During my business career I’ve had the rare opportunity to work with some outstanding people. One of my first jobs was working with CEOs and their VPs reviewing their operating plans for businesses ranging in size from $100 million to over $1 billion. Then, as a recruiter I’ve had a chance to track the performance of scores of talented people over a 20-30 year time span including many of the hiring managers and business leaders I worked with.

Collectively this is what I discovered seems to be at the core of their success. The video describes the process I used to discover them.

Possibly the 10 Core Traits of Managerial Success

  1. They deliver results. The best people don’t just talk a good game; they make things happen. As part of that they make big plans, get them approved, obtain the resources needed, and then achieve the planned results.
  2. They don’t make excuses. Things always go wrong. Rather than make excuses, the best people I’ve seen take responsibility for the whole project and then figure out how to get back on track.
  3. They hire, develop and manage great people. One of my first bosses told me hiring great people was the most important thing any manager could do. He did it and went on to become the youngest CFO at any Fortune 500 company in history.
  4. They clarify expectations. As part of our search process I always ask the hiring manager what the person in the role needs to do to be successful. They always know. This single idea has been proven as the #1 trait of all hiring managers. It also heads Gallup’s Q12 list of drivers of employee satisfaction.
  5. They know how to delegate and develop. Some people need more clarity and direction than others. The best managers give just enough support and direction to maximize the performance and development of each team member.
  6. They expect and obtain great performance of themselves and others. Inspiring oneself is tough enough. Inspiring others is the foundation of true leadership.
  7. They think strategically. I was in the room when the CFO of a top Fortune 50 company lambasted a group president with the admonition that, “Strategy drives tactics, not the other way around. Even if you have good tactics your strategy is fundamentally flawed.” The best people I’ve met in any field naturally think this way.
  8. They think and act multi-functionally. I remember a Director of IT I placed who was responsible for implementing a major ERP system. As he planned out the project he immersed himself in the other departments, fully understanding their needs. The project was a roaring success. Optimizing any effort begins with understanding the perspective of all of the stakeholders.
  9. Stretching themselves gives them the confidence to think and act bigger. To get ahead faster you need to stretch yourself on multiple fronts. I remember a project manager who asked to take over a troubled project where she could get 3-4 years of experience in 12-18 months. She was clearly light for the job but was successful. This type of stretching builds the confidence needed to take on even bigger tasks. Sometimes their managers put them in positions to get stretched.
  10. They take nothing for granted. One of my clients was the CEO of a mid-sized bank long before he was 40 years old. He told me that as an immigrant going to college he took nothing for granted and had to prove himself every day as an undergrad, when he went into public accounting and when he joined the bank. Five years after I worked with him he was formally recognized as one of the top leaders in his industry and the state. It was no longer a mid-size bank by then.

One could argue these are not the correct traits. They’d be right.

I started out with a list of 20 and selected these as the ones that seem most common to the best people I’ve interviewed, placed and worked with over the past 40 years.

What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter which six, eight or ten factors you select.

What matters is that you look for exceptional performance during the interview.

During the process you’ll develop your own list of traits of top performers. What you’ll also discover is that possessing these traits of success are not enough to ensure a great hire. For this you need to make sure the person also fits the culture, can work with the hiring manager and is both competent and highly motivated to do the work you want done. A great person in the wrong situation is a recipe for failure. And in the right situation just about anyone can become a great person.