. They have a quest for innovation, for wanting to change the world, for breaking the glass ceiling. During my rookie engineering years when I was peddling a technology new to India, I repeatedly observed this trait in CEOs who were my customers.

To combat leadership deficit and have a healthy pipeline, Organizations need to distinguish executives who show a strong promise of the characteristics and put them onto the leadership development bandwagon as many of these qualities are teachable and can be strengthened.

More Characteristics of Successful Business Leaders

More essential characteristics of truly effective business leaders:

High Aspirations

All successful business leaders have high aspirations – they may not start life with them, but they evolve as they experience the world and see needs that they feel they can fulfil.

They may not know how or why; they may not even be certain that they can, but they know they are worthy of their attention, so they keep the dream, the vision, the aspirations alive, and focus their attention on them.

These leaders don’t think small, they think big – but that doesn’t mean they don’t recognise the need for and plan to do the little things, (the things others don’t see as important enough to stick at), and do them consistently and do them well.

Consistent, focused effort will help take them there, but it’s their high aspirations, their worthy ideals, and the things they’re prepared to give their life’s work to that provides the starting point, the focus, and the motivation.

Aptitude for People

Being a people person is a prerequisite to being a successful business leader. Leaders who like people, are genuinely interested in individuals and teams and find it easy to build relationships with people at all levels and in all situations, will always shine.

They are the ones people are drawn to, that they will talk to; the ones they will follow because they feel respected as individuals and enthusiastic about where you’re leading them.

How you feel about and around people shows, in your conversations and in your actions; people pick up on this and respond accordingly. If your belief and self-esteem are high, then you’re likely to have a greater belief in the potential of everyone, which can be a great motivator for teams and individuals.

Review and Evaluation

The most successful business leaders build in review and evaluation up front i.e. they actively plan to check how things are going both during and after any project, change, or development.

They determine how they’re going to measure success: the evidence or changes that must occur. They also determine base line information i.e. they establish figures and evidence of what’s happening before the start, so that evaluation will be valid.

Milestones or progress reviews/meetings are planned so that checks can be made against plans, and corrective action taken in a timely manner. This ensures that review is a continuous process that feeds into and informs evaluation and planning.

These leaders know that collecting both qualitative and quantitative information at predetermined points after the event, as well as during, will ensure real evaluation.

Successful business leaders not only do this for themselves and their work, but also do this with their people, and encourage their people to do for themselves.

Ten Lessons For Every Business Leader

As I was shaving this morning, the thought came to me. What are the ten foundational lessons that I have learned as a business owner? What ten things would I write in concrete for a young entrepreneur? So, over the last few weeks I have massaged this list several times and am now ready to share with you. I hope that you will consider these options and incorporate one of two of these ideas into your workplace.

1. Keep your spouse informed and include him or her in every major decision, especially the key personnel issues, including hiring. Make family time and vacation time a priority. Get alone regularly to think, have some weekends with your spouse, and enjoy time with your children before they grow up and afterward.

2. Gather an Inner Circle or “Counsel of Advisors” around you that have your best interests at heart, are not involved in your business, and will ask you the hard questions. Choose people who will be there for you in times of stress when you need wisdom and encouragement.

3. Treat your employees like family and be genuinely concerned for their welfare. Hire slowly and fire quickly. Remember that attitude is far more important than ability. Get the right people into the right spots. Find out what each person is passionate about and find the right fit for him or her in your company. The best way to attract the right people is to create a strong company culture. Relationships provide the true foundation for all of your success in the marketplace.

4. Get out of the office and visit your customers. Take advantage of conventions and trade shows. Listen to what your customers want and need. Solve their problems, and they will make you successful. Keep your promises to them whatever it costs.

5. Respect your vendors and develop true partnerships with them. Pay your bills on time and do not take advantage of them. They can become key allies with you in getting new customers.

6. Make timely and accurate accounting a priority. Understand your margins, break even points, and fixed and variable expenses. Keep a close watch daily or weekly on your cash flow. Become an expert on pricing. Build your business on profits and prudent use of debt.

7. Put all agreements with your fellow shareholders and executives in writing. On one page you should be able to clarify the key points of your understanding. Clear understandings at the beginning will help you to avoid most lawsuits. Settle all disagreements as quickly as you can without the time and expense of going to court.

