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.