In my work as a Leadership Confidant with some of the most influential Chief Executives around, I often get asked to describe the characteristics I see most often in the very best leaders.
I have come to realize there are four that must be present.
1. Unrelenting Standards. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 he was a fantastic example of this. He knew that the company was inconsistent and lacking in rigor. So he started saying no to anything that didn’t meet his standards. For a company founded on innovation, it was a shock to the culture to find the CEO unwilling to compromise. But slowly, his standards became the company’s standards, and the history of extraordinary innovation that followed proved he was absolutely right.
2. Being Respected Before Being Liked. Too many leaders want to be liked and are unwilling to say no even when they understand that what’s required for excellence isn’t being done. Inadvertently they’re saying, ‘I’d rather lower my standards than risk upsetting you.’ You can’t build long-term success like that. Great leaders work to build respect through clear, empathetic, ethical leadership that places the future of the business as the focal point of each decision.
3. One Eye on Today. One Eye on the Future. The ability to employ split vision is one that not every great leader is born with. But it is one that can be learned, and then reinforced with well designed practices and strong organization. Clear reporting structures and systems, a well-constructed board of advisors that are encouraged to challenge the status quo, and a strong senior leadership team all play a role in allowing the CEO to keep their focus on the needs of today and the challenges of tomorrow.
4. A Clearly Defined Company Vision. This is not always the responsibility of the CEO to develop but it is their responsibility to maintain and constantly refocus to ensure its enduring relevance. In this fast moving world in which we live, understanding where your business is headed and how you’re going to get there are critical elements of the map by which any CEO guides the business forward. Only then can they know if the have the right people in place to make the journey successfully.
Not every CEO possesses these characteristics when they take the job. The great ones are those who develop them quickly, and then use them as the platform to build extraordinary businesses.