Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Six Traits That I look For in Successful Executives

When I am interviewing, I like to play a game with myself.  Long before I ask the candidate, but generally within five to ten minutes after starting the interview, I try to guess the candidate’s salary. 

Funny thing is that I am rarely wrong.
So this started me thinking.  What distinguishes the juniors from the seniors, the high achievers from the ordinary?  And what is it about the juniors who I know will be highly successful that distinguishes them from the merely good?

Here is my analysis:

1.    Attitude
Successful executives exude confidence – in themselves, in their jobs, in their business. They are positive.  They are excited about what they do and show it.  Often, their enthusiasm is infectious.

People who interview them know that they are good, simply from the way they carry themselves and from how they phrase their answers.

They speak with authority, even the young, recently graduated students.  They just have that “it” factor.

2.    Record of success
Senior executives, when asked what they are proud of accomplishing, can tick off any number of successful things that they have done.  They are accomplishment-oriented and do things (as opposed the vast number of people who tell you they are proud of their people skills with no specifics).

They are very capable of solving problems and can articulate the role they played in the solutions they have developed.  Even successful young executives can do this.

3.    Self-Awareness
People who are successful understand what has made them successful and what they do well and, in most cases, what they don’t do so well (strengths and weaknesses).  They are able to easily tell you “what makes them good”.  (That is the question I ask).

4.    Awareness of others
Successful people know that they are not effective in a vacuum.  They understand the role that others play in their accomplishments – both subordinates and senior people.  They know how to manage both up and down for maximum effectiveness.

5.    Future vision
Successful executives know where they are going and what they need to get there.  I love candidates who can articulate their needs for the future.  Many people come in and tell me they want to run a business someday. But only a few have thought enough about their goals to tell you what they plan to do to accomplish them.  Each person’s formula for success is individual and different; I knew I wanted to run an advertising agency (which I did), and I had determined by the time I was thirty those elements and experiences which I thought I needed in order to accomplish my goal.

6.    Sense of purpose/Job vision
Successful people have a sixth sense about the job they currently have.  They know what needs to be done and how to accomplish it.  It is amazing when I talk to successful executives – even juniors – that they have both short term and long term goals for their existing assignments. (And when they know that they can no longer accomplish those objectives, they can look for new jobs easily.)  Their sense of purpose is very clear.

Unfortunately, most of these traits are innate and part of the DNA of successful people.  People who have them and don't know that they have them can learn to focus and bring them out.


  1. Clearly you are taking an American perspective, as you guys are obsessed with goals and achievement, which by the way is acquired through your culture (which is without doubt the most successful business culture on the planet. On the other hand, your collective/social culture is appalling). However this means that it is not innate - it is learned. Best wishes

    1. Iain: I appreciate your comments and your praise about our culture. I would like to know what you think is missing since you talk about this as an American perspective. There may be other attributes to look for and I would like to know what you think they are?


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