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Difficult Times Reinforce the Importance of Leadership Excellence

What makes a leader? While there are countless authors of business books espousing the certain path to leadership excellence, what truly makes a great leader remains elusive. Is it an Ivy League education? Is it stints with multiple Fortune 100 companies? Do leaders need to be well-versed in technology and market changes? It is difficult to pinpoint the one quality that will ensure that a person will be a successful leader. There are many exceptional leaders and they have followed a wide variety of roads to their final destinations. 

One thing is certain, though — these past couple of years of economic upheaval have been difficult for organizations and their leadership teams. During these trying times, some leaders were made and others were destroyed. While not all successful leaders have similar biographies, most do share traits that helped propel them to greatness and kept them balanced during both turbulent and prosperous times. Here are some of their most important traits.


Any CEO can enjoy success when the economy is thriving. A leader’s character is tested, however, during crisis. Executives show their true selves when faced with adversity, and the most effective are able to keep their values intact even during difficult periods. Instead of being reactionary, they are deliberate and thoughtful. They also realize that their failures will help them grow. Mistakes are valuable learning tools. But failure also reveals a lot about how a leader handles hardship, particularly how he or she treats others in tough times. A leader with character realizes that every person within a company matters — that the business is not just about the numbers. Leaders gain trust and respect by giving it, not demanding it, because they take a genuine interest in people and care about them.


A great leader has a way of injecting calm into chaos. When things seem to be spinning out of control (or the stock market is plummeting or the bottom line keeps shrinking) people look to their leaders for guidance and base their own reactions on those of their leaders. Therefore, leaders must be able to settle things down — not feed into hysteria and panic. One way to do that is to look at the positive in the situation. No matter the state of affairs, leaders see a positive outcome and drive towards it. There is always a way (sometimes several ways) out, even if the solution is not immediately apparent. Good leaders have a knack for looking at thorny business challenges with enthusiasm. They thrive on finding the opportunity in the challenge. They have the ability of vision — they don’t get bogged down in the present, but are able to look forward. People gravitate towards positive leaders and want to work with them to find solutions.


Nobody achieves success or reaches a position of power alone. Accomplished leaders share the accolades and find reward in watching others grow and prosper. Leaders realize that they cannot be everything to an organization. Secure executives know they should surround themselves with smart people and should listen to and learn from them. Encouraging every member of the team to flourish advances the organization — and makes the leader look better.


Leaders should be tirelessly predictable. While predictability may seem like a negative quality, it is of the utmost importance in heading up an organization. People should know where their leader stands on an issue and be able to deduce how he or she will respond to a situation. If colleagues can anticipate their leader’s next move, they won’t be left wondering and questioning and can focus on their work. Predictability creates an environment of stability and strength.

Transparency and Communication

Leaders should communicate early and often — explaining the why, what and how. Leaders should make people feel valued, which is demonstrated in something as simple as knowing employees’ names, for example. In turn, employees will want to work hard for the organization. Leaders should create a porthole into their decision-making processes by communicating honestly and frequently. People will feel more secure and know how they fit into the organization and its success if they are kept informed. 

These shaky economic times are a great test of leadership skills. Those who can maintain a commitment to leadership will not only survive, but find ways to grow during adversity, help to turn their organizations around, and get on the path to prosperity.

Photo Credit: Inclusive Leadership