A decade-long study reveals 4 traits of exceptional leaders

A recent article by Ron Carucci in The Harvard Business Review describes the results of a 10-year study on the skills of top-performing executives.

Researchers including Carucci, who is cofounder of the consulting firm Navalent, followed workers as they transitioned into executive roles, ultimately conducting more than 2,700 interviews.

They found that the very best leaders excelled in four key areas:

1. They’re familiar with the whole business.

Carucci writes that some leaders have spent their careers working in a single area, and tend to favour that area even once they move into the C-suite.

But exceptional leaders make an effort to take assignments across different areas of the organisation. Similarly, they work to connect disparate parts of the company so that it runs more smoothly.

2. They make solid decisions.

The best leaders know how to balance what Carucci calls “instinct and analytics.” In other words, they follow their personal intuition, but also get other people’s perspectives on problems.

Meanwhile, other research suggests that the strongest managers score high on “action orientation,” or knowing when it’s time to make a decision, even if you haven’t yet gathered all the information you’d ideally like to have.

3. They see where their organisation fits in the industry.

Carucci writes that top leaders know how their organisation competes with other players in the field. They’re able to see industry-wide trends on the horizon, and they’re curious about other similar businesses.

4. They forge deep relationships.

While the leaders Carucci calls “second-best executives” try to disguise their selfish motives, top leaders make a point of developing their emotional and social intelligence and soliciting feedback from others.

Writing in Forbes, Scott Edinger says something similar: The higher you climb on the corporate ladder, the more your ability to work with people matters. Edinger advises treating employees as people, as opposed to jobs or outputs. That means giving them your full attention and considering their suggestions seriously.

Read the full HBR article here.

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