9 Characteristics of Great Business Leaders

great business leadersSomewhere between the passing of Steve Jobs and the late Stephen R. Covey I started to think about what makes truly great business leaders. Anyone familiar with the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People already knows a few but there are so many different styles and schools of thought that it can be difficult to create the definitive checklist without heavy debate.

Here are some of my thoughts on the characteristics I believe are essential in great business leaders.

1. Credibility

I hate to lead with this one but you really have to be credible in business for people to look up to you. It remains a foundational step to gaining respect from employees and colleagues.  If your reputation doesn’t already speak for itself, do whatever you have to “prove yourself”.

2. Be Direct

If you can’t or wouldn’t say something to somebody’s face, you shouldn’t be saying it at all. To me, that is so important in business. If you have a problem or issue with somebody, there are ways to deal with it that do not include talking to other people about it.

That’s something that has bothered me in my career where I see people prepared to talk negatively of others, yet they aren’t prepared to say that directly to the individual they are talking about.

3. Always Be Honest…Always!

Your word as a business leader should be ironclad. Those who earn such a reputation have loyal teams because they know they can believe what their boss tells them. Don’t say things like “that promotion is right around the corner” or “we will do raises next quarter” unless you truly mean it. You might forget but they won’t.

4. Be Knowledgeable

This ties into credibility in a sense, considering the fact that you can’t possibly be credible without being somewhat knowledgeable. At a minimum, you should understand the moving parts within your organization if you want to be able to make them work together.

5. Know Your Weaknesses

A great leader knows what they know and also knows what they don’t know. If you read about Henry Ford, he was an uneducated dropout who didn’t know the answers to the questions but he did know that all he really needed to do was figure out who to ask. He surrounded himself with a lot of very smart people and that’s what ended up making him so successful in the end.

6. Be Trustworthy

Trust is earned from being honest and coming through on your word. Your employees need to know they can depend on you without being afraid to ask, which brings me to my next point…

7. Be Approachable

Embrace the “open door policy” and take it to the next level by striving to be as approachable as possible. When you create negative barriers between you and your frontline staff you might end up out of the loop on important matters because your team is too intimidated to approach you.

8. Don’t Ask People To Do What You Won’t

There are a couple reasons great business leaders will ask people to do things they wouldn’t handle themselves:

  1. They consider themselves to be above it
  2. It crosses a line they wouldn’t cross themselves

My point is this: Don’t ever ask someone in your organization to cross a line if you aren’t prepared to cross it yourself. Why would you expect them to do it if you won’t?

9. Most of All…You Need To Care

You absolutely have to care about your employees. If you don’t care, then get out. I know there have been incredibly successful business leaders that do not treat their employees well however this has shifted and today people expect to work for a kind employer, not a dictator.  A great leader truly cares about their team as individuals.

I don’t believe Steve Jobs was a great leader based on some of the ways he chose to conduct himself when dealing with employees. Obviously he was very successful and I believe that has more to do with his innovative technological genius than his employee management strategies.

I don’t believe a leader that yells and screams at their top people are true leaders. I don’t know about you but I sure wouldn’t want to follow them. Please don’t confuse my words, I believe Steve Jobs was one of the greatest business success stories of all time but I write this because I feel that entrepreneurs that try to follow in his footsteps might stumble down the wrong path.

I think the “average” businessperson needs to take every advantage possible, especially when they lack innovative genius. Many successful companies have proven you don’t need to be innovative or be a genius to be successful…but they tend to be the best examples of the characteristics described above.

Who do you think are some great business leaders? Leave a message in the comments below.


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