Traits and Qualities of a Business Leader


A leader is a person who has the influence and capability to get a job done by displaying exemplary characteristics and qualities, such a person can gather people behind him and unite them for a cause or task. A leader must have a vision and understanding to take decisions that are difficult and should have the courage to stick to his decisions. (Bennis, 2003)

Business Leadership

The term of leadership becomes a little more complex when the word business is added to it. Business leadership covers the idea of a person leading a business from the front having a vision for that one big idea and taking the right steps towards making that idea work. The term business leadership encompasses the ability to charm, predict the outcome of situations or the need for something, being strategically intuitive, having the emotional stability to be able to deal with the dynamic situations a business faces in today’s technology-based environment which means a leader has to make the right decision at the right time

If we look at the business world today we see that almost behind every major organization there was a leader who either had that one big idea that clicked and caused a sensation or had the business acumen to maneuver the business to the top and be successful. We had Bill Gates behind Microsoft, Michael Dell behind Dell computers, Warren Buffet behind Berkshire Hathaway, and Sir Richard Branson behind Virgin. If we just analyze the way all these people made a name for themselves and built impressive business empires it will be easier for us to understand what business leadership is all about. ( Kouze, Posner, 2003)

Traits and Qualities of a Business Leader

If someone is a great sportsperson that does not mean that the same person will also be a great coach, an accomplished Marketer doesn’t necessarily have to be an accomplished teacher, if a person is a famous musician it doesn’t mean he would be famous for leading the choir too. (Spitzer, 1982)

The fact is the being able to work under someone’s guidance and authority and being the one guiding or authorizing the other person are two very separate and distinctive tasks and they should not be confused with each other. Furthermore, all leaders do have certain traits and qualities that make them stand out, be a leader and motivate people to follow them. Some of these golden qualities are mentioned below:

Honesty and integrity

Honesty and integrity seem to be very simple and easy to understand concepts but these simple concepts when implemented become extremely complex and difficult to adopt. In layman’s terms honesty and integrity mean to do what’s right when it’s right and if a mistake is made then owing up to it and taking steps to rectify that mistake. Considering the basic definition now let’s look at it in the light of business leadership, It might not always be easy for a leader to be honest and do things with integrity but something not being easy does not make it impossible. The job of a Business leader is to make people follow him and for that people need to trust their leader, if that leader is not honest and does not protect his integrity then trust cannot be developed in such a person and ultimately people cannot sincerely follow such a leader even if they appear to do so, they will always have misgivings and doubts on their leader which will kill the cause the leader wants them to work towards. Hence, it becomes fundamental that a Leader is honest and leads with integrity, as Mr. Abraham Lincoln has beautifully explained, “I do the best I know how, the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing it to the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me will not amount to anything. If the end brings me out all wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

Another factor which is important to understand is being a dishonest leader can never help anyone achieve the kind of success and fame we have seen Bill Gates or Sir Richard Branson achieve, but dishonesty can lead to ending up in a complete and utter failure and we have examples like Enron and Qwest, where the top leadership decided to be dishonest and use manipulation for their gains resulting In the collapse of these major businesses. Honesty and integrity should not only be followed because they are vital for success but also because they are always the right course of action in any situation. (Shackleton, 1995)


Intelligence and being smart are although very basic traits but these traits take a leader a very long way, intelligent leaders are people who can make judgments and reach decisions that are difficult and risky, in business risk comes as an acceptable portion and unless the leaser is capable of making choices intelligently and formulate strategies and measures to achieve the goals and targets that he or she aims for, but intelligence just doesn’t limit itself to being smart but it also comprises of factors like emotional intelligence, social intelligence being aware of oneself and one’s capabilities furthermore, having the ability to manage those capabilities and channel them in the right direction, a leader needs to be aware of his strengths and weaknesses and should always be able to come up with an accurate and honest appraisal of himself and the choices made by him. Then comes the concept of self-management, being a leader is never an easy job, it has its demands and pressures, a lot of times it happens that leaders formulate plans but things do not always go according to plans, and there comes the ability to stay calm and composed when those plans do not work as hoped for, regulating one’s emotions and then focusing on recovery strategies to get things back on track. If a leader is capable of pulling such things of then such a person is truly a capable leader. One good example here is Miss. Margaret Thatcher, took Charge of Britain when economically Britain was in turmoil but she used her acumen and sharp thinking and united the people behind her and it was her intelligence and smart maneuvers that helped her to turn Britain back to the track of prosperity and progress and that is the sign and strength of an intelligent leader. (Bjerke, 1999)

