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The Five Hallmarks of Executive Leadership

The qualities of a great executive can be hard to pin down. But when I think back across my jobs over the decades, there are a few executive qualities that really stand out. I’ve summarized the qualities that stood out the most to me to make sure that every executive can be their best. 😉

Pretend you care

Genuinely caring for the employees that work for you can be time consuming and require a lot of effort. And yet, it is something employees consistently look for in their leadership. As a result, it is important to build a facade of caring, while keeping your level of effort as low as possible. Some great ways to appear to care, while not actually requiring any effort or emotional commitment, include:

  • Nod your head emphatically, frowning for bad news and smiling for good news
  • Use personality tests in lieu of developing a culture
  • Host a pizza party (1.5 slices per person – see cost cutting paragraph below) to thank the team for their work on a months long grueling project

Punish bad news

No one likes to get bad news – especially an executive. An executive must actively discourage getting bad news in meetings, emails and any other vehicle for communication. The most effective way to remove bad news from your world is to punish the person communicating the news. While yelling at or demeaning the person delivering the news is effective immediately – and will resonate with anyone within earshot –  it is important to have a longer, deeper impact across your team:

  • Make sure your employees feel uncomfortable approaching you for any topic
  • Remove anyone who has delivered bad news from promotion considerations
  • Ensure the manager of the person delivering bad news is also punished

Cut costs while “investing” in the executive team

Succession planning and “investing” in your executive team ensures the success of the company after an executive gone. The most effective “investments” in executive teams happen in posh, luxurious environments, such as a spa retreat, an expensive steak restaurant, or a tropical location. These “investments” are not inexpensive – so you will need to reduce costs across the business to ensure an adequate “investment” in your executive team:

  • Have your employees pay for their own coffee and snacks – or any other unnecessary office perk
  • Put off office remodels as long as possible – that 80’s style cube will come back around in fashion!
  • Begin the return-to-office process immediately, to ensure that employees are being as productive as possible, while the executive team continues to work from their lake properties

Offer curt, confusing direction

Executives are busy people – and should not be bothered with providing direction in a clear, easy to understand way. In some cases, it is entirely unnecessary to have a vision for the business. If your employees struggle to understand you, they must be deficient in some way. The only logical reaction is to become impatient. Here are some low-effort ways to offer direction to your employees:

  • Offer direction in a random order and let your employees sort it out
  • Use as many large words as possible to ensure that even if you don’t understand the topic matter, neither do your employees
  • Get really detailed about topics or processes, demanding compliance with every detail but expecting innovation and big picture results

Demonstrate a complete lack self-awareness

As the leader of a business, you don’t share many common experiences with your employees – and that’s ok. You are a very important executive, and they are not. Do not shy away from your own experiences even if they are wildly disconnected from your average employee. After a while, you won’t even notice the disconnect:

  • Share personal stories, such as “summering in Nantucket” or the goings-on at “the Club”
  • Select a high-end, luxury car to serve as the company car; drive it everywhere
  • Use buzzwords over and over again (synergy, bifurcate, top-of-mind, etc.)

In all seriousness, don’t be the executive that does these things. Be the executive that cares as much about their employees as they care about their own career. Be the executive that helps the team find solutions to issues. Be the executive that invests in their team to develop them, to thank them, and to make them successful. Be the executive that has a vision and articulates it clearly. And above all be the executive that is aware enough to adjust to the needs of the team – for it is the team on whom you depend.