Tips for Becoming a Successful Executive Leader

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Executive leadership may seem glamorous, but it’s also challenging. Even the most experienced executives must commit to lifelong learning. New situations continuously demand that they put their skills — and assumptions — to the test. No matter how successful a leader has been in the past, each new problem is unique.

Luckily, strategic leadership skills are not confined to a chosen few. Anyone, at any stage in their career, can improve their leadership fundamentals: communication skills, management ability, and strategic vision. Cultivating leadership as a student or young professional can give you immense advantages later in life.

How can you get started? Use these tips:

Communicate Clearly

Communication is the bedrock of effective leadership, and it should be no surprise that it is the No. 1 soft skill companies look for at all levels. Develop your ability to make a clear, compelling yet succinct point — both in person and in writing. Remember: Communication is a two-way process that includes listening. Actively listening to others not only helps your team succeed, but also wins you their respect.

Seek Out Mentors

Experience is a great teacher, but there’s simply not enough time to encounter all those successes and mistakes on your own. Develop a network of others who have walked the path before you. Many rising business leaders have a circle of experts they can leverage. Most have one, in particular, they can always turn to first when the going gets tough.

Sharpen Emotional Intelligence

Any successful business is built on relationships. To serve your customers and clients, you must understand their perspective. To get the most from teams, you must understand what motivates them. Many good leaders are keen observers of the human condition. They also recognize their own emotions and avoid making reckless, ill-considered choices.

Always Look for ‘Lessons Learned’

Both successes and failures have root causes. When things go right, it’s easy to assume your own natural talent is the reason — but dig deeper. Widen your investigation to all the inputs that led to the success or failure, and then develop your thoughts with structure. This is the key to avoiding future mistakes and delivering repeatable results.

Lead by Example

Though it has been said many times, it remains true: Leaders should only expect their employees what they are willing to do themselves. Leaders who do not follow this philosophy can ask for more, but will rarely get it — and maybe resented for asking. If you want people to be on time, be on time yourself (or early). If you want people to take pride in their professional appearance, be sure you do the same.

Make Time to Sharpen the Saw

Every day will present you with a thousand opportunities — and a thousand demands. Amid all the small things that “absolutely must get done,” it’s easy to lose sight of how important your own development is. Reading, attending conferences or seminars, and spending time with experienced executives are all vital. Often, you must work hard at making time for these things.

Focus on Opportunities, Not Problems

This goes hand in hand with the recommendation above. To-do lists are full of problems that must be addressed, but if you focus on them exclusively, you’ll rarely improve the level of your business. Instead of struggling to conserve the value you’ve already developed, spend at least as much time looking for ways to add new value. When opportunities arise, strive to take the utmost advantage of them.

Think in Terms of ‘We,’ Not ‘I’

As you develop in leadership, you will increasingly be called upon to make decisions that are right for the enterprise, not only for yourself. With experience comes the responsibility to recognize the impact of your choices. Honor others’ contributions, look deeply into the implications of each decision, and use shared values to make connections with peers, employees, and clients.

When it comes to executive leadership, business acumen is just one part of the equation. The fast-paced, interconnected world of today demands leaders who are able to develop clear visions for the future, translate them into action plans, and communicate them to different stakeholders. Knowledge of oneself and one’s enterprise now stands shoulder to shoulder with market knowledge. By cultivating and applying ethics, values, and purpose, an individual can develop into a well-rounded, effective leader.

Learn More

At Ohio University, we understand how important a Master Business Administration can be to advancing your career. We also know that your MBA should be affordable, engaging, and academically-rigorous. That’s why we have designed an online MBA that is comprehensive and challenging, yet flexible to fit your lifestyle. When you earn your MBA online from Ohio University you are making a conscious decision to improve your professional value and position yourself for current and future business opportunities.


Harvard Business Review, “What Makes an Effective Executive”
Entrepreneur, “10 Awesome Tips for Being a Better Leader”
Forbes, “Great Tips For Succeeding as a Senior Executive Leader”
Inc., “7 Traits of Highly Effective Leaders”