Good communication skills

Another fundamental job of a leader is to motivate his followers and when it comes to motivating someone then good communication is the key and the other factors like rewarding and providing benefits come later on. Anyone can communicate but being a good communicator and doing it the right and most effective way is the trick. Not everyone has that knack for saying the right things in the right manner to have an impact on the listener. The key behind good communication skills is to understand the people the leader is addressing, understand their mindset, their aspirations, their passions, and the ideas and concepts they can relate to, and then only the leader can get their attention and focus towards the goal. A good example is Mr. Howard Schultz who is the man Behind Starbucks coffee. Mr. Schultz is the man who made Starbucks into such a well-known multibillion-dollar company. His only strategy was to communicate to his employees and Barista’s and make them understand that Starbucks wasn’t just about coffee but it was about a wholesome experience and the culture, it was his ability to and good communication skills that enabled his employees to understand the importance of culture experience and the whole atmosphere that has to be created at a Starbucks store that customers love and admire so much, understanding this concept and idea is the core of Starbucks success if Schultz had been unable to properly communicate his idea to his employees Starbucks would not be such a successful company. Mr. Schultz has displayed by his exemplary leadership and good communication skills the kind of capabilities a business leader needs to bring to the table to be successful. It is important to understand that communication includes, listening, interpersonal interactions, providing feedback, persuading people, public speaking, and even non-verbal communication. All these factors add up for a leader to be a good communicator and effectively put his points across to his employees. Communication can be verbal or written or even electronic, a good communicator wouldn’t face problems when it comes to mediums of communication. (Cravens & Percy, 2005)


In today’s world, every organization small or large has a vision statement, this is a statement of what the organization wishes to achieve over some time and generally, visions are long-term goals for the organization. But the question arises where does the organization get its vision from and the answer to that question is that it’s the leader of the organization who gives it a vision, “The Former CEO and a distinguished authority on leadership and management once rightly said: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” (Strategic marketing, 2005)

This quote by Mr. Welch pretty much sums up the whole idea of a visionary Business leader who doesn’t think short-term, who has a larger-than-life goal in his mind and has the capability of leading his people and organization towards that goal. Mr. Welch himself is a visionary and his distinguished career speaks volumes about his vision for GE. (Forster, 2005)

When it comes to setting a vision for the organization there are a couple of matters to be kept in mind, the company needs to have a vision that’s definite and not vague, it shouldn’t be too limited in scope and should cover a broad and be a challenge. The next step is to focus on adequate communication of the vision, it is important that within the organization the vision is prominently displayed and the leader reminds his followers of the vision constantly and in a manner that keeps motivating the followers to work towards that goal and not let it go out of focus. Once a particular vision is achieved the vision should be renewed updated and kept fresh and it will ultimately be a success story like we have Mr. Jack Welch. (Gallos, 2008)

Decision making capability

A leader at times has to act under pressure, decide in between tricky options and even defend his decisions, it’s important to understand that the level of accountability and responsibility is very high on a leader’s shoulder’s, many time situations turn up that require instant decision making without much time to ponder upon the available options and that’s when the decision making capability of a leader comes under severe tests, usually a leader is required to make serious decisions that can either lead to success or utter failure, one cant imagine the level of stress that a person undergoes when he has to take decisions which are so serious. A.G Lafley a long time executive at P&G seems very relevant here, Mr.Lafley was asked to return to P&G and revive the company when the company started struggling during the 1990s, it was a critical time, P&G had failed to achieve the targeted level of growth first time in many decades, the stock prices were falling fast and there was widespread concern in the company about the future of the company, When Lafley took charge he had a very tough job to do, he had a multibillion-dollar company on his hands which were struggling, he was given the task of pulling off a turn around, he had to take tough decisions like laying off 20,000 people which included most of the top management at P&G, he had to decide to shift focus to a few numbers of big brands of the company and hope that these brands will earn the company much-needed revenue, he had to push some products from the research pipeline to the markets, he had to decide which new products to be introduced in the market. All these decisions by Mr.Lafley worked in perfect synchronization and P&G underwent a major turnaround which restored the shareholder’s confidence in the company and eased the level of stress the company and the employees were under. He took tough decisions at the right times and ended up a winner, this is the perfect example of a fantastic decision-maker and a successful leader. (Gallos, 2008)

