Do you have what it takes to be a great executive?

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You could argue that most of the momentum and drive that propels a business along comes from the work of a cadre of executives that are responsible for major parts of the organisation.

The way in which this group of people operate, make decisions and run their businesses has a huge impact on success or failure.

So, if you’re one of those people already, or want to become one of them, what skills do you need and can you learn them?

A 10-year study by Ron Carucci published in the Harvard Business Review set out to answer that.

It found four patterns that set apart great executives from good ones after analysing over 2,700 interviews with leaders.

The patterns are deceptively simple, which is why they are perhaps so hard to actually do.

1. Great executives know their industry

Industries have different economics and drivers and the best executives understand this.

The kind of strategies that apply in a fast-moving consumer goods space cannot be applied directly to a moribund regulated business.

Your industry makes money in a particular way, by meeting demand with supply and competing with others.

If you are curious, able to spot possibilities and test and challenge assumptions then you will be able to focus your attention on doing things that make the most difference.

2. Great executives know their business

Most people arrive at a senior position after spending years in a particular function or business unit.

This means that they often view the whole business through the lens created by their experience – sales leaders think about pricing, operations about supply chains and accounting about finance.

Great leaders think about the system – how all the pieces fit together to create value. They focus on the interaction between parts of the business, remove bottlenecks and improve coordination to make it easier for the business to operate optimally.

3. Great executives know people

A great strategy developed in a locked room is of no use to anyone.

To actually make things happen, you need to interact with other people, show them your plans, take into account their objections and get them to work with you to make things happen.

You can only do this if people trust you and your judgements at all levels of the organisation. If you try and control, manipulate or steer people you’re probably going to be found out.

People aren’t stupid.

If you help other people get what they want and they can trust what you say, you have a good chance of moving in the right direction.

Great executives know how to make good decisions

If you know your industry, know your business and have good relationships, the last part of the puzzle is being able to make good decisions.

How do you take data and information and combine it with your gut instinct to create insight?

The key is having decision making processes that help you arrive at reasoned decisions that are free from bias – yet that incorporate the human element that comes from a deep understanding of your own circumstances.

As the article says, you can learn these skills if you don’t have them already.

It’s a simple enough list really.

But just because it’s simple, don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s easy.

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