The characteristics of successful leadership in business

Author: Stewart Clark / Date: June 8, 2020

Category: Business Management
Leadership is one of the many buzzwords used in business today. Yet, when you challenge someone to define what they call leadership, often there is nothing but silence. When you look around the world at some of our pronounced leaders, leadership is perhaps the last word you would use to describe them. Unfortunately, this is also very true in many business operations.
As individuals, business owners, employers and employees, we have a collective responsibility to define leadership for our collective benefit. 

Characteristics of successful leadership

From my experience in small, medium and corporate businesses, the best leaders I have witnessed have displayed the following characteristics in both words and actions.
  • Transparency – being able to state the reasoning, right or wrong behind a decision or strategy.
  • Honesty – even when it’s uncomfortable.
  • Conviction – which comes with true belief in what you’re doing and why you are doing it. It also means making the hard decisions when they are needed.
  • Humility – the willingness to hear other points of view and acknowledge when you’re wrong.
  • Vision – the ability to project forward to where you are going to, in a manner that both informs and motivates.
  • Fortitude – the inner strength to overcome and move past the day-to-day obstacles when they get in the way.
  • Compassion – the innate quality of treating everyone with respect.
Some may consider these to simply be a wider collection of popular terms, yet many of the true leaders in our midst will simply acknowledge them as part of the way in which they conduct themselves. 

Real life leadership

In business, leadership is often not about being right, it’s about making the best decision that you can… with the available information you have… at that given moment… and when a decision needs to be made. It’s about being able to explain with genuine compassion and honesty, why….to someone who is not performing to the expectations of the role, when the easy thing to do is avoid the uncomfortable discussion. It is also about holding true to your belief in your direction for the future…..even though the popular or simple direction is a different one. It’s also about taking responsibility for not only the wins….but also the losses.
There are many different courses, books, videos and descriptions of leadership. All of them have some great content and suggestions, yet in business (many would also say society), we struggle to effectively apply these leadership traits.
I don’t believe that anyone sets out to be a poor leader. In fact, I believe the real reason for poor leadership in business is more often a combination of; a lack of time, a poor organisational structure and perhaps a healthy lack of self-awareness. Across my many decades in business I have found that most people, when given the tools and the time, can display leadership. Good leadership, generally takes practice and great leadership, requires focus and self-awareness.

Everyone can show leadership

Leadership is also not purely aligned with a title or position. Everyone within a business has the ability to show leadership through action. How you conduct yourself and influence others around you can be an example of very powerful leadership. Too often leadership by action is seen in the media in a negative way, however a kind act or gesture extended to a complete stranger can be incredibly powerful for those who witness/experience it.

Measuring your own leadership 

The measure of leadership can be difficult to quantify, but it is typically something which is judged through the eyes of others.
So, in the context of business and in becoming a better leader, take a moment to ask yourself the following;
  • How would a complete stranger who had witnessed your behaviour in a high-pressure situation describe you?
  • When dealing with others, do you listen to what is being said or do you just hear the words?
  • Does your team know where you are taking the business and thus, have the confidence to follow?
  • Do you hold yourself to the same level of accountability that you expect from your team?
  • When there is an irate person at the front desk yelling abuse at your staff – do you stand up to personally address their concerns?
  • Would you be prepared to step into the role, work conditions and stresses of any one of your team at a moment’s notice? [I accept that you won’t always have the skill set to do this – the question is about your willingness]
  • When a team member makes a monumental mistake – will they bring it to you or wait for you to find out?
Answered honestly, these questions will give you the briefest of insights into how your leadership may be seen or perceived.  
Leadership in business is a lifelong learning lesson, in that it is never actually over. You have the ability to continue to learn and improve every day. 
Challenge yourself to be a better leader tomorrow. Identify one small aspect to improve, implement….and then repeat. The daily challenge of one small improvement over the prior one, will provide the focus and self-awareness to develop you into the best leader that you can be. 
Stewart Clark is a published author, speaker and business coach. He is the principle of SCS Performance who provide business coaching and consultancy services to the family owned business market. Their mission; to increase bottom-line profits and build businesses into sustainable wealth generators. Further information can be found at