5 Key Traits of Successful Business Leaders

Successful Leader

In these unpredictable times, business leaders are searching for ways to lead their teams to success and adapt to current events that have thrown many companies for a loop. Good leadership is difficult in times of change and crisis, and many managers are realizing that the many tried and true business strategies of the past are not applicable to the current state of world affairs. 

Many managers are choosing to adopt management styles that are more focused on keeping their team lean, agile, and adaptive. The ability of organizations to stay flexible is more important than ever, given how unpredictable the future is today. Moreover, much of the conventional wisdom about management has been turned on its head due to the adoption of new technologies that have significantly changed the business culture of many companies.

Managers must be swift in adapting to these many cultural, technological, and political changes. Let’s explore five key traits of successful business leaders that are particularly relevant in our current moment. 


1. Good Leaders are Good Listeners

The assertiveness and confidence that is often associated with being a good manager causes many business leaders to overlook the importance of being a good listener. The importance of these more passive skills can’t be underestimated. One of the most crucial prerequisites for being able to manage an employee is to truly understand what they’re going through and how they feel.

Without this knowledge, managers are stabbing in the dark when attempting to incentivize productivity and punish transgressions. Attempts to steer employees towards achieving company objectives can actually be counterproductive if the feelings and life situation of the employee is not taken into consideration. Conversely, managers that intimately understand the values and motivations of an employee will see him or her go above and beyond their normal responsibilities.

The amount that a truly passionate, inspired, and enthusiastic workforce can accomplish defies limitations and expectations. Workers that are evangelized by a common company mission, and feel that their thoughts and needs are heard will give everything they can to make the organization they believe in successful. 

Too often do managers offer a carrot and a stick to employees without learning about their genuine values, drivers, and passions. In the face of this treatment, many employees see through the shallow and ill-conceived incentives promoted by management and choose not to take them seriously. This guide by the New York Times breaks down how to become a better listener and could be worth a read.


2. Good Leaders Inspire a Vision in their Team

Managers should have a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve and be able to inspire this vision in their subordinates. A leader’s vision should be clear and meaningful. 

Some managers make the mistake of making the vision they convey to their team too vague. Others make the mistake of conveying a vision that is dry and devoid of emotional substance. A vision should be specific, measurable, and inspiring. 

That’s a tricky combination, but it’s crucial to set a vision that your team can rally behind and tangibly work toward. Sharing this wisdom will make workers feel like they are part of a collective whole that is working together towards the same goal. Without a vision, employees are more likely to be isolated and self-serving which can lead to infighting and conflict in an organization.

This article by the Washington Post explores the role of developing a vision when leading a team. 


3. Good Leaders Understand Customers

In order to inspire confidence in their team, leaders need to understand the needs that they are serving. Successful companies provide value or solve problems for customers, but in order to do so they need to understand their customers. Getting familiar with the market research conducted on a brand’s customers can help to provide a guiding light for management and employees to work towards.

Organizations that lose touch with the customers they are serving are doomed to waste time and money offering solutions that aren’t needed. Too often, these organizations become too internally directed, with managers and workers focused on their own agenda within the company rather than on customers.

Good managers should embrace a spirit of selflessness by putting the needs of customers first. They should continually direct the attention of their team towards the experience of customers and the problems they are struggling with. This article by Digital Authority explores how the process of researching users’ experience is a crucial part of the product management process.


4. Good Leaders are Master Communicators

With the adoption of sophisticated new technologies in many businesses has come a stronger focus on the importance of hard skills in the workforce. While possessing sharp programming, analytical, and mathematical skills is vital for many managers, often far more important is their ability to communicate effectively. Managers that become overly fixated on technicalities will tend to cause conflict within the organization that will make everyone’s job harder.

It’s often a better approach to let technology specialists advocate for a particular tech preference while the management team remains focused on big-picture concerns and on resolving disputes between workers. If a leader feels that their view on a particular issue is correct, despite the doubts their subordinates might have, it’s important that their view is expressed in a clear, firm and diplomatic manner. 

A good manager takes no pleasure in exerting his will over that of other team members, but when it is necessary, does so calmly and tactfully. Conversely, a bad manager will relish the opportunity to exercise power over others. This sort of egoic behavior can be catastrophic for morale, and can undermine that manager’s authority over time.

This piece from the LA Times dissects a study from Google that explored what makes a good business leader and why effective communication is so important.


5. Successful Leaders are Always Learning

Particularly in today’s fast-paced digital world, stagnation and close-mindedness are a good leader’s worst enemy. Effective managers are constantly learning new skills and expanding their set of skills. Doing so allows them to communicate more easily with different team members that might possess their own unique expertise.

Constantly keeping an open mind and approaching business from a perspective of learning will also allow them to foster a more diverse work environment that accepts and encourages all sorts of different perspectives. Bad managers, on the other hand, are stubborn and stuck in their ways. Refusing to embrace new ideas, they insist that it’s their way or the highway, which makes their subordinates feel ignored and disrespected.

Good leaders should be able to listen intently to ideas that they staunchly disagree with. They should not punish team members for expressing those views, and instead use it as a chance to take a second look at their position. Tackling business problems with a spirit of curiosity will also help leaders develop a positive attitude when dealing with adversity.

When workers see that their boss has the humility to approach different issues with a spirit of learning and open-mindedness, they will be motivated to do the same.