What are the Qualities of a "Great" Executive?

Top Leadership skills that make Great Leaders

What’s the difference between a good leader and a great one? Dr. Mortimer Feinberg, a consultant psychologist to American big business for many years, gives this definition: “The best corporate officers, the men who are recognized as tops, have a lot of energy and drive. They do many different things simultaneously—not all of them well, necessarily—but they are driven, people. Napoleon could do seven things at once. Look for such traits in your subordinates. “I have never seen a top leader who was passive, contemplative. Hamlet would never have become a good leader, in my view. There may be some Hamlets around, but they aren’t holding the top jobs.

Fred Friendly, a former president of CBS News, was known in the industry as ‘Frenzied Fred,’ because he expected others to tackle projects with his own clock-defying zeal. He was described as always looking as if he had just got off a foam-flecked horse.

“There are some other, more subtle characteristics that distinguish the potential presidents from the also-rans on the executive staff –


Just plain, sheer devotion. You call in the man and you say, ‘Listen, Jack, you’ve got to fly to Chicago and get that order. Get out there tonight.’ Occasionally, he may have a good excuse—his wife is sick or his child is in hospital. But if he goes 99 percent of the time, he is committed to the game of making your company successful.  “Competitiveness. First-class leaders can’t bear to lose. They are only interested in winning.

Also, they are constantly evaluating themselves against the competition and striving to do better at each opportunity. They change their frames of reference. One leader, a self-made man, told me when he was on the way up: ‘Here I am, sitting at the feet of the elephants, and I’m just a mouse. They might kill me. just by accident. Because I’m a mouse and they are elephants.’ I asked him, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘I’m going to become an elephant, too.’


How honest is he with himself? Does he wear expensive suits and dirty underwear? Is he aware of some of his own limitations? How honest is he with you? How consistently does he produce what he said he would produce? Are his aspirations out of touch with reality? Or, are they close to what he can actually achieve? If he says, ‘OK, I didn’t do too well at that time, but I learned a lesson and I’ll do better next time,’ then he’s honest with himself. “Realism. He has his feet on the ground.

He doesn’t just dream about how great he’s going to be someday. If he’s always seeing the big picture and never the details, he’s in trouble. The outstanding leader is looking at how he’s going to get where he wants to be; he is almost compulsive about the little things, the short cuts.


Firstly he knows that his own future rests on what happens to other people. Secondly, he can fire a man who does not contribute to the good of the organization. Next, he respects differences of opinion. Subsequently, he doesn’t meddle in office politics and he refuses to manipulate people. Then, he is patient. Also, he doesn’t accept the first solution when it presents itself. He bounces back when he’s hurt. “Finally, a potential president is able to handle multiple pressures.

A New York boss puts it this way: ‘Anyone can do a good job if you give him one problem at a time and all the time he needs to solve it. But when I see a man unwilling to pay attention to anything else until he gets his own little problem solved, I worry. That kind of man never knows there’s a fire next door until the whole company burns down.'”

Qualities of Great Leaders

The subject of etiquette for the leadership is as much a joke as it is an area of concern. Look at some of the books that have been written on the subject, and it’s all too clear that good manners on the business scene are a simple extension of etiquette in everyday life.

Then, what are business etiquette books about? The well-intentioned authors, after stressing how important it is to businessmen to cultivate good manners and good appearance, then go on to such vital matters as how to dress, how introductions are to be made, and so on. But once these areas are exhausted, the writers tend to take one of two paths:

  • They go into the lore of etiquette in general—visiting cards, orders of precedence, and forms of address (one English book on business etiquette goes into great detail on how to address mail to the royal family, and dukes and duchesses of royal blood.)
  • The other direction in which the subject-matter-starved writer tends to turn: that of business situations. And these don’t involve etiquette as much as they do management procedures.

“For example, one authority discusses meetings and committees, offering perfectly good suggestions that constitute, however, simply good management practice rather than considerations of etiquette. Perhaps it’s unfair to take these business writers to task so harshly. There is some justification in considering some management procedures from the viewpoint of courtesy and general appropriateness. For our purposes here, coverage in three areas will suffice: dress; introductions; phone usage.”

1. Dress

The key to acceptable appearance largely depends on the “climate” in your company. For example, the informal, even flashy attire that’s considered “good form” in an advertising agency, might be inappropriate in a bank. A change factor entered the picture in the late ’60’s. The standard white shirt in many instances has been replaced by a whole rainbow range of colors. And in some cases, neckties have vied with the bright-est of sunsets. Give some thought to the way you want to look. It is possible to be conservative without being “square.” It’s possible to follow current trends without conforming to the last detail. And “political” consideration enters: it may be advisable for the leaders on his way up to be somewhat more conservative than he might like to be, and leave it to better-established leaders to be the style innovators and trendsetters.

2. Introductions

Frequently you’re called on to introduce people: your secretary to a visitor; a visitor to another leader. Introduction In the business world tends to be informal. But they should be audible. In addition to pronouncing names clearly, a title or descriptive phrase is helpful. For example, if you’re bringing a customer in to meet one of your company’s officers, you might say, as you enter, “Bill, this is Mr. Green, Chief Purchasing Agent of the Acme chain. Bill Smith, our General Manager.” If you are being introduced, any one of a number of traditional phrases uttered in a pleasant tone is acceptable: “Very glad to meet you;”

“Yes, I know of your company and think very highly of it,” and so on. Handshaking is almost always in order among men. Women may or may not shake hands, as they prefer. Finally, if any of the names involved in the introductions are difficult to pronounce, you may want to make it a point of spelling out: “Mr. LeBeau, capital L-e- capital B-e-a-u.”

3. Phone usage

It’s in the area of telephone utilization that business practice does tend to vary with practices of the nonbusiness world. Some of the specifics of business phone use involve the leaders, some his secretary. In any case, here are some guidelines:

■ Prompt response. People calling you, customers, suppliers, other leaders, and so on, get a bad impression when phones ring and go unanswered for any length of time. On the other hand, people appreciate the businesslike and courteous impression made by prompt answering.

■ Identification. The “Hello” response to the everyday world isn’t satisfactory on the job. Your secretary will avoid guessing games by answering a ring with: “Production Department, Miss Jones.”

■ Screening. Train your secretary not to ask, “Who’s calling?” It’s more acceptable to say, “May I tell Mr. Smith who’s calling?” or, “Mr. Smith is attending a meeting. May I have him call you when he’s finished?”

■ Explain delays. If you must leave the line, you may want to provide a word of explanation, or at any rate, indicate approximately how long you’ll be. Generally, if it’s going to require some time to get information, it’s wiser to offer to call back.

■ Taking messages. Here’s where Girl Fridays may need coaching, particularly if they are beginners in the business world. Train your secretary to spell back names if there is any question and to verify numbers by reading them back to the caller.

Expert’s Corner

As we’ve said, good manners on the business scene are a simple extension of etiquette in everyday life. And there is no doubt that good manners are an asset to the leaders, while lack of courtesy can lose goodwill, customers, and destroy morale within the leader’s own organization.

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