Being a successful executive is no easy task. There are millions of traits and qualities that factor into running a business properly and effectively. It's so hard to discern success from failure when it comes to the person in charge that the Harvard Business Review had to do a 10-year study just to figure it out. And the results are just as thorough as you might think.
The study measured leadership strengths outlined by IBM Watson‘s content analysis tools, historical performance reviews and seven other factors related to strong organizational performance. It was conducted through 2,700 leadership interviews and rigorous statistical analysis. Four practices came out of this study as the best way to be a successful executive.
They Know the Whole Business
The reason former sports stars make such good coaches is because they have experienced the trials and tribulations that they aim to lead players through. The same goes for successful executives. The more an executive knows about the business they hope to run, the more successful they will become.
“Leaders who ran one business of a multi-business enterprise often favor that business within the larger portfolio,” says the study. “Exceptional executives defy such predispositions in order to integrate the entire organization into a well synchronized machine. Executives develop breadth by broadening their exposure to the full organization and taking assignments across disciplines.”
They Are Great Decision Makers
For executives, hard decisions are part of the job description. Whether you have to fire a popular coworker for insubordination or pull funding from a particular department, there is no room for flimsy backbones. Successful executives don't only make the unpopular decisions when necessary, but they also keep employees and managers abreast of all decisions, inspiring and engaging them in the process.
“Exemplary executives have the ability to declare their views, engage others’ ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call, and communicate the decision clearly,” says the study. “This skill inspires markedly higher confidence and focus among those they lead. Because they’re good decision-makers, they’re also good prioritizers, since setting priorities is all about selectively choosing from among various tradeoffs.”
They Know the Industry
Being a successful executive means dealing with competition and market shifts. You have to change with the times and no industry stays the same for very long. Not only do they have a general grasp of how the industry works, they also are inherently curious about the new innovations and developing trends that are happening. This curiosity keeps them focused on what they need to do to keep their business running.
“Exceptional executives maintain a solid grasp on the ever-changing context within which their business competes,” says the study. “Their natural contextual intelligence lies at the intersection of insights into how their organization uniquely competes and makes money, and what is most relevant to the customers they serve ─ even when customers may not know themselves.”
They Form Deep, Trusting Relationships
While successful executives make their companies great, they can't do it alone. After all, Michael Jordan needed Scott Pippen and executives need competent managers that can delegate work in a comprehensive and effective way. Establishing these relationships can foster a positive view of the company from on-lookers and employees alike. In addition, executives won't fear the accusatory glances of employees who don't believe they are doing a good job.
“These executives form deep connections with superiors, peers, and direct reports, studying and meeting the needs of key stakeholders,” says the study. “They communicate in compelling ways and reach beyond superficial transactions to form mutually beneficial, trusting relationships. Their legacy becomes a positive reputation within the organization for consistently delivering results while genuinely caring for those who deliver them.”