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5 Traits of Strong Leaders

According to the GMAC 2017 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report, employers rank five major skill sets as the most important when hiring business graduates for mid-level jobs. They are communication, teamwork, technical, leadership and managerial. Within the leadership skill set, these are the five traits that employers value most:

  1. Integrity.
  2. Drive.
  3. Innovation and creativity.
  4. Ability to inspire others.
  5. Strategic vision.


Business leaders with integrity and high character can be relied upon to be fair, which creates a foundation for successful business relationships both within and outside one’s organization. They are honest and accountable. They speak with candor, even when the truth is ugly, and keep their promises, even when doing so proves challenging. Of this trait, Jon Huntsman, Sr., a multibillionaire in the chemical industry wrote the following in his book Winners Never Cheat:

“There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business or life,” he writes. “There are, basically, three kinds of people: the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.”


A person’s ambition, willpower or drive may come from a variety of underlying psychological factors. For some, it is based on a desire to live up to expectations of others, or promises to themselves. For many others, like John McEnroe, drive comes from a fear of failure. Regardless of the source, drive is what compels people to seek growth and development, set goals and work relentlessly in order to accomplish them, and overcome inevitable challenges as they arise. In business, persistence is the name of the game.

Innovation and Creativity

America has a rich history of innovation and creativity — one so impressive it has resulted in many inventions that transformed all of Western civilization, including the light bulb, telephone, printing press, automobile, airplane, television, personal computer and smartphone. These are all results of innovation and creativity in leadership.

Innovators are creative thinkers. Sometimes they generate ideas that become inventions, but more often, they are creative visionaries with unconventional perspectives and the ability to recognize and nurture the best ideas from others. They are catalysts for productive collaboration around a central vision, and they inspire teams to turn visions into reality.

With the emergence of design thinking as a discipline in corporate strategy, innovation and creativity have become even more strongly valued in leaders. This innovative problem-solving approach is rooted in creative design skills and used by leaders who like to think big and redefine existing ideas.

Ability to Inspire Others

Without an effective leader, teams fragment, individuals move in opposing directions and nothing gets accomplished. The mark of a true leader, according to Entrepreneur is “the ability to encourage the employee commitment and engagement that is the foundation for continued success.”

Inspirational leaders have a variety of qualities that make others want to perform at their best, including positivity, gratitude, impeccable communications, trustworthiness and passion.

Strategic Vision

Leaders with strategic vision “see the forest for the trees” and “don’t run with the herd.”

“Seeing the forest for the trees” encompasses envisioning the longer term, adopting a broader view of an organization, and understanding its context in terms of the economy and industry.

Resisting the herd mentality means charting a unique course, defining a distinctive mission and developing formidable new strategies.

Many solid leaders have some, but not all of the qualities that constitute strategic vision. Perhaps that is why CEOs like Steve Jobs, Mary Barra and Jeff Bezos are often called “strategic visionaries.”

Business school training helps students develop their innate abilities into the refined leadership skills employers seek. It is yet another reason why the MBA offers a path to success in business leadership.

Learn more about Northwest’s online MBA program in General Management.


GMAC: 2017 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report

Forbes: Five Communication Skills that Make Good Leaders Great

Entrepreneur: The Importance of Honesty and Integrity in Business

Psychology Today: What Makes You Driven?

Inc: The Remarkably Positive Power of Ambition

Entrepreneur: 7 Characteristics of Inspiring Leaders

Innovation Management: What Is Innovative Leadership?

Forbes: Is a Lack of Strategic Vision Holding You Back?

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