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5 traits of an effective executive

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Ruben Guzman is the father of four children. He knows raising one child can be very different from raising another.

“If you’re a parent, and you think there is a one-size-fits-all approach for parenting, you are in for a rude awakening,” he says.

The same is true about leadership and being an effective executive.

“Being a leader, it’s not about us, it’s about them,” says Guzman, who provides coaching and leadership development through Coach Ruben Enterprises. “How do we provide what they need so we can empower them to be the best versions of themselves.”

While leaders can be vastly different in personality and approach, there are 5 specific traits effective leaders share.

1. Effective executives are expert time managers

Becky Sharpe believes time management is essential to being an effective executive. As CEO of International Scholarship and Tuition Services, she relies on accountability charts throughout her organisation so everyone can understand what projects to work on and meetings to attend.

The charts help keep their attention focused where it should be. For Sharpe, that means devoting her time to new ideas, relationships, culture, research and development, and demonstrating the importance of emotional awareness.

Leaders who allow themselves to get overbooked, and therefore become tired and overwhelmed, are setting a bad precedent for their employees.

“What the leader does, the team will view as appropriate,” says Sharpe. “If you deliver late, you will get the same in return. Since trust is eroded when you break promises, your culture will lack trust, leading to a fear of speaking the truth and sharing thoughts and ideas.”

Guzman tells executives he coaches that time management is really about managing priorities, just like in a hospital emergency room.

“In the ER department, you have to learn how to establish priorities based on what’s most important, and you have to constantly navigate that terrain,” he says. “It’s a skill set, and executives, in order to be effective as a leader, they need to be able to be effective at managing their priorities and attending to what is most important.”

2. Effective executives build on their strengths

There are countless assessment tools to identify a person’s strengths and skill sets. While those are effective, Sharpe believes it’s important to talk with colleagues to understand how they perceive what she’s good at and where she needs improvement.

By putting this into practice, Sharpe avoids large gaps between what she feels her strengths are and how others view her.

She reviews these perspectives quarterly so she can continue to improve and enhance her skills and abilities.

“Just like a seed, what gets watered grows,” Sharpe says. “To further develop and build on strengths, I practice them and write about them. I also share my desire to improve my strength with people who can hold me accountable and encourage me to do so.”

3. Effective executives take responsibility for decisions

When organisational decisions are made, they should align with pre-established and agreed-upon goals or initiatives.

When a decision turns out to be successful, effective leaders demonstrate the mantra that there is no “I” in “team”: they offer praise to the individuals and teams involved in the decisions.

The most effective leaders, Guzman says, walk beside those they lead, instead of in front of them.

If a decision turns out poorly, effective leaders are honest about the role they played.

“If co-workers played a role in a bad decision, those conversations happen privately,” Sharpe says. “When a mistake is made, the most effective leaders never use public shame or blame to protect themselves.”

4. Effective executives focus on opportunities

Effective executives are forward-thinking and focused on what is coming next for their business, both in the short- and long-term.

Being good at forward-thinking relies on humility, Sharpe says, and being comfortable with not knowing all the answers. It is important to be able to identify future opportunities, but it also is important to listen to the ideas of others.

“Being forward-thinking means being enthusiastic about being a beginner so that new ideas, markets and technologies inspire instead of frighten,” she adds.

To help focus on the future, Sharpe says, it is important to embrace and share stories and responses to opportunities from the past.

“Demonstrating an ability to look forward to the rest of the company requires a desire and/or willingness to listen to the young people,” she says, “to share the stories of ‘before’ that shows you’ve always embraced growing and improving all aspects of an organisation, and an open communication style about what you see coming in the future.”

While forward thinking is critical, Guzman explained it’s important to also focus on the day-to-day functions of the business. Some executives are able to do both, he says. Most, however, need a fellow executive who can devote their attention to daily operations.

“It’s absolutely necessary to have balance in an organisation,” Guzman says. “When a forward-thinking CEO or leader does not have that partnership, then what happens is that particular leader is seen as airy and not grounded, and everybody starts to become critical.”

5. Effective executives put their organisation first

Effective executives demonstrate they support the growth and health of their employees, not just with words, but with actions.

“I’ve seen it far too many times where leaders say they are invested and committed to empowering their employees and making a difference with culture, but their actions fall far short,” Guzman says. “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Hallmarks of showing you care include being an active listener and communicating clearly, Sharpe says. If a good idea cannot be implemented, effective executives validate its importance and explain its place on the larger organisational priority list.

“Additionally, effective executives are sincerely interested in their employees’ well-being and give them space and time to share what motivates them,” Sharpe says. “Effective executives create the spotlight for others to be in; they don’t hog it.”

Sharpe and Guzman reiterated that every person needs to approach leadership in their own unique way, but by incorporating these five traits, an individual’s leadership approach — and the people and organisations they lead — will prosper.

Originally published on Vistage Research Center.

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