8. Make friends with your competitors and learn from them. You will be a better business leader if you are watching and learning from them. They may become useful acquisitions or alliance partners.

9. Be generous with your profits, particularly with your employees and your community. Help your employees to save for the future and share in the rewards of the company’s success. Caring and generous leaders attract followers.

10. Value input from other leaders. Be involved in a regular small group of business owners or executives from which you can learn much and be held accountable. Practice the habit of continual learning and give your life to the next generation of leaders.

Conclusion: Regardless of your service or product, these ten foundational truths will help keep you on the right path as a leader. Without values and peer relationships, you as a leader will not survive the challenges of the marketplace. But, with a strong foundation and peers who care, you will be able to withstand any attack upon you as a leader or upon your firm.

Copyright, Kent Humphreys, 2010

Why IT Executives Need to Be Business Leaders

The key requirement to being a successful CIO is to be a business leader “first and foremost” – although one with a specific responsibility for IT, says Professor Joe Peppard, Director of the IT Leadership Programme at Cranfield School of Management.

IT executives are seeing their roles evolve from technologists to drivers of innovation and business transformation. But numerous research studies show that many IT leaders struggle to make this transition successfully, often lacking the necessary leadership skills and strategic vision to drive the organisation forward with technology investments.

Developing business skills

At the very minimum, IT executives need to show an understanding of the core drivers of the business. But successful CIOs also possess the commercial acumen to assess and articulate where and how technology investments achieve business results.

A recent ComputerWorldUK article paints a bleak picture of how CIOs measure up. “Only 46% of C-suite executives say their CIOs understand the business and only 44% say their CIOs understand the technical risks involved in new ways of using IT.”

Crucially, a lack of confidence in the CIO’s grasp of business often means being sidelined in decision-making, making it difficult for them to align the IT investment portfolio.

Developing leadership skills

A survey carried out by Harvey Nash found that respondents reporting to IT executives listed the same desired competencies expected from other C-level leaders: a strong vision, trustworthiness, good communication and strategy skills, and the ability to represent the department well. Only 16% of respondents believed that having a strong technical background was the most important attribute.

The ability to communicate and develop strong, trusting relationships at every level of the company (and particularly with senior leaders) is essential not just for career progression, but also in influencing strategic vision and direction. As a C-level executive, a CIO must be able to explain technical or complex information in business terms, and to co-opt other leaders in a shared vision of how IT can be harnessed “beyond simply competitive necessity”. Above all, the ability to contribute to decisions across all business functions enhances an IT executive’s credibility as a strategic leader, rather than as a technically-focussed “service provider”.

Professor Peppard notes that the majority of executives on his IT Leadership Programme have a classic Myers Briggs ISTJ personality type. Generally speaking, ISTJ personalities have a flair for processing the “here and now” facts and details rather than dwelling on abstract, future scenarios, and adopt a practical approach to problem-solving. If you’re a typical ISTJ, you’re happier applying planned procedures and methodologies and your decision making will be made on the basis of logical, objective analysis.

While these traits may suit traditional IT roles, they’re very different from the more extrovert, born-leader, challenge-seeking ENTJ type who are more comfortable with ambiguous or complex situations. The training on the IT Leadership Programme develops the key leadership abilities that IT executives are typically less comfortable operating in, but which are crucial in order to be effective.

Align yourself with the right CEO and management team

The challenge in becoming a great business leader is partly down to other people’s misconceptions and stereotypes, says Joe Peppard, and how the CEO “sets the tone” makes all the difference. His research uncovered examples of where CIOs who were effective in one organisation moved to another where the environment was different, and where they consequently struggled.

A CIO alone cannot drive the IT agenda, he says. While the CIO can ensure that the technology works and is delivered efficiently, everything else required for the business to survive and grow will depend on an effective, shared partnership with other C-level executives. Many IT initiatives fail because of organisational or “people” reasons, he notes.

Other executives have a clear role to play. They need to be sufficiently IT-literate to understand the strategic potential of IT and how it impacts performance and generates value. Successful IT projects (where investments are fully optimised), are characterised by active involvement across the management levels impacted. The findings in the ComputerWorldUK article support this research. Companies which view the CIO as a strategic partner are much more likely to achieve better results. Rather than simply viewing IT as a way to cut costs or improve efficiency, harnessing its potential helps create value and new revenue sources