Forbes Coaches Council Member

4 Patterns of Great Executives

4 patterns of great executives

If you read nothing else this week, understand this: Among the high failure rate of transitioning executives, failed relationships account for a disproportionately higher percentage of all executive failure. Read it again, just in case. This was referred to in the recent release of A 10-Year Study Reveals What Great Executives Know and Do.

The study tells us what great executives do that other executives don’t. In 10 years, researchers interviewed thousands of leaders and concluded there are four recurring patterns that distinguish exceptional executives.

I’m overlaying this study with the knowledge gained in the assessment I use to understand a leader — my client’s — whole person – which means his or her thinking style, behavioral traits and occupational interests.

This is going to be powerful for the insight I gain as a coach to help my clients recognize their unique strengths and how they impact others. Here are the four patterns and how I use them to dive deeper to help CEOs and their exec teams be rockstars. My comments are in bold.

The four patterns are:

They know the whole business

They are great decision-makers

They know the industry

They form deep, trusting relationships

The study says executives who shine across all four of these dimensions achieve the greatest success for themselves and their organizations.

They know the whole business

Exceptional executives have deep knowledge of how the pieces of the organization fit together to create value and deliver results. They also focus on strengthening the organization’s seams to minimize poor coordination and fragmentation while maximizing the things the organization must do in competitively distinct ways.

One and three are deeply connected, and they really have to do with leaders energy, drive and priorities. All the leaders I work with fly at a rapid pace. They get more done by 10 AM then most people get done in a week. (That’s why we work well together.) But too often, I experience a lack of intentional reflection and the benefits that come with being able to look at the whole puzzle and distinguish the pieces that fit well from the pieces that are missing.

They are great decision-makers

Exemplary executives have the ability to declare their views, engage others’ ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call, and communicate the decision clearly. At the heart of great decision-making lies a balance between instinct and analytics.

This is an area I really focus on for both decisiveness and objective judgment. When a leader understands what anchors his or her decision making, the type of information he or she needs and how much/how often they rely on their experience and instincts, their confidence rises with every decisive action they take.

They know the industry

Exceptional executives maintain a solid grasp on the ever-changing context within which their business competes. The leaders who scored highest on this skill were described as having innate curiosity and deep knowledge of their business context, which they apply to wider economic, technological and customer trends.

As I said above, deep knowledge comes from prioritizing and intentionally spending the time to reflect and understand your own insight and knowledge.

They form deep, trusting relationships

Every organization has executives everyone wants to work for. These executives form deep connections with superiors, peers and direct reports by studying and meeting the needs of key stakeholders.

This is all about understanding how to build, maintain and leverage your power base. Leaders who get this can’t stop themselves from reaching the top of the mountain. It’s just the way it is.


Photo credit: Pexels

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