At the helm of nearly every thriving business you will find an effective leader. They’re responsible for steering the ship to prosperous new lands, for rallying the crew to work toward common goals, and for tackling challenges head-on in order to prevail.
While their leadership styles may vary, the most effective leaders all tend to share a few key qualities. A new survey of small and medium-sized business owners by small business insurer Hiscox unearthed some of these commonalities. Check them out below, along with some expert insight from Tom Froggatt, director at recruiting firm Singular Talent.
1. They’re Great Communicators
It takes strong communication skills to lead a workforce to success. Enthusiastic and passionate communication goes a long way, as does knowing when to talk and when to listen.
Employees want a leader who is vocal about their vision for the business and is going to inspire them to reach their goals. Crystal-clear conversational skills are also essential for selling the business’s products or services to clients and customers, as well as for building the positive professional relationships necessary for growth and development.
While qualifications certainly matter, an individual’s character can play a significant role in their success as a leader, according to Froggatt.
“There are some positions that have qualifications as a prerequisite, but most don’t,” he says. “Running a business is about having vision and influencing people — both internally and externally — and neither of those can be learned academically.”
The survey results also supported this theory, with 46 percent of respondents saying they had lots of friends at school, which suggests they had strong interpersonal skills and the ability to forge strong relationships.
2. They’re Confident
Business leaders must have confidence, not only in terms of their interpersonal skills and outward demeanors, but also in their own abilities and the direction of the business. Leaders need to feel empowered enough to put their ideas into action, and they should know the business’s worth when it comes to negotiating deals.
Forty-seven percent of the small and medium-sized business owners surveyed by Hiscox were involved in school performances, perhaps suggesting they had the confidence to stand up in front of an audience at a young age.
“Not all successful people are incredibly smart, or lucky, or talented, but they are, almost uniformly, confident,” says Froggatt. “That doesn’t mean they never have doubts, but that they back themselves to deal with challenges that arise and to find solutions.”
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3. They’re Creative
The survey also unearthed that many business owners were creative students, with art and design topping the list of their favorite subjects at school. While creativity is often associated with the arts, it can be put into practice in numerous ways in the business world.
No business will grow and develop without innovation, and it takes a creative mind to come up with new ideas that will set the business’s products or services apart from the competition.
Building a successful business is hard work, but keeping up the momentum after many years in the industry is even harder. Sometimes the approaches that worked a decade ago no longer work today, so fresh new strategies and outside-the-box thinking may be required to propel the business forward.
4. They’re Team Players
“What the most successful businesspeople realize at some point in their careers is that leadership isn’t about the leader, it’s about the people they lead,” says Froggatt.
The best leaders understand that business success is a team effort, and they respect the contribution that each and every employee makes. They’re able to cultivate positive relationships throughout the company, and they encourage employees to get involved in decision-making and brainstorming.
The Hiscox survey found this team-player trait was embedded in many business owners from their school days, with 40 percent of respondents saying they were part of a sports team. This early introduction to a team environment could have contributed significantly to the leaders’ abilities to work cooperatively and effectively with others later in their careers.
5. They’re Challengers
The best leaders are go-getters, so an optimistic attitude about challenges is an absolute must. Obstacles will arise — it’s simply the nature of business — but a great leader understands there is no reward without risk. They’re not afraid of challenging the status quo in order to disrupt the market and get the business on the map.
“Successful businesspeople tend to be passionate about the problem they’re solving,” Froggatt says. “If they focus on that, they know the career progression and rewards will follow.”
The Hiscox survey results suggest that business leaders have had a tendency to go above and beyond from a young age. Thirty percent of respondents said they volunteered for school responsibilities, and 36 percent started their first jobs between the ages of 16 and 18, demonstrating an eagerness to get out there and prove themselves in a professional capacity.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of the traits that make a successful business leader, and you certainly don’t need to have every single one to flourish. That said, these soft skills are attainable for anyone with the drive and self-awareness to achieve them. At the end of the day, success isn’t necessarily the upshot of an extensive education, but that of a positive attitude, strong relationships, and open-mindedness.
Hannah Waters is a freelance writer from London.