Executive-level decision makers are different. To be in this upper echelon of leadership, one needs to possess the traits that make for a desired leader. It is paramount that one not only talks the leadership talk but also walks the leadership walk. 

Throughout the years, high-potential employees have asked our Solutions 21 team, “What differentiates executives?” They’ve also asked, “What skills do I need to develop specifically to be a leader of my company?” While every organization is different, there are some overarching, non-negotiable traits that executive-level leaders need to possess in today’s 21st-century workforce.

Research shows that 78% of current executives do not think that “track record” is a good indicator of future success, however, 87% believe personal traits explain the majority of difference between good and great. 

So what are the traits that separate the good from the great? Let’s take a look.

Executive-level decision makers are:

Effective communicators

Communication is key. In all levels of an organization, communication is what drives the group. For executive-level leaders, this is significantly magnified. If you cannot drive your message and vision through communication, your team will suffer. Effective communication is one of the hardest traits to master, but those who dedicate time to learning this skillset will rise to the top.

From Russell Reynolds Associates’ “Inside the Mind of the Chief Executive Officer”

“Excellent communication” is one of the five traits that executives must possess and maintain to be in their position. 

From Harvard Business Review’s “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World”

The third most important leadership competency is “clearly communicates expectations” and the sixth most important competency was “communicates often and openly”. 

Emotionally aware

Emotional intelligence is key to leadership success. Leaders who have a high EQ are able to connect, adapt, and build relationships with their team. It is no secret that people are the most important asset to an organization, which is why having a leader who understands people is vital to future success.

From Board and CEO Advisory Group’s “Making It to the Top: Nine Attributes That Differentiate CEOs”

Under the category of “Team Building” the second biggest differentiator between CEOs and non-CEOs was “measured emotions”. 

From Russell Reynolds Associates’ “Inside the Mind of the Chief Executive Officer”

“High Emotional Intelligence” is one of the five traits that executives must possess and maintain to be in their position. 

From Center for Creative Leadership’s “Preventing Career Derailment”

CCL found the main reasons for failure ─ struggling to handle change, inability to work in a team setting, and poor interpersonal relationships – are caused by a lack of emotional competence.

Calculated risk takers 

If an organization does not take some risk in their strategy, chances are they are not progressing. And while every company’s risk tolerance is different, most companies take some amount of risk on a daily basis. Companies that are able to progress faster than others are ones that take the calculated risk that yields the greatest reward. These decisions come from executive-level leaders, or calculated risk takers. 

From Board and CEO Advisory Group’s “Making It to the Top: Nine Attributes That Differentiate CEOs”

Under the category of “ability to perform effectively in complex difficult environments” the number one differentiator between CEOs and non-CEOs was the ability to take Calculated Risk.

From HR Daily Advisor’s “5 Critical Leadership Traits Executives Need to Thrive in the Post-Digital Workplace”

Based on responses from over 3,000 subjects, 60% voted that new wave leaders need to be “adept at risk taking”. 

The above traits are not the only ones that separate executive-level leaders from the pack. However, if your goal is to develop into one of these leaders, this is a good place to start. Being able to effectively communicate with your team, calculate risk, and understand your and others’ emotions will put you on the path to becoming a strong leader.

Leaders are made – not born. Take the time to intentionally develop your skills of the key traits outlined above. By gaining real-world reps and developing these leadership habits, you will position yourself on the upward trajectory to the executive level.