Distilled Wisdom From America’s Chief Executives

The Corner OfficeHave you ever wondered whether American CEOs share similar leadership traits – whether there’s a short list of qualities which propelled all of their careers?

New York Times writer, Adam Bryant, did, and interviewed more than 70 top leaders in order to find out.

In his new book, “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed,” Bryant says his discussions with senior executives point to five essentials for success – “qualities that most of the CEOs share and also look for in people they hire.”

Bryant found these five characteristics so common in to managers, in fact, he concluded they inherently represent a magical leadership formula.   He therefore urges leaders to adopt these traits and confidently promises the rewards for doing so: “They will make you stand out.  They will make you a better employee, manager and leader. They will lift the trajectory of your career and speed your progress.”[1]

So what were the five common qualities Bryant found in top executive managers – the ones he’s convinced will set us all apart?   Here’s a quick summary of the list:

1.     Passionate Curiosity:

The best leaders display a relentless inquisitiveness.  They wonder why things work the way they do and whether those things can be improved upon.  They ask: “Why do you do that?”  “How come it’s done that way?”  “Is there a better way?”

2.     Battle-Hardened Confidence:

They have a proven ability to handle adversity and a track record of succeeding against it.  Fueled by a great belief in their own abilities, they’re inclined to both own and solve problems.

3.     Team Smarts

Top managers are able to recruit well, build a team, successfully manage it and effectively relate with peers.

4.     A Simple Mindset

They purposely make all communication concise and to the point.  They’re also particularly skilled at synthesizing information and, therefore, identifying new business opportunities.

5.     Fearlessness

They’re people who not only manage change but have an appetite for it.  They exhibit calculated and informed risk taking – and routinely challenge the status quo.

There seems to be no question that Bryant believes the numerous CEOs he interviewed collectively have all the answers on how to most effectively lead in business.  And it’s impossible for me to argue these five traits aren’t characteristic of excellent leaders.

Comprehensively, they define really clear-thinking and self assured people who passionately pursue high achievement.  They’re representative of managers who act as if they own their enterprises and who routinely challenge the status quo.  That they also get along well with others ensures their ideas are more easily implemented.

But let’s not forget that a vast number or workers in America are unhappy, disengaged – and resultantly far less productive in their jobs than is their full potential.  This fact alone tells me Bryant’s 70 CEOs haven’t yet made it a priority to value and develop their employees and to proactively support their higher needs.

While Bryant’s list of leadership traits has assuredly propelled many leaders to the highest roles in their organizations, going forward in the 21st century it’s my conviction that a sixth top quality must be added to the list if leaders want to continue succeeding:

6.     See Employees As The Heart Of Their Organization

They place great and genuine focus on worker satisfaction and retention and, through myriad practices and behaviors, demonstrate to employees that they’re valued and critically important to the success of their organization.

[1] New York Times, April 17, 2011

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By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.