How many senior executives actually possess the competencies laid
out in your HR systems? Helping skilled, talented managers become
truly great leaders is a complex job. Traditional leadership models
often overlook the intangible qualities that separate those who
aspire to top leadership roles from the ones who actually reach the
C-suite. But if you look closely, you will start to see that there
are patterns in the attributes of people who succeed at the highest
As you work with high-potential candidates on their leadership
development, consider the following 10 behaviors that are
fundamental to executive success.
Knowledge gleaned from previous experiences does not become wisdom
until it is consciously applied to new circumstances. Great leaders
don't just think about what happened, they think about why it
Coaching tip: Leaders will build wisdom by designating time for
self-reflection. Challenge them to reserve an hour each week to
think about the "big stuff." They should be using that time to ask,
"What decisions did I make?" and "What have I learned in the last
Social judgment is one's ability to analyze people and situations,
and then make good decisions based on that information. Executives
who possess this intangible are able to hire better people,
negotiate well, and truly influence others to change.
Coaching tip: Tell the leader to step back and pay attention to the
subtext of meeting dynamics. The pace and flow of the discussion
provides important clues about what the group cares about, topics
that are uncomfortable, and which issues will require the most
Leaders that maintain steady performance at the top levels of
business anchor their decisions in a consistent set of values. This
stability and steadfastness affects every relationship. It also
keeps them out of newspaper headlines.
Coaching tip: It may seem basic, but they need to stick to "doing
the right thing." Make leaders to write out their core values. What
do they stand for as a leader? A declared set of values serves as a
compass for key decisions, and writing them out is a helpful
Executives with presence seize your attention not just because they
have power, but because they know how to use it. Understanding the
impact one has is crucial to running a successful organization.
Coaching tip: Executive presence often occurs before an individual
enters the room. It's often based on reputation. Work with leaders
to brand themselves in such a way that when they enter a room,
people sit up straighter and think to themselves, "that's the one
Self-insight is one's primary tool for growth and development. A
leader who knows her strengths and weaknesses can become the most
effective type of leader: strong and focused, yet adaptable.
Coaching tip: Help executives build a personal "board of
directors." Ensure they have trusted advisors to can confide in. If
necessary, help them look outside the organization because they
need to be able to solicit honest feedback from people they trust,
no matter how difficult it may be to hear.
Executive maturity is the ability to master one's emotional
responses to yield maximum influence. Sometimes it's important to
hold back and remain unemotionally objective, and other times it's
ok to really let loose and show one's anger.
Coaching tip: Awareness of one's emotional patterns and triggers,
and the ability to manage those feelings, are essential to fully
formed leadership. Help the leader understand what sets him off and
what it looks like to the observer. Through such insight, he can
learn to better calibrate.
People don't want their leaders to be ineffectual, but they do want
to see a willingness to take risks and discuss past failures.
Leaders who admit their mistakes are more relatable and more
Coaching tip: Put simply, being fallible is being real. Help
leaders 'let people in.' Challenge them to show others the real
person behind what they see at the office. Be sure they are
celebrating wins and taking ownership for failures.
Some leaders exercise their influence so delicately that those
around them happily follow without questioning why. Others are more
insistent, forcefully staking out their territory at the front of
the pack. Both methods require will.
Coaching tip: Will requires "stick-to-itiveness." You can't quit.
Help people understand that when obstacles get in your way and it
seems that you'll never meet your objectives, they should remember
this: You are probably just a hair's breadth away.
In a study of world-class performers, few had been considered
prodigies. The most accomplished subjects worked hard for years to
succeed. Many endured crises or major life challenges. The
conclusions are powerful: Drive, energy, and persistence - not
inherent talent - propel people to the top.
Coaching tIP: Do the people you are working with shy away from
"big" issues? Don't let them! Challenge them to take on the big
stuff. See what they're made of. The more you force yourself to
tackle these challenges, the more confident in your own abilities
you will become.
Leaders need to possess an underlying belief that they will achieve
their objectives. Those who don't tend to make safe decisions that
accomplish little. Extraordinary leaders know their boundaries of
competence and masterfully exploit them.
Coaching tip: Leaders need to seek the help of a mentor or role
model to build confidence through osmosis. Help them visualize
success, recognize their self-defeating patterns, and know that
people are capable of being at least one order of magnitude better
than they think they are.
Richard Davis is a management psychologist and
partner at RHR International. He is author of The Intangibles
of Leadership: The 10 Qualities of Superior Executive Performance