Leadership Qualities

What Qualities Matter Most In Your Leaders

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.

11 replies
  1. Percious
    Percious says:

    Great article. I will certainly use all the learnings of this article with my employment equity committee who are struggling with diversity and seeing that South Africa is diverse this cannot be escaped. I love the “No politics, no bureaucracy, no poison” insert. We really need to work on that.

    Thank you for the great articles and thank you for resource centre.

    Percious Mokoena

  2. Attie van Wyk
    Attie van Wyk says:

    With a constant increase in the rate of change in tactical, and sometimes even strategic, business models, restructuring of businesses has become an increasingly regular occurrence. Unfortunately not all affected individuals respond to change in the same way. Inherently change, in most cases where people are involved, has a short-term disruptive effect, where new teams need to go from the “forming” of the restructuring event through the “storming” and “norming” development stages before they can start “performing”. In this regard I have found value in a lecture by Conor Neil, where he had very similar views as the CEO in your article.

    Very valuable, thank you.

  3. Gordon Reddy
    Gordon Reddy says:

    I am a leader, I am constantly looking for literature, real life examples and experiences pertaining to all aspects of a dynamic leader.

    This analysis is so vital to me and I believe it is on point.

    I will definitely be embracing these proposals.


  4. Athenea
    Athenea says:

    Hi there

    One of the key themes we are driving this year for our Leadership team is Courageous Leadership. There are times when our leaders need to have those difficult conversations and make decisions that serve the business and it is not always easy. We are trying to build a culture within our leadership where they can take accountability, responsibility and have the courage to lead our staff courageously, regardless of the changes that take place. It’s not easy, but vital.


  5. Brett Nicolson
    Brett Nicolson says:

    Thanks for this article, Grant – nice to be refocused on what the right kind of leadership is all about. ‘The business of business is people’ … captures the essence!

  6. Johan Coetzee
    Johan Coetzee says:

    Very true. I believe that listening to people cannot be overestimated. We have to recognise that the discretionary effort and goodwill that people give, they give by choice. If they do not feel valued and/or heard they will choose not to contribute these to the organisation. Without that we will fail.

  7. Kobus Bezuidenhout
    Kobus Bezuidenhout says:

    HI Grant
    Very insightful article which makes one look again at the people you have chosen to be on the bus with you.

    We have recently appointed 2 senior people and will soon look at recruiting another manager. The last thing you need is people with a fatalistic view on life.

    I also like people who are self starters and people who poses questions to him/herself on how to improve, but also poses questions to the management team to challenge the status quo, challenge mediocrity and start discussion on how to improve performance.


  8. Naz
    Naz says:

    Great article. Totally agree with the 4 vital qualities being embedded in leaders in order to make businesses a success

  9. Nischal
    Nischal says:

    Concur that picking the right leaders is key. I was once advised that as a leader, I could “change the people or change the people” – guidance that supports having the right leaders in the right roles. And of the 4 vital qualities, I can resonate with the 4th being especially applicable for myself. But I really believe the first one, given our challenging times, is very relevant in selecting the right leadership team!

  10. Witness Mahlangu
    Witness Mahlangu says:

    Very interesting article on leadership the business world is changing fast what worked in the yester year is just that. Quality number 1 is fascinating every leader and employee need to I grain it in their psyche to deal with change in the work place

    There are complex and intertwined changes that require resilience, changes in customer needs, markets, systems, skills set, organizational structure and the need to balance all this with personal life

    Leadership takes a very interesting dimension in that leaders have to be selfless and rise above all these challenges and carry the hopes and dreams of their employees while delivering value for the business. It a big calling to lead in the morgen day business world

  11. Rich Rabi
    Rich Rabi says:

    Personal gain is the biggest destroyer of great teams not jelling together, firstly recognition of the team is very important to show that the effort made is taken to consideration. Secondly is to listen to the team members about work related advice to make things easy in the team. Celebrate team achievements by all members. Thank you Grant.

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