We recently worked with a very well known global company in Asia. They are a household name and have a proud history of innovation and product design.

Along with its success the business has also become large and complex. Silos and bureaucracy have grown to compound the problem. The business has increasingly developed an inward focus and although everyone is working very hard they are not working together.

All this worries the CEO. It gives him sleepless nights.

Together with his executive team, they are working furiously to simplify the business’s structure and return to putting the customer first. One executive, in a moment of incredible honesty, told me they spend more time “doing business with themselves” than truly caring about the customer.

The CEO knows the company has to transform in order to survive into the future. Customer needs, technology changes and intense competitor activity are driving this need. To transform they will have to encourage greater creativity and risk taking – two vital ingredients of their early success that they lost along the way.

The constant pressure of delivering day-to-day keeps them locked in their current way of doing things.

It’s a fascinating challenge. Balancing the strategy of transformation with the tactics of everyday performance.

To get an outside view on his challenge the CEO invited the leader of an Asian based technology start up to speak to his leadership team.

This business is three years old. It is growing rapidly and disrupting a very established industry. They are winning new clients from huge companies who are finding it hard to change.

Her core-advice to the CEO and his team was, “Start by picking the right leaders. This is the key.”

She went on to explain the four vital qualities she looks for in the leaders who work in her business.

1. A track record of triumphing over adversity. People must be able to quickly get back onto their feet after a setback. Change is tough and adversity is a constant companion. As she explained “there is probably always a valid excuse for every failure and we look for people who overcome those valid excuses.”

2. No politics, no bureaucracy, no poison. These are the real obstacles. “I look for people who are totally collaborative. Not brilliant jerks that get the short-term numbers but damage the organisation in the long run.”

3. A desire to contribute and make a difference. People must be driven by the difference they can make in the world. “When personal gain is the first thing on people’s minds it’s very difficult to get the full power of teamwork released.”

4. Listening is vital. Leaders must walk the line between telling and listening. Find out what’s really going on. Put tools in place for listening. Skip levels. Know what needs to be done on the ground. Wisely she cautioned, “If people are not heard and obstacles not removed they stop caring and lose their desire to make a difference.”

In closing she said, “Everyone’s intelligent. Nowadays that’s a given, but we are trying to get to the future faster than our competition and they have far greater resources than we do. All four of these qualities are necessary, above intelligence, so we can innovate and stay ahead.”

As she spoke I felt her deep conviction that these qualities, embedded in her leaders, are what makes their business a success.

How did the CEO and his team respond?

It deepened their resolve to not just concentrate on the technical side of their transformation. It was a timely and sharp reminder that the “business of business is people” and that to the people and therefore the business the qualities of the leader really matters.

(See also our South West Airlines post, November 2015.)

It’s these qualities that make it possible to blast through the corporate inertia. It’s these qualities that build the belief and momentum and the hope that change is possible.

How about your business?

Are you clear what qualities your leaders need to make your business succeed?

Please let us know by commenting below. We love hearing from you.

At the end of this month Patrick Lencioni will release his much-awaited new book, The Ideal Team Player. In it he describes the three crucial qualities vital to teamwork.

We will send five people who comment on this months article a copy of this brand new book and next month we will post extracts of an interview we did with him on the book.