Competence and Credibility

It won’t be wrong to say that all the above-mentioned qualities will be useless if the leader is not competent enough to be in the position of such power and responsibility, Competence and credibility both are very fundamental traits for a leader o be successful. Competence means having the ability, quality, and experience to do the job at hand with efficiency and effectiveness to be able to do the right things at the right time and. It was competence and credibility that landed Andy Pearson as the CEO of PepsiCo and his actions and leadership speaks volumes about his competence for such a job. He was respected all over the world as one of the top business leaders with fantastic credibility, people like Jack Welch, Warren Buffet, A.G Lafley all had one thing in common, they had unquestionable competence for the jobs they were asked to do and no one had any doubts on their credibility. These two factors earn respect and dedication to a leader within his followers, if even one of these factors is missing then there is an air of mistrust and dissonance in the employees and such a leader can never be successful in achieving full support and loyalty from his followers and that makes all the difference in the world. (Bennis, 2003)

Is leadership innate?

The concept of leadership is far more complex and sophisticated than a person being born with a couple of textbook traits and that being enough to declare him or her a successful candidate to take the mantle of leadership, various studies have been conducted and it has been discovered that people could not lay down some common traits of or qualities that signify that a person is built naturally to be a leader, it is important to understand that experience also plays a very key role in a person being ready to get elevated to the level of leadership. Capabilities and traits are important but a human mind is a complex place, it has been learned that within the human mind constantly evolution takes place, new connections are made and the ability of the human brain increases with those new connections. A question arises that if people were supposed to be born with innate abilities to be leaders then why do they need to study so hard and attain professional degrees why should they do through the whole tedious process of studying, and that’s the point if someone shows signs of important traits he isn’t just placed on the leader’s seat in an instant, it takes time, experience, that person is tried and tested, again and again, mistakes are made, and after this whole lengthy process that person reaches the top spot and that’s how it is done all over the world. Like it was mentioned before in this paper that just because a person is a good player that does not mean that the same person can be a good coach too, that person is displaying the required traits, he has the understanding of the game and he is good at playing the game but if you suddenly switch roles and make him be the coach he may fail miserably because he has just been asked to act as a leader which makes it different hence nothing is innate and everything can be developed on the path to becoming a leader. (Forster, 2005)

Can leadership be learned?

Leadership is based on a learning process, people go to college study hard for professional degrees, go through different experiences, learn from their experiences and mistakes, and when they reach that level when they discover whether they have learned enough to be a leader, human life is a continuous process of learning and development, if once a person ends up as a failure it does not mean that the case will remain same throughout his life, people learn from their failures and refrain from repeating the same mistakes again and then they are successful, People like Peter Drucker, Warren Buffet, Tom Peters weren’t just born with knowledge about leadership and management, they experienced it first hand and now they can be good leaders and they are imparting that knowledge to other people. If leadership couldn’t be learned then we wouldn’t have major multinationals in the world running their leadership development centers and programs, Toyota and GE are major examples of organizations focused on developing leaders and that is the right way to do it, as research shows that human mind keeps on developing and learning and that process never stops so one can never be sure which turn of the life or which experience helps the person to develop the understanding of the dynamics of leadership. (Forster, 2005)


This paper concludes that of course, a leader does not have certain traits and qualities to be successful but these traits and qualities don’t necessarily have to be a born talent or be present at the start of a person career, like it is said previously that successful leaders learn to pick up these talents and capabilities on their way to the top, from their experiences, from what they have learned from their mistakes and other’s mistakes, bottom line is that leadership does not mean a person getting born with a bunch of qualities, leadership means a person getting into a mold of a leader by the process of learning from all possible sources be it life, education, authorities on leadership. It’s the part of learning that plays the main role in developing a successful and able leader.


Björn Bjerke “Business Leadership and Culture: National Management Styles in the Global Economy”, UK, Edward Elgar, 1999

Carlton E. Spitzer, “Raising the Bottom Line: Business Leadership in a Changing Society”, UK, Longman, 1982

Cravens and Percy, “Strategic Marketing” USA, Irwin Professional Pub, 2005

Gallos and Heifetz, “Business Leadership” USA, John Wiley and Sons, 2008

James G. March, Thierry Weil, “On Leadership: A Short Course”, UK, Blackwell Publishing, 2005

Kouzes and Posner, “The Leadership challenge” San Francisco, USA, Jossey –Bass, 2003

Shackleton, “Business Leadership”, UK, Cengage Learning EMEA, 1995

Nick Forster, “Maximizing Performance”, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar, 2005

Peter Guy Northouse, “Leadership: Theory and Practice”, UK, Sage Publications, 1997

Warren G. Bennis, “On Becoming a Leader: The Leadership Classic”, UK, Perseus, 2003

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