Four Leadership Traits to Win in Business Today

In today's extraordinarily dynamic business climate, organizations are facing the need to meet many new and novel challenges. The shelf life of successful strategies, brands and products is constantly diminishing, requiring faster, iterative development cycles. The destabilizing forces of technology and globalization mean that every disruptive business model is a starting point for someone else to develop the next one. All of this challenges a business owner's ability to plot out a course and stick to it. As the pace of change continues to increase, the need for a new kind of leadership is rapidly emerging.

Executive leadership that is highly responsive to its environment requires an agile mindset that can sense changing conditions and shift direction quickly. Four qualities are particularly essential for a CEO (and all leaders) to lead his or her company into the future. Success depends on the leader's capacity to see and develop relationships, take in multiple and often opposing views, communicate a strong vision for the future and be highly self aware.

Self-Awareness. In a period of breakneck innovation, a CEO must be ready to explain to their employees, customers, vendors and other stakeholders why the strategy they have been pursuing now has to change fast - and do so without embarrassment. This calls for leaders who understand the impact of their strengths and limitations, manage their emotions and personal biases, and have a clear understanding of the impact they have on the other people. As self-awareness expands so does a solid sense of purpose and intent where its influence extends beyond the bottom line of their organization.

Perspective Taking. The ever-changing market environment requires that the CEO make (sometimes quick) informative decisions to solve more ill defined, novel and complex problems. The ability to hold multiple and often opposing perspectives is a critical capacity in the leader's role toward solving problems and making decisions. Leaders of the future will need to consciously practice taking multiple and competing views allowing them to generate the unique and insightful solutions needed to deal with complex issues. Effective leaders do not shrink from seeking out disparate viewpoints that may threaten their basic assumptions. All stakeholders should view the CEO as a strategic, agile thinker who is unafraid to subject their ideas to challenge.

Networks and Relationships. Increasing global interdependence creates more opportunities to construct new alliances and collaborations. A leader's ability to create partnerships is a powerful ingredient to leveraging resources and staying fresh with innovation. Understanding networks of information and how parts connect and interact is crucial to maintaining a strategic edge. It will be necessary for leaders to expand their mindset and go beyond win/win, build capacity for strong relationships and learn the practice of stepping back. Doing so will enable them to take in the larger context and its interdependent parts in which business operates.

Strategic and Agile Thinking. Those CEOs and leaders who scope the environment for changing conditions have a unique advantage in managing change as they communicate their vision and set their strategic direction. Developing the ability to be an agile thinker who can respond quickly to needed course corrections is paramount to sustained operations and profitability. Leaders will need to continually build on their strategic ability to stay nimble with change, leverage experimentation and innovation to adjust direction and ultimately lead the organization through uncertainty.

Summary. By focusing on these traits, CEO's and leaders of entrepreneurial companies will be able to summon the presence and clarity to respond to uncertainty and volatility - to motivate and inspire yourself and others to charge ahead through an increasingly complex and fast paced environment.

Keith Richards has held the positions of CEO,COO and CFO for a variety of privately owned companies. He is a Partner with the Newport Board Group, a national professional services firm of strategic advisors, seated Board Directors and Interim C-Level executives. He's also a Director with Integral Edge Partners focusing on high performance leadership transformation and corporate culture development. He is a regular commentator on a variety of business radio programs, keynote speaker and blog author. Keith can be reached at and followed on twitter at @KRLeadership.