5 Characteristics of Successful Leaders


Developing the essential characteristics for effective leadership is a must if you want to thrive in your career. We have entered the age of agility. According to Deloite Touche’s 2014 Human Capital Report, 21st Century leaders need to be able to build cross-functional teams, manage across diversity, drive innovation, establish direction, and develop effective teams. Being a top performer at work requires mastering these traits within your self.

Here are five core characteristics leaders need to possess in order to achieve these objectives and soar in their career.

1. Strategic Thinker

Strategic thinkers do more than set targets; they steer the course to reach their goals. They think critically, break down goals into actionable steps and then execute a plan. They recognize the larger forces at work and set benchmarks across the board. Seeing the world as a puzzle of moving parts, they can anticipate what will be needed. They must possess strong critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to take in and analyse large amounts of data. Recognising their own limitations, they effectively engage other team members to accomplish goals.

2. Collaborator

The top down command paradigm is out, and collaboration is in. Managers operate in lateral networks. We can define this age as one of sharing information to be able to synthesize opinions, advance goals and reach solutions. In our complex world, it is impossible for everyone to know everything. The ability to pull together the insights and experiences of co-workers is essential. It also means being comfortable working in lateral networks that appreciate the value different types of talent and expertise contribute to the whole. Collaborators are effective sharers and communicators. They play well with others and don’t create unnecessary conflict. They understand how to function as part of a team, recognise they don’t know everything and respect the various levels of expertise their peers contribute.

3. System Thinker

Making connections and being able to think in terms of inter-relationships is essential. Managers need to recognise how different departments influence one another across the entire organisation. It requires being able to see the potential impact of multiple forces at play within a system. In today’s global corporate culture, it is paramount managers can rise above the provincialism of their local culture. Systems thinkers take the blinders off and understand that there is more one way to accomplish a goal or run things. When it comes to implementing change, system thinkers examine the underlying structure responsible for creating a scenario. They identify the value of each part as an independent entity as well as a part of a system.

4. Comfort with Ambiguity

In a world where things are rarely black and white especially when working within a multi-cultural workplace with conflicting demands, concerns and needs, being comfortable with certain level of ambiguity is essential. It is likely that there will be a diversity of opinions, opposing viewpoints and perspectives that need to managed harmoniously. Leaders need to be comfortable with conflict and not having everything resolved. It requires approaching people and situations from a place of neutrality to recognise the needs of different contexts. Ambiguity acknowledges that not all situations call for the same response.

5. Leading Change

Change is the one constant in today’s technology driven world, which impacts companies on every level. Today’s leaders need to be able to adapt and pivot quickly. Switching tactics requires an ability to make fast and wise decisions, such as Microsoft’s recent massive layoffs. Leaders need to be able to see the big picture and keep the company on course to achieving its vision. They need to be able to make the hard unpopular decisions in order to advance the organisation. They skate to where the puck is going not where it is at the moment. With technology’s rapid advancement, agility is critical to leading change. It requires being flexible, open and secure with one’s own decision-making process.

Make mastering these skills a priority. Identify your weaknesses and your strengths and then approach mastering each characteristic like a Jedi Master. Look for opportunities to consciously practice using these traits. Break things down into small actionable steps. Getting the support of a coach to help you harness the needed skills is essential if you want to keep your career moving FORWARD.

Caroline Stokes is founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions.  FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations who demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